Shanghai cuisine (上海菜), also known as Hu cuisine, 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; Běnbāng cài; "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 "colour, aroma and taste" as its elements, like other Chinese regional cuisines, and emphasises in particular the use of seasonings, the quality of raw ingredients and original flavours.
Shanghai dishes usually appear red and shiny because they are often pickled in wine. They are cooked using a variety of methods including baking, stewing, braising, steaming and deep-frying. Fish, crab and chicken are made "drunken" with spirits and briskly cooked, steamed or served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also 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.
Shanghai cuisine emphasises the use of condiments and the importance of retaining the original flavours of the raw ingredients materials. It aims at lightness in flavour and is mellower and slightly sweet in taste compared to some other Chinese cuisines. Sweet and sour is a typical Shanghai taste. An attractive presentation is also important in Shanghai cooking with ingredients being carefully cut and presented with a view to harmonising colours.
In recent times, special attention has been paid to low-sugar and low-fat food, with a good quantity of vegetables and improved nutritional value.
Shanghai cuisine is the youngest among the ten major cuisines of China although it has a history of more than 400 years. Traditionally called Benbang cuisine, it originated in the Ming and Qing dynasties (c. 1368-1840). In the later part of the 19th century, after Shanghai became a major domestic and international trading port, Benbang dishes underwent some substantial changes, adopting influences from other cuisines which added to its complexity.
This is rather involved and complex preparation for the common crucian carp. The dish 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.
The Shanghai hairy crab is a variety of the Chinese mitten crab. It 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 flavour. 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 effect on the body, the female crab roe is regarded as a treasure among locals.
Shrimp with colourful 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.
This dish uses fresh mandarin fish. The fish is deep-fried and has a crispy exterior and soft interior. Yellow and red in colour, 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 flavours are combined in this dish.
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. 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 with a deliciously roasted chicken 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".
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-flavoured meat, another feature of the dish is the liquor-flavoured gelatin that results from the chilled mixture of the alcohol and the cooking juices.
The name derives from the shape of the pork meatball which is supposed to resemble a lion's head 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.
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
táng cù páigǔ
Sweet and sour spare ribs are one of the best known rib dishes in China. In Chinese, it is literally called "sugar and vinegar spare ribs" which indicates the main ingredients of this dish. This dish epitomises 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 delicious sweet and sour sauce. It originated in Wuxi City of Jiangsu Province and has been popular nationwide.
The collective name of these four dishes pays homage to the Four Heavenly Kings in Chinese Buddhism. The four dishes are common breakfast foods in Shanghai: da bing (大饼; 大餅; dà bǐng; "Chinese pancake"), youtiao, ci fan tuan (糍饭团; 糍飯團; cífàntuán; "steamed sticky rice ball") and soy milk. Ci fan tuan is made of warm steamed sticky rice. Shanghainese like putting sugar and youtiao inside steamed sticky rice. People also put salty duck egg yolk, rousong or other stuffing in ci fan tuan.
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, skilful wonton sellers would make these little treats in rapid fire by clasping small dough wrappers and minced pork together in their hands.
The shengjian mantou could be called a greasier and heartier rival of xiaolongbao. To make the filling, people often use a blend of minced pork and pork jelly, or gelatin, that melts when the shengjian mantou are fried, creating a greasy and scalding hot broth.
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 such as 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 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.
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" (清湯面), 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.
This soup 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 flavour. The soup is believed to be good for one's health. The Chinese claim that eating certain parts of animals strengthens the corresponding part on one's own body.
Fried bean curd and vermicelli soup
yóu dòufǔ fěnsī tāng
This is a very popular dish in Shanghai, locals normally have it for breakfast. The dish contains fried bean curd and vermicelli and spring onion on the top. The soup is lightly salted and believed to be good for one's health.
Kou San Si
kòu sān sī
A classic Shanghainese dish composed of steamed shredded ham, bamboo shoots and chicken in a rich broth. The three ingredients are shredded into thread-like pieces and tiled around evenly in a bowl and steamed. When served, the bowl is put upside-down in a dish. Then the bowl will be removed and rich broth will be added to cover the dish.
This is a famous Shanghainese soup made from cured pork, fresh pork and dried bamboo shoots. It sometimes contains dumplings wrapped with a thin skin of egg instead of the typical dumpling dough skins. This soup is typically drunk during the Lunar New Year.