Shanghai cuisine

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Shanghai cuisine
Hu cuisine
Simplified Chinese沪菜
Traditional Chinese滬菜
Skewered quail is common street food in Qibao Town, Shanghai.

Shanghai cuisine (Chinese: 上海菜; pinyin: Shànghǎi cài; Shanghainese: zaon⁶ he⁵ tshe¹; IPA: [zɑ̃¹¹ he⁴⁴ tsʰᴇ¹¹]), also known as Hu cuisine (simplified Chinese: 沪菜; traditional Chinese: 滬菜; pinyin: Hù cài; Shanghainese: wu⁶ tshe¹; IPA: [ɦu¹¹ tsʰᴇ⁴⁴]), is a popular style of Chinese food. In a narrow sense, Shanghai cuisine refers only to what is traditionally called Benbang cuisine (本帮菜; 本幫菜; Běnbāng cài; pen⁵ paon¹ tshe⁵; 'local cuisine') which originated in Shanghai. In a broader sense, it refers to complex styles of cooking developed under the influence of neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. The dishes within the cuisine need to master the following three elements "color, aroma and taste" (Chinese: "色香味").[clarification needed] Like other cuisines within China, Shanghai cuisine emphasises the use of seasonings, the quality of raw ingredients, and preserving the original flavors of ingredients. The adoption of Western influence in Shanghai cuisine resulted in a unique cooking style known as Haipai cuisine (海派菜).

Characteristic features[edit]

Shanghai dishes often appear red and shiny because they use soy sauce for seasoning. Both dark soy sauce and regular soy sauce are used in Shanghai cuisine. Dark soy sauce is used to create a dark amber color in dishes, while regular soy sauce is used to enhance the flavor. Four classic words are used to describe Shanghai food: "浓油赤酱".[1] This means that Shanghai food uses considerable quantities of oil and soy sauce. Food is cooked using a variety of methods including baking, stewing, braising, steaming and deep-frying. Fish, crab and chicken are made "drunken" using spirits and brisk cooking techniques, and may be steamed or served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are commonly used to enhance various dishes. Sugar is an important ingredient in Shanghai cuisine, especially when used in combination with soy sauce. Another characteristic is the use of a great variety of seafood. Rice is more commonly served than noodles or other wheat products.[2]

Shanghai cuisine emphasizes the use of condiments while retaining the original flavors of raw ingredients. It aims at lightness in flavor and is mellower and slightly sweet in taste compared to some other Chinese cuisines. Sweet and sour is a typical Shanghai taste. In Shanghai cuisine, the presentation of dishes is also important. Ingredients are carefully cut and arranged to create a harmonious color scheme.[citation needed]

In the early 20th century, Shanghai families did not typically include fish in their daily meals, despite the city being a port town. Meat was considered a luxury, and meals were typically made up of vegetables, beans, and rice. Families would typically eat meat or fish for four meals within a month, on the second, eighth, sixteenth, and twenty-third days, which became known as dang hun.[3] Nowadays, with increased awareness of nutrition, there is a higher consumption of low-sugar and low-fat food and more vegetables to promote a healthier diet.


Shanghai cuisine is the youngest of the ten major cuisines of China, although it still has more than 400 years of history. Traditionally called Benbang cuisine, it originated in the Ming and Qing dynasties (c. 1368-1840). During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing and Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty, a food stall was set up in the old city of Shanghai called "Shovel Bang"(铲刀帮).[citation needed] After 1930, as Shanghai's industry and commerce rapidly developed, the main customers of BenBang cuisine were an emerging class of workers. As a result, the proportion of inexpensive dishes in BenBang cuisine began to decrease.

In the later part of the 19th century, after Shanghai became a major domestic and international trading port, Benbang dishes underwent substantial change. After the opening of Shanghai port in 1843, sixteen different catering schools opened in Shanghai.[citation needed] Anhui cuisine was the first to gain popularity in Shanghai, followed by Suxi cuisine, Cantonese cuisine, Huaiyang cuisine and Beijing cuisine. In the 1930s, Suxi cuisine was prevalent in almost half of Shanghai's restaurants. Guangdong cuisine was highly popular among both residents of Shanghai and foreigners. As a result of adopting influences from other cuisines, the flavors of Shanghai cuisine became more complex.[4]

Western influence in Shanghai cuisine resulted in the development of a unique cooking style known as Haipai cuisine (海派菜). At the time, eating Western food was considered fashionable, but Chinese people initially struggled to adapt to certain aspects of Western cuisine, such as rare steak. Western food in Shanghai was influenced by many countries but formed its own distinct characteristics. Russian Shanghai Western food, which typically included one main dish and one soup (such as borscht, bread and butter), became particularly popular in Shanghai due to its economic benefits.[clarification needed] Before 1937, there were over 200 Western restaurants in Shanghai, particularly on Xiafei Road and Fuzhou Road.[5]

Nowadays, Shanghai's traditional cuisine is usually found only in home-cooked meals and some old Benbang restaurants. Shanghai is now more famous for its numerous exotic restaurants, especially those serving Japanese and French food.[6]

Notable dishes in Shanghai cuisine[edit]


Breakfast food in Shanghai is varied and contains foods mainly made from wheat, rice and flour. Many of them are influenced by Cantonese cuisine, Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisine, and through historical precipitation[clarification needed], these breakfasts have slowly become favorites of people in Shanghai today. The most classic Shanghai Breakfast is called "The Four Warriors" (四大金刚; 四大金剛; Sìdà Jīngāng; sy⁵ du⁶ cin¹ kaon¹). These are the four most popular breakfast choices for Shanghainese.[7]

  • Glutinous rice rolls (粢飯; Cīfàn; tshy¹ ve⁶)
  • Soy milk (豆浆; 豆漿; Dòujiāng; deu⁶ cian¹)
  • Chinese cruller (油条; 油條; Yóutiáo; yeu⁶ diau⁶)
  • Sesame pancake (大饼; 大餅; Dàbǐng; du⁶ pin⁵)


Shanghai hairy crab's original taste is best preserved with steaming.

Seafood is commonly seen in Shanghai cuisine. These are some popular dishes.

  • Eel noodles – (鳗鱼面; 鰻魚麵; Mányú Miàn; moe⁶ ng⁶ mi⁶) – Made with sliced eels and wheat noodles.[8]
  • Scallion stewed crucian carp – (葱烧鲫鱼; 蔥燒鯽魚; Cōngshāo Jìyú; tshon¹ sau¹ ciq⁷ ng⁶) – The preparation of this common crucian carp dish is quite involved and complex. It requires a significant amount of time to prepare, as the fish must be soaked in vinegar, deep-fried, stewed for a prolonged period, and cooled to make it tender enough to be consumed with all its bones. The difficulty in perfecting this dish, as well as its complexity, led to it being used as a test by families when recruiting a cook.[9]
  • Shanghai hairy crab (上海毛蟹; Shànghǎi Máo Xiè; zaon⁶ he⁵ mau⁶ ha⁵) – A variety of Chinese mitten crab. The crab is usually steamed with ginger, and eaten with a dipping sauce of rice vinegar, sugar and ginger. Mixing crab meat with lard to make Xiefen, and consuming it in xiaolongbao or with tofu, is another highlight of hairy crab season.[10][11]
  • Squirrel-shaped mandarin fish (松鼠桂鱼; 松鼠桂魚; Sōngshǔ Guīyú; son¹ tshy⁵ kue⁵ ng⁶) – This dish features fresh mandarin fish and combines sweet and sour flavors.[12] The fish is deep-fried and has a crispy exterior and soft interior. The dish is yellow and red and it is displayed in the shape of a squirrel when plated. Hot broth is poured over it, which produces a high-pitched sound.[clarification needed]

Meat and poultry[edit]

  • Beggar's chicken (叫化鸡; 叫化雞; Jiàohuā Jī; ciau⁵ ho⁵ ci¹ or ciau⁵ hua⁵ ci¹) – Beggar's Chicken calls for a chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, encased in mud, and roasted in fire, resulting in a delicious and tender meat. According to a legend, a beggar in the Qing dynasty stole and hid a chicken under mud which is where the name of the dish comes from.[8]
  • Lion's head (狮子头; 獅子頭; Shīzi Tóu; sy¹ tsy⁵ deu⁶) – The dish gets its name from the shape of the pork meatball resembling a lion's head and the cabbage, or other vegetables, resembling the lion's mane. It's served in two varieties: white or plain and red which is cooked with soy sauce, and is typically served in a white pot.[8]
  • Red braised pork belly (红烧肉; 紅燒肉; Hóngshāo Ròu; ghon⁶ sau¹ gnioq⁸) – The dish is a braised pork belly cooked in Shanghainese soy sauce for a long time, resulting in a juicy and tender meat.[8]
    Red braised pork belly, a classic Shanghai cuisine
  • Sweet and sour spare ribs (糖醋排骨; Táng Cù Páigǔ; daon⁶ tshu⁵ ba⁶ kueq⁷) – The fresh pork ribs, which appear shiny and red after being cooked, are traditionally deep fried then coated in a sweet and sour sauce.[13]
A type of fried noodles with bok choy and pork with a soy sauce base.


  • Shanghai fried noodles(上海炒面; 上海炒麵; Shànghǎi Chǎomiàn; zaon⁶ he⁵ tshau⁵ mi⁶) – Shanghai fried noodles are fried thick noodles (sometimes udon) with soy sauce. It is most commonly cooked with bok choy and pork.[14]
  • Chilled noodles(冷面; 冷麵; Lěngmiàn; lan⁶ mi⁶) – This dish is a combination of chilled noodles mixed with various sauces and toppings. Traditionally, the noodles are steamed before being cooked for improved flavor. After the noodles are cooled, they are mixed with sesame oil, soy sauce, and peanut sauce.[15] People often add additional toppings when making it at home, and commonly use leftover food they have in the fridge.
  • Noodle soup(汤面; 湯麵; Tāngmiàn; thaon¹ mi⁶) – Su-style noodles are a common type of noodle soup that many people in Shanghai eat daily. This type of noodle soup offers a choice of two different soup bases, and it's typically garnished with various toppings, mostly meat.


  • Borscht (罗宋汤; 羅宋湯; Luósòng Tāng; lu⁶ son⁵ thaon¹) – This dish is a combination of tomatoes and beef. It is considered a classic Shanghai dish that incorporates local elements of Shanghai cuisine. The sweet and sour flavor of the dish is particularly popular among Shanghainese. Originally introduced to Shanghai from Russia, it has now become a common dish in Shanghai homes.[16]
Xiaolongbao, a type of steamed bun from the Jiangnan region


  • Shengjian mantou (生煎馒头; 生煎饅頭; Shēngjiān Mántóu; san¹ ci¹ moe⁶ deu⁶) or Shengjianbao (生煎包; Shēngjiān bāo; san¹ ci¹ pau¹) – Shanghai mantou is a round bun filled with pork, similar to a xiaolongbao but thicker due to the addition of yeast. It is pan-fried and topped with sesame seeds and chopped scallions for flavor.[17]
  • Xiaolongbao (小笼包; 小籠包; Xiǎolóngbāo; shiau⁵ lon⁶ pau¹, known locally as 小笼馒头; 小籠饅頭; shiau⁵ lon⁶ moe⁶ deu⁶) – A type of steamed dumpling made with a thin skin of dough and stuffed with pork or minced crab meat, and soup. The delicious soup stays inside the dumpling until it is bitten.
  • Guotie (锅贴; 鍋貼; ku¹ thiq⁷) or potstickers – Essentially a Jiaozi, but rather than being boiled or steamed, they are fried in a pan with oil on one side and then water is added to the pan and covered to steam the rest of the dumpling. Traditionally, Guotie are filled with ground pork and finely chopped Chinese scallions or cabbage.[18]
  • Savory mooncakes (鲜肉月饼; 鮮肉月餅; shi¹ gnioq⁸ yuq⁸ pin⁵) – Mooncakes consumed in other part of China are usually sweet, with fillings such as sesame seeds, walnuts, and red bean paste. However, in Shanghai, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, locals consume a savory version of mooncakes filled with meat. [19] This type of mooncake is usually only available at select local restaurants.


  • Tangyuan (汤圆; 湯圓; Tāngyuán; thaon¹ yoe⁶) – A type of sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice flour and stuffed with black sesame. Qibao has a number of tangyuan vendors.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "浓油赤酱,被米其林低估的上海味道_身体_澎湃新闻-The Paper". Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  2. ^ "Learn About the Top Chinese Food Recipes From Shanghai". The Spruce Eats. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  3. ^ Hanchao Lu (1999). Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century. University of California Press. ISBN 0520215648.
  4. ^ 网易 (2019-09-04). "寻味上海① | 我们查了查本帮菜的户口簿,发现了它的祖宗。". Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  6. ^ "上海故事 | "吃西菜到红房子":海派西餐那些事_湃客_澎湃新闻-The Paper". Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  7. ^ "The Breakfast Foods You Have to Try in Shanghai". Saveur. 2018-11-13. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  8. ^ a b c d Deason, Rachel (14 February 2017). "Traditional Shanghainese Dishes You Must Try". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  9. ^ Lee, Jesse (2008), 上海味兒, 旗林文化, ISBN 978-986-6655-14-2
  10. ^ "The That's Guide to Gorging on Shanghai Hairy Crab". Archived from the original on 11 April 2019. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Zoobenthos Archived 2015-01-09 at the Wayback Machine". The Shanghai Jiuduansha Wetland Nature Reserve (Shanghai), 2014.
  12. ^ 名家名菜—松鼠鳜鱼. Archived from the original on 28 August 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  13. ^ 上海糖醋小排. Archived from the original on 29 August 2019. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Shanghai Fried Noodles (Cu Chao Mian)". The Woks of Life. 2014-12-14. Retrieved 2020-09-30.
  15. ^ Tan, Tony. "Shanghai-style chilled noodles recipe". Gourmet Traveller. Retrieved 2020-09-30.
  16. ^ "Shanghai-Style Red Vegetable Soup (罗宋汤 - Luo Song Tang)". The Woks of Life. 2018-10-27. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  17. ^ a b Wei, Clarissa (2017-04-27). "A Guide to 14 of the Most Iconic Foods in Shanghai". Vice. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  18. ^ "7 Types Of Chinese Dumplings In Shanghai: Dumpling Guide". 2 June 2020. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  19. ^ "Shanghai Savory Mooncakes (Xian Rou Yue Bing)". The Woks of Life. 2015-09-19. Retrieved 2022-04-23.

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