What are the best local dishes in Shanghai?

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Sophie Friedman

Eating is a national pastime in China, and no matter where you are, you’ll find your helpful hosts trying to stuff your gut with what they consider to be the ultimate local delicacy. Today, we’re looking at the best local dishes in Shanghai—five of our favorite eats that’ll leave you wanting more.

Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)
No list of Shanghai’s local dishes is complete without xiaolongbao; they’re an enormous point of pride for Shanghairen (ren means “people” in Mandarin), and you’ll get half a dozen different answers when you ask where to find the best. The delicate wrapper belies the hot, fragrant soup within. Do not bite directly into the dumpling or you’ll burn your tongue and soil your shirt; use your chopstick to poke a small steam-escape hole and use that cooling time to tuck a napkin into your collar.

Street side seafood
Just these words alone conjure up images of being violently ill from food poisoning, but pedestrian-only Shouning Road, a sea of tiny seafood shops, is a safe bet. Pick your way from one restaurant to the next, tucking into scallops, crawfish, oysters, mussels, and scallops. Grilled oysters are the best of the bunch, especially those with the black bean and chili oil and garlic sauces.

Ci fan (rice ball)
These glutinous rice balls come stuffed with all manner of fillings, including youtiao (savory fried dough sticks), pork floss or chunks of pork, pickled vegetables, and fried egg. Ci fan often come lightly dressed in meat sauce, so say “bu yao” if you want yours dry. Those who like breakfast sweet can get white-sugar filled ci fan.

Fried noodles
Noodles are popular the Middle Kingdom over, but these Shanghai cumian (literally thick noodles) are still well worth a try. You’ll find them most often stir-fried with meat—beef, chicken, or pork—but you can ask for shrimp, too, and cabbage and onions will always be included. The noodles are thick and round, rather than wide and flat, with nice springy texture.

Hairy crab
Though these technically originate from neighboring Kunshan’s Yangcheng Lake, the delectable crustacean are well-loved by the Shanghainese. Their prime season is autumn and, if you’re really dedicated, you can go directly to the source; there’s a Fairmont Hotel at Yangcheng Lake. In Shanghai, you’ll find them at restaurants high and low, as well as at the seafood market. There’s an ongoing heated debate over which part of the crab is the best; the general consensus is that it’s the female roe.

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