Olive Magazine
A Chinese man eating noodles on the street, a spread of noodles and pork, a woman in a Chinese house

Cook like a local: Shanghai

Published: September 21, 2020 at 4:14 pm

China’s largest city is home to an equally immense food culture. Start the day with steamed buns filled with pork from a street stall before moving on to drunken chicken or braised river eel

Want to learn about Chinese food in Shanghai? Looking for Chinese recipes? Read Kei Lum Chan's guide, then check out our Chinese New Year guide.


China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan is published by Phaidon, £29.95 (phaidon.com).

Shanghai cuisine

Shanghai may be the largest city in China but, 2000 years ago, it was a small fishing village; the Chinese characters that form its name mean ‘on the sea’. Its location at the end of the Yangtze river delta, by the East China sea, was crucial to its growth. Being one of the first Chinese ports to open up to the West was another significant factor in its transformation into the international metropolis we recognise today.

The city’s location also had a major impact on local food culture. Not only have its kitchens had access to great fish and seafood but being a port meant they’ve also benefitted from ingredients shipped from around the world.

Shanghai is now one of the major food capitals of China. Although it’s easy to be mesmerised by the 100-storey buildings, some of the city’s most impressive food is found in the small shops and stalls that line the side streets; this is where you’ll find the best noodles, pot stickers, wontons, pan-fried buns, and xiao long bao (steamed buns filled with pork).

These shops are favourite breakfast spots for locals, while lunch and dinner normally means traditional local dishes such as braised red meatballs, yellow croaker fish with spring onions, shrimps and goji berries or braised river eel.

For a unique dining experience, however, Chinese fine dining is a must. Some of the city’s 19th- and early 20th-century houses have been converted into exclusive restaurants and now serve meticulously prepared Chinese dishes in historic surroundings.

To experience a different take on traditional Chinese food-culture, it’s also worth taking a train out to Suzhou. Half an hour from Shanghai, this city is home to spectacular UNESCO-designated gardens, a canal-filled Old Town and restaurants known for their traditional Jiangsu style dishes: expect slow-cooked meat, lots of fish and an adherence to seasonality.

Chinese recipe: Shanghai pork chop noodle soup

shanghai pork noodle soup jpg

What to eat in Shanghai

Kalimeris and tofu salad

This salad is made with the herby-tasting leaves and stems of the kalimeris plant and flavoured with sesame oil. It makes an ideal accompaniment to meat and fish.

Shangahi kalimeris and tofu salad

Drunken chicken

Served in all Shanghainese restaurants, drunken chicken is flavoured with shaoxing wine and sugar and is great as an appetiser or a main course.

Shanghai drunken chicken

Pot stickers

Whether steamed, boiled or fried, these meat or vegetable dumplings are great comfort food and are often eaten for breakfast or lunch.

Shanghai Pot Stickers

Corvina with spring onions

The classic Shanghainese dish is usually made with corvina (yellow croaker) fish from the East China Sea but other types of fish can be substituted.

Shanghai corvina

Shanghai noodles

Often available in local food markets, this stir-fried pork, cabbage leaf, mushroom and soy sauce dish is a popular alternative to rice for lunch.

Shanghai noodles


Find recipes for the above dishes in Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan's book China: The Cookbook, published by Phaidon.

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