image of Shanghai's East Nanjing RoadToday we’re continuing our series on China’s regional cuisines! Check out our previous posts on Sichuanese, Beijing food, food of the Silk Road and Cantonese as well!

What is Shanghai cuisine?

Shanghai cuisine is the food that is based in Shanghai and its surrounding area, especially Suzhou and Wuxi. In Chinese, it’s commonly called Shanghaicai (上海菜, “cai” means food or cuisine), Hucai (沪菜, “Hu” is a common nickname for Shanghai) and Benbangcai (本帮菜, “Benbang” means local).
Shanghaicai was originally based on the food of Jiangsu, a neighboring province whose cuisine is considered one of China’s eight greats.

Common characteristics and dishes

making-dumplings-in-shanghaiShanghai cuisine is often braised in dark soy sauce or simply stir-fried. It has a heavier taste and frequently uses a good thick red oil sauce. All of this gives a very homemade feeling.
The term Nong You Chi Jiang (浓油赤酱) is comonly used to describe Shanghaicai. It refers to the fact that Shanghainese food uses a relatively large amount of oil and soy sauce, has strong flavors and is often red or deep caramel colored.

  • 浓 – Nong, thick
  • 油 – You, oil
  • 赤 – Chi, red
  • 酱 – Jiang, sauce

There is also a focus on fresh and saltwater seafood because of Shanghai’s position next to both the East China Sea and the Yangtze River delta.

Typical Dishes

Hong Shao Rou 红烧肉
Close up of glistening Hongshaorou
Wine Fragrant Clover 酒香草头
Lion’s Head 狮子头
Home made Shanghainese Lionshead meatballs
Xiaolongbao 小笼包
Shanghainese crab and pork soup dumplings with roe on top in a steaming basket
Hairy Crab 大闸蟹
Tied up living Shanghai haircrab waiting to be steamed
Steamed Yellow Croaker 清蒸小黄鱼
Five Steamed yellow croaker on a plate to be steamed

Varied influences

Shanghainese cuisine has been developing since the 1300’s in China, but after China opened up as a port city in the later part of the Qing dynasty a new type of Shanghainese cuisine developped called “Haipaicai” or Shanghai Style Cuisine. (Funnily enough, this term was actually coined by Beijing writers who were trying to criticize Shanghai’s love of western culture.)
As restaurants from other provinces, such as Sichuan, became more and more common in Shanghai, they realized that in order to succeed they would need to adopt their recipes to better match the local tastes. This combination of cuisines from all over China and Shanghaicai created the new Haipaicai.
Have you tried Shanghainese food? What’s your favorite Shanghainese dish? Let us know on our Facebook page!