I had been anticipating our trip to Shanghai for several months. It would be my first visit to China and my partner’s and my first international trip together. Unfortunately, we arrived several hours after our arrival time due to China Eastern’s inability to ever leave on time. Thankfully, my partner is able to keep me positive even when I am feeling hangry.
We decided to keep our explorations near our hotel because of how late it was so we tried a night market nearby. Sadly, it was the middle of the week and there weren’t any vendors, but we were able to get some skewers from a small restaurant. We had gluten, mushroom and lamb skewers. They were very well seasoned, but there wasn’t much meat on the lamb, it was more fat than anything else, but it was still very delicious. I’m not sure what seasoning was used, but I wish I could have bought some to take home.
After we ate we decided to walk around and see what was around the neighborhood. That is when I saw a restaurant selling Shanghai breakfast and I couldn’t walk past. Shanghai breakfast was the number one meal I wanted to try. We had dou jiang(hot soy milk), dou fu nao(which is soft tofu in a light broth), you tiao(a fried dough that you dip into the soy milk) and ci fan taun(a rice roll that can be filled with what you choose). The meal was better than I had imagined. The soy milk wasn’t watery, as I thought it might be, it was very smooth and light. The fried dough wasn’t overly sweet and it complemented the soy milk and absorbed the soy milk without getting very soggy. The tofu melted in my mouth and the broth was surprisingly flavorful and it tasted even better when my partner added chili oil. The rice roll surprised me the most because I wasn’t expecting a lot of flavor from it, but there were several layers of different ingredients. We couldn’t figure out what was used, but there were some sweet and sour vegetables and some salty meat. With each bite, I bit into a new flavor and I would have kept eating if I wasn’t so full. All of this and a mildly sweet herbal tea was less than $4 USD.
The next day we went to a restaurant that was known for their noodles, but we didn’t limit ourselves to just that. I wanted to try as much as possible so we ordered xiang qin dan gan (marinated hard-boiled egg slices), yan shui ya (steamed or boiled salty duck) and Jinpai hai xian mian (seafood noodle soup). Our food didn’t look like it would really go together, but the flavors balanced each other very well. The egg slices were mild and were like a palate cleanser. It balanced the saltiness of the duck meat which was also tender and juicy. The meat fell off the bone and right into my salivating mouth. The duck doesn’t look very pretty, but you shouldn’t let that deter you from trying it. Last, we had the seafood noodle soup, which was my favorite. The broth looked milky and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was delicious. You can taste the crab, the base of the broth, but I don’t know what other seasonings are used. It was mild, but it wasn’t a soup that you would get tired of eating and you don’t feel heavy after eating it. Also, they gave us 5 whole shrimp, so I left more than satisfied.
My partner wanted a snack so we bought chou dou fu (stinky tofu). I know a lot of people say that the smell is awful, but it didn’t smell bad to me and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to try new food. I thought it tasted great. The tofu was firm and the broth was a little spicy, slightly sour and salty. I will definitely try this again. I was still feeling adventurous so I decided to try Dove durian chocolate. That was a mistake. It tasted like white chocolate with onion filling and I couldn’t finish it. The filling tasted completely different from fresh durian, which I tried later and actually liked.
Later, we met up with my partner’s childhood friends and had dinner together. They ordered more food than we could eat, but my favorites were the li yu jiang ya (marinated duck) it tasted sweet and salty, duo jiao yu tou (Steamed fish with salted chilies over noodles) despite being spicy I was able to eat it and the fish was seasoned all the way through and mo cha bai yu (matcha tofu) a dessert tofu that was slightly sweet with a very smooth texture. For dessert they wanted ice cream, which I can never pass up, so we went to Häägen Dazs. Not very Chinese, but ice cream is delicious everywhere.
On our last full day to ourselves, we visited the Shanghai Muslim Market. It’s only opened on Fridays and it seemed like it was winding down by the time we got there, but there were still many food stalls open. I really wanted to try the baozi and jiaozi because I prefer beef over pork and I wasn’t disappointed. The nui rou baozi ( beef baozi) was crunchy on the outside and well seasoned and juicy in the middle. The nui rou jiaozi had a thick, crispy outside with a tender filling similar to the baozi. We also tried the lamb skewers and the meat was tender. If we would have stayed another week I would have gone back to eat more.
We found more baozi at a famous bao restaurant near the river. When we tasted their baozi we knew why there was a line. I haven’t had a wide array of baozi, but the flavor in these was well balanced and very juicy on the inside, which my shirt found out rather soon but I’m not bitter. We couldn’t get a to-go-box so we’ll have to live on the memory of the best baozi we’ve ever had.
On our last day in China, we went outside of Shanghai to visit my partner’s best friend. Her husband made us hot-pot, but without using water. It was a no-broth hot pot that used the water from the ingredients to cook everything, but the main ingredient was the Chinese mitten crab from Yang Cheng Lake. The crabs were very sweet and juicy and were the best part of the hot pot. Definitely the best crab I’ve ever had.
There is so much to eat in Shanghai and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Shanghai cuisine, but thanks to my wonderful partner I was able to feast in Shanghai.