Shanghai is a modern city with both feet firmly in the 21st century. The growth of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan city and the driving economic force behind China is evident in the gleaming new skyscrapers filled with expatriates and the local elite, bustling streets with luxury retailers from all over the world and construction cranes throughout the city. However, pockets of Art Deco architecture and former colonial residences around Shanghai reveal its days of glory as the ‘Paris of the East.’
- Braised meat balls in casserole
- Braised pork knuckle
- Braised whole fish
- Diced green vegetables with hard tofu
- Double boiled cabbage with Jinhua ham
- Drunken chicken or squab
- Drunken crab or shrimp
- Garlic cucumber with sesame oil
- Glass noodle with shredded chicken & sesame sauce
- Salt chicken or duck
- Sharks fin soup with Jinhua ham
- Spongy, sweet brown wheat bran kaofu
- Steamed crab roe dumplings, xiaolongbao
- Steamed fish with wine lees sauce
- Steamed hairy crab
- Stewed pork belly
- Stir fried baby shrimp with longjing tea leaves
Shanghainese cuisine is characterised by delicate ingredients combined with prominent flavours such as vinegar and sugar. Soy sauce is liberally used in Shanghai and a technique known as ‘red cooking’ is popular – meat and vegetables are cooked slowly for a long time with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and ginger root. Vinegar is also widely used, both as a flavouring ingredient as well as a dip. Special vinegars such as the Chinkiang black rice vinegar from Shanghai’s northern neighbour, Jiangsu province, are considered by many to be the best of its type. The tart and slightly sweet taste dominates many Shanghainese dishes and unlike its northern and western neighbors, spicy chillies rarely feature on the dining menu.
A typical Shanghainese meal includes a large selection of cold appetisers that are often seasoned with a combination of sesame oil, garlic and vinegar. Popular cold dishes include finely diced vegetables and tofu, sesame oil and chilli-infused cucumbers and shredded chicken slices with sesame oil. An assortment of pickled vegetables is widely consumed and the most common condiments involve a combination of soy sauce, vinegar and ginger.
FOOD AND DINING CULTURE
Shanghai sits near the mouth of the Yangtze, China’s longest river which stretches along nine provinces and divides China into north and south. With milder weather and greater rainfall than the north, it enjoys a rice-based culture with an array of seafood, vegetables and fruits. The east coast’s historical prosperity led to a highly developed and refined food culture.
Since the 1990s, the growing number of restaurants offering traditional, modern and fusion Shanghainese food has proliferated. One key aspect of the local dining culture is the snacks, or xiao chi. Popular throughout the day, snack foods, once eaten mainly in small backstreets, are now served in stylish restaurants specialising in a particular dish. The small pork dumplings xiao long bao, are a favourite among the locals and famous throughout China. Other well known dumplings include shuijiao (boiled meat and vegetable dumplings) and shengjian (pan-fried meat dumplings) while popular snacks include fried onion cakes, beef soup noodles and chou (stinky) tofu. There are numerous food streets to explore in Shanghai such as Tongchuan Road and Wujiang Road.
BEVERAGE & WINE CULTURE
Despite a drinking culture well established in grain-based wines such as Shaoxing and Maotai, Shanghai leads the mainland cities in the move toward grape-based wines. Just like the city’s skyline, the wine landscape changes rapidly with the constant addition of new retailers and importers to the scene.
Interest in wine accelerated once wine duty was reduced to 14% in 2001, when China joined the WTO. However, wine continues to be an aspirational product and not considered affordable by the majority of Shanghai residents. This perception is changing: domestic wines are improving in quality and are affordable starting points to wine. The growing competition among importers and retailers means that prices will become increasingly affordable and wine will be readily available, from hypermarkets, boutique wine shops to the local grocery stores.
WINE AND SHANGHAINESE FOOD
The use of vinegar, subtle sweetness and the fairly high oil content in many Shanghainese dishes often call for a wine with firm, crisp acidity. Vinegar content in food is tricky when pairing with wines since a strong sour taste can overwhelm any fruit in the wine. Ideally, acidity levels should be matched. However, many Shanghainese dishes temper vinegar content with a hint of sugar or a fatty and oily element in the dish. The sour taste is often not sharp but rounded and thus a medium to full-bodied wine with crisp acidity and fairly prominent fruit profile works well with many Shanghainese dishes.
One of the key considerations when choosing a good wine to suit the range of Shanghainese dishes is the acidity level and the refreshment value, which needs to be fairly high. Red wines should be from moderately cool climates and sites while whites and rosé wines should also possess refreshing acidity. High-alcohol, flabby wines will only work well with a limited range of dishes (e.g. braised meats) while overtly fruity wines can overwhelm subtle umami flavours in the delicate dishes and highly tannic wines which will exaggerate the saltiness of the food. Mature red wines, especially those from Burgundy, northern Rhône and northern Italy, can wonderfully complement a refined Shanghainese meal.
RECOMMENDED WINES FOR SHANGHAINESE CUISINE
- Mature Chateauneuf du Pape
- New World Pinot Noir
- California Fume Blanc
- Alsace White