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Shanghai cuisine, also known as Hu cuisine, is popular style of Chinese food. In a narrow sense, Shanghai cuisine refers only to what is traditionally called Benbang cuisine (本帮菜, lit. "local cuisine") which originated in Shanghai; in a broad sense,it refers to complex and developed styles of cooking under profound influence of those of the surrounding provinces – Jiangsu and Zhejiang –. It takes "color, aroma and taste" as its elements like other Chinese regional cuisines, and emphasizes in particular the use of seasonings，the quality of raw materials and original flavors.
Shanghai dishes usually look red and shiny, for they are often pickled in wine and their cooking methods include baking, stewing, braising, steaming, deep-frying, etc. Fish, crab, chicken are "drunken" with spirits and are briskly cooked, steamed, or served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also commonly used to enhance the dish. 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 dominantly served over noodle or other wheat products.
Shanghai cuisine stresses on using condiments and keeping the original flavors of the materials and has features of being fresh, smooth and crispy. It aims at lightness in flavor, and beautifulness in decoration. The raw materials of Shanghai dishes are well cut, and the colors harmoniously arranged.
Now, special attention is being paid to low-sugar and low-fat food, a good quantity of vegetables and nutritional values.
Generally Shanghai cuisine is mellower and slightly sweet in taste. Sweet and sour is a typical Shanghai taste.
Shanghai cuisine is the youngest among the ten major cuisines in China though with a history of more than 400 years. Traditionally called Benbangcuisine, it originated in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1840). In the later part of 19th century after Shanghai became a major domestic and international trading port, Benbangdishes underwent some substantial changes by adopting certain merits of other cuisines. It formed a complex flavor structure, cooking style and technique norm.
- Shanghai hairy crab: Shanghai maoxie
The Shanghai hairy crab, a variety of the Chinese Mitten Crab, is normally consumed in late autumn. The popular species of crab is a medium-sized burrowing crab that is named for its furry claws, which resemble mittens. Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs—rich in fat and ovaries and identifiable by their green shells and white bottoms—are reputed to be the best-quality hairy crabs, although the prime spawning ground for most hairy crabs around Shanghai is now the area around the Jiuduansha shoals off Pudong in the East China Sea. The crabs are tied with ropes or strings, placed in bamboo containers, steamed and served. When they are properly cooked, the fragrance appeals to diners' palate. Da Zha Xie focuses on bringing out the natural crab flavor. The meat is tender, juicy and delicious. It is usually consumed with vinegar. Locals are also quite fussy about when to consume male crabs and when to consume female crabs. Believed to have the cooling yin (of yin and yang) effect on the body, the female crab roe is regarded as a treasure among locals.
- Shrimp with colorful vegetables
This is a stir-fried shrimp dish. The shrimps are peeled and then stir-fried with Chinese bean sauce. There will be no grease remaining on the plate when finished.
- Squirrel-shaped mandarin fish
This dish uses very fresh mandarin fish. The fish is deep-fried and has a crispy exterior and soft interior. Yellow and red in color, it is displayed in the shape of a squirrel on the plate. Hot broth is poured over, which produces a high-pitched sound. Sour and sweet flavors are combined in this dish.
- Congshao crucian carp
This is rather involved and complex preparation for the common crucian carp. The dish, congshao jiyu (Chinese: 蔥燒鯽魚; pinyin: cōngshāo jìyú; literally: "scallion stewed crucian carp"), requires long hours for preparation since the fish needs to be soaked in vinegar, and then deep-fried, stewed for a long prolonged period, and cooled to make the fish tender enough to consume together with all its bones. Due to the complexity of its preparation and the difficulty in perfecting it, the dish was sometimes used by families as a test when recruiting a cook.
Livestocks and poultry
- Lion head meatballs
The name derives from the shape of the meatball which is supposed to resemble the head of the lion and the cabbage (or other vegetables), which is supposed to resemble the lion’s mane. Usually, there are two varieties served on the table: the white (or plain), and the red (cooked with soy sauce). The plain variety is usually stewed or steamed with napa cabbage. The red variety can be stewed with cabbage or cooked with bamboo shoots and tofu derivatives. Lion head meatballs might not be as big as a lion’s head, but they are delicious anyway, sort of like the foie gras of meatballs with indulgent crab meat and a creamy texture. The delicate, porky nuances of these meatballs are quite irresistible with lots of rice.
- Red Braised Pork
As the English name suggests, the melt in the mouth texture is formed as a result of a long braising process, using relatively little liquid. The pork belly, with a combination of ginger, garlic, aromatic spices, chili peppers, sugar, light and dark soy, and rice wine, is cooked until the fat and skin are gelatinous so that it can melt easily in the mouth, while the sauce is usually thick, sweet and fairly sticky.
- Sweet and sour spare ribs
Sweet and sour spare ribs are one of best known rib dishes in China. In Chinese, it is literally called “sugar and vinegar spareribs” which indicates the main ingredients of this dish. This dish epitomizes the sweet and sour dishes of China. The fresh pork ribs, which appear shiny and red after being cooked, are traditionally deep fried then coated in a super delicious sweet and sour sauce. It originated in Wuxi City of Jiangsu Province and has been popular nationwide.
- Drunken chicken
Typically in most traditional culinary methods for this dish, the whole chicken is firstly being steamed then chopped up into pieces. The steamed meat, along with its juice, is cooked with scallions, ginger and salt. After the chicken is cooked, it is marinated in Chinese liquor, sherry or distilled liquor, like whiskey, overnight in the refrigerator. Served chilled, the poultry is a heady, salty delight. Besides the liquor-flavored meat, another feature of the dish is the liquor-flavored gelatin that results from the chilled mixture of the alcohol and the cooking juices.
- Beggar's Chicken
Beggar's Chicken calls for a stuffed and marinated chicken, sealed tight with layers of lotus leaves, and then wrapped in parchment paper or wax paper along with mud. The actual process involves wrapping a whole spiced chicken in lotus leaves, then encasing it in mud and roasted in open fire. When fully cooked, the mud forms a hard shell around the chicken and cracked open before revealing the deliciously roasted chicken inside. This unique cooking technique produces tender, juicy, and aromatic chicken, with the original taste of the chicken perfectly retained and trapped. The bones just fall off the chicken after hours of baking, and the meat is bursting with intense fragrance.
As per the legend, Beggar's Chicken originated in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). A beggar in Zhejiang province stole a chicken from a village, and buried it in mud. He retrieved the mud covered chicken latter, and instead of cleaning the mud he just threw it in an open fire. This resulted in hardening the muddy shell around the chicken with a deliciously roasted bird inside. He then started selling chickens cooked this way and made a fortune for him, also creating a Chinese culinary tradition known as “Beggar’s Chicken”.
- Yangchun Noodles
The story of the name: The tenth Chinese lunar month is called little yangchun, and it is a local custom to call the number "ten" yangchun. When these noodles first appeared in Shanghai, their price was ten fen, so people called them yangchun noodles and that name is still used. Yangchun noodles are also called "clear soup noodles" (qingtangmian), as they are thin noodles in a clear soup. Scented scallion oil is added to the noodles to make them smooth and tasty. They are highly nutritious, containing protein and various vitamins.
A notable Shanghai delicacy is xiaolongbao, sometimes known as Shanghai dumplings in English-speaking countries. Xiaolongbao is a type of steamed bun made with a thin skin of dough and stuffed with pork (most commonly found) or minced crab, and soup. Note that these buns (or dumplings) are wrapped and sealed differently than other dumplings like jiaozi. Although it appears delicate, a good xiaolongbao is able to hold in the soup until it is bitten. They are steamed in bamboo baskets and served with black vinegar and in some places, shredded ginger. A common way of eating xiaolongbao is to bite off the top, suck out the soup, then dip it in the dark Chinese vinegar before eating. The most well-known type is Nanxiang xiaolongbao, which is a traditional snack of Nanxiang Township in Shanghai's suburbs and can be found all over Shanghai.
- Shengjianbao:("Sangjibo" in Shanghainese)
The shengjianbao could be called a greasier and heartier rival of the xiaolongbao. To make the filling, people often use a blend of minced pork and pork jelly, or gelatin, that melts when the shengjian are fried, creating a greasy and scalding hot broth.
- Mini Wontons in Soup
Piping hot bowls of tiny wontons suspended in broth, decorated with cilantro, dried shrimp and strips of egg regularly start off locals’ days. In the morning, skillful wonton sellers would make these little treats in rapid fire by clasping small dough wrappers and minced pork together in their hands.
The most well-known foods for breakfast are the "Four Heavenly Kings" (simplified Chinese: 四大金刚; traditional Chinese: 四大金剛; pinyin: sìdà jīngāng), which include dabing (simplified Chinese: 大饼; traditional Chinese: 大餅; pinyin: dàbǐng; Chinese pancake), youtiao, ci fan tuan (simplified Chinese: 糍饭团; traditional Chinese: 糍飯團; pinyin: cífàntuán; steamed sticky rice ball) and soy milk.
Among the "Four Heavenly Kings", ci fan tuan belongs to typical Shanghai food. Ci fan tuan is made of warm steamed sticky rice. Shanghainese people like putting sugar and youtiao inside steamed sticky rice. People also put salty duck egg yolk, rousong (simplified Chinese: 肉松; traditional Chinese: 肉鬆; pinyin: ròusōng; crushed dried pork) or other stuffing in ci fan tuan.
The name pays homage to the Four Heavenly Kings in Chinese Buddhism.
- Chicken and Duck Blood Soup
This Shanghai favourite is soup (known as Ji Ya Xue Tang) that contains solidified blood as its main ingredient. In fact, the blood rather resembles dark red tofu and has very little taste. The broth used is a very light or slightly salty clear chicken broth with some spring onion added for a nice flavor. The soup is believed to be good for one’s health. The Chinese claim eating certain parts of animals strengthens the corresponding part on one's own body.
- "Zoobenthos". The Shanghai Jiuduansha Wetland Nature Reserve (Shanghai), 2014.
- Lee, Jesse (2008), 上海味兒, 旗林文化, ISBN 978-986-6655-14-2
- English recipe for "Shanghai dumplings" accessdate = 2009-09-10
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