A guide to Shanghai street food

June 01, 2018
Urban Adventures

With one of the most diverse cuisines in the world, Shanghai is home to a range of lip-smacking adventures! But you don’t need to go to a fancy restaurant for quality grub — the city’s street food is guaranteed to make any visitor salivate. Here are our top picks for mouthwatering dishes in the city — just make sure you’re wearing loose pants when you tuck in.

Xiao long bao

Packed with flavour, xiao long bao are juicy, steamed pork dumplings with a gooey soup centre. The name literally translates as “little basket bun” and is eaten for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day. The dumplings’ thick, rich filling is a mixture of herbs and juices from the pork, delicately wrapped in a translucent layer, tightly swirled at the top and typically sprinkled with sesame seeds. Xiao long bao has a very short shelf life, so should only be served freshly steamed on the day it’s made.

Causing some controversy, Time Out London recently suggested xiao long bao should be popped before eating, to allow the broth to drain out. Shanghai locals swiftly corrected the claim, saying the right way is to sip the broth directly from the dumpling, so to savour the gelatinised centre.


Shansi leng mian

Transitioning from traditional restaurants to rustic street food, this eel noodle bowl is a combination of hot and cold ingredients, as well as soft and meaty textures. It comes with a soy sauce accompaniment, giving shansi leng mian a salty, gingery, taste. The dish is usually served in two sections, one containing cooked eel, the other containing cold, thin wheat noodles. Diners can decide whether to combine them or eat the compartments separately.

Dou hua

A great comfort food traditionally offered to welcome guests in Sichuan homes, dou hua is a sweet dessert dish, with only three main ingredients: soybeans, water and gluconolactone (a setting agent). Comparable to custard, the pale, thick liquid has a silky, soft texture, meaning it quite literally slides down your throat. It’s commonly served with sugar syrup and is also known as “tofu pudding.”


Jianbing is a hugely popular breakfast food in Shanghai, cooked on a cast-iron grill to lock in the variety of flavours. “Jian” means fried, while “bing” is a term used to describe, round flat foods — it’s used at the end of other Shanghai food names. The savoury crepes are fried with eggs on mung bean and wheat flour pancakes, then lined with spicy scallions, sweet pickle, fried wonton and topped with cilantro and generous helpings of chili and hoisin sauce. The dish is bursting with an array of seasoning and textures, contrasting from crisp and crunchy, to soft and chewy.

Vendors tend to start selling the morning grub from as early as 5am, and are always busy, so be sure to secure a spot in line.


Known as “glutinous rice balls,” cífàntuán is another highly rated breakfast snack in Shanghai. Steamed rice is clumped together and wrapped in a thin dough called youtiao, taking a similar shape to a sushi roll or burrito. The balls can be either sweet or savoury; sweet includes a sesame seed and sugar filling, while savoury has pickled vegetable and shredded pork inside. Both are typically presented with soy milk.


This old-street BBQ food is succulent meat, cooked to perfection, enhanced by vegetables and spices, tied together with a deep smoky taste. The grilled skewer meat is easy to find — just look for the clouds of smoke pouring from shāokǎo vendors lining the roads in the evening. Visitors can choose from raw vegetables and meat laid out on the cart. Simply place your choices in a tray for the cook and watch as dinner is made.

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