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Shanghai report

david kaplan | | Nov 3, 2007 05:32 PM

I’ve just returned from ten days in China, five in Shanghai and five in Beijing. Thanks to earlier posts and other advice, it was a fantastic food trip. Here are the highlights from Shanghai, grouped by cuisine.

My related Beijing post is at

Two great meals, one at the glitzy South Beauty and one at the humbler Pin Chuan. South Beauty defies my Chowhound instincts: despite a huge, varied menu and lots of attention to design and style, the food was outstanding. I especially liked the shredded duck with ginger and chili, in which the sweetness of the ginger balanced the chilies, the twice-cooked pork, and the thinly sliced pork served cold hanging on a wooden rack with dipping sauces (which looked like “meat laundry” the way it hung). At Pin Chuan, I liked comparing two different noodles: dan dan mien, swimming in a bowl of chili oil with a sprinkling of meat, and Sichuan cold noodles, with a sesame and vinegar sauce and cucumber shreds.

Two more great meals. Guyi is an upscale scene, quite mixed (Chinese & foreign). Loved the bacon with garlic shoots and pork ribs with cumin. Di Shui Dong is more local, less refined, and more charming. The bacon with garlic shoots here was even better, and I really liked a stir-fry of chopped pickled vegetables (not sure what kind), chilies, and green onions.

Another vote for Jia Jia Tang Bao. Definitely the best soup dumplings I’ve ever tried. They’re ugly and floppy, all lopsided from an impossibly generous amount of soup, but the skins hold perfectly and the pork is mellow and sweet. A total bargain (7.50 Yuan = 1 dollar for around a dozen), too. Went twice around noontime: once we waited around 30 minutes, and the other time there was no wait because it was raining.
Nanxing Mantou, in the Yu Gardens, was a disappointment. The xiao long bao skins were too thick, with less tasty meat. I also tried the tennis-ball sized individual soup dumpling, which comes with a straw to suck out the soup. It was no better than the frozen pot pies I remember from childhood: gummy dough sitting too long with dull broth, with little if any meat. The one redeeming dish here (we ate on the top floor) was the salty cashew bun: crunchy, salty, sweet, and flaky. Mmm.
Best of all in the dumpling category was Yang’s Fry Dumplings for sheng jian bao, thick soup dumplings pan-fried on one side. All the fun of xiao long bao with the added benefit of the crunchy, toasted bottom. Never seen these outside of Shanghai.

My preference is for the spicy foods of Sichuan and Hunan, so sweeter Shanghai cooking was not a big draw for me. Still, we had a great meal at Shanghai Uncle, another glitzy spot for foreigners and upscale locals. Local standards – braised pork, smoked fish – were all very good, but my favorite was “8 treasures,” cubed chewy rice cakes (like Korean dok) tossed with diced pork, mushrooms, and several other treasures I’m now forgetting. That dish is a nice mix of tastes and textures and unlike anything else I tried in China.


Pin Chuan, 47 Taojiang Lu, French Concession, across from US Consulate

South Beauty, Taojiang Lu, French Concession, and other branches

Guyi, 87 Fumin Lu, French Concession

Di Shui Dong, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, 2nd floor, northwest corner at Changle Lu, French Concession

Jia Jia Tang Bao, 90 Huanghe Lu, just north of People’s Square

Yang’s Fry Dumplings, multiple branches, including across from Jia Jia Tang Bao on Huanghe Lu

Shanghai Uncle, multiple branches