Shanghai Cuisine is not one of the Eight Major Cuisines of China but is a choice blend of the most appealing aspects of these other national styles of food.
Shanghai Cuisine, also known as Hu Cai, includes two styles - Benbang Cuisine and Haipai Cuisine.
Benbang Cuisine, literally meaning 'local cuisine', is the traditional family style cuisine that appeared in Shanghai over 100 years ago. Using fresh fish, chicken, pork and various vegetables as the main ingredients, it always has a great flavor and a bright color derived from the oil and soybean sauce. Like the food of Suzhou and Wuxi cuisines, Benbang food tastes fresh, mellow and sweet.
Haipai Cuisine, literally meaning 'all-embracing cuisine' is derived from the cosmopolitan culture formed in Shanghai in the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It absorbs the advantages of many food from other regions of China and even western food, and then adapts them to suit local tastes. Fresh fish, shrimps and crabs are the main ingredients of Haipai Cuisine. The appearance, flavors and cooking techniques of the Haipai dishes have many variations.
Features of Shanghai Cuisine
Benbang Cuisine and Haipai Cuisine have many things in common: First, they make great use of fresh meat, chicken, vegetables and especially various marine ingredients such as fish, shrimps and crabs. Secondly, they have a great number of signature dishes made from various seasonal ingredients. Thirdly, a wide range of cooking techniques have been adopted and include steaming, braising, stewing, stir-frying, quick-frying, deep-frying, boiling, marinating, smoking and roasting. Fourthly, strongly hot food hardly ever forms part of Shanghai Cuisine. Most of the dishes taste fresh, clear, mellow, sweet or subtly spicy.
In recent years, Shanghai Cuisine has been greatly influenced by Cantonese Cuisine. Consequently the foods are now less oily and more delicate with the use of more high quality and expensive ingredients. People here have become more concerned about a healthy diet. This means there is an upsurge in the trend towards the use of fresh ingredients and in particular good quality fruit and vegetables.
Signature Shanghai Dishes
When you come to Shanghai, do not miss the chance to go to famous Shanghai Cuisine restaurants and try the signature local dishes.
1. Xia Zi Da Wu Shen is noted as the most famous seafood dish in local cuisine. Dried sea cucumber is immersed in water to restore its original size and then stewed with oil, yellow wine, soybean sauce, broth, sugar, shallot, starch sauce and shrimp roe. This dish is nutritious with rich protein and minerals and is said to effectively control cancer.
2. Ba Bao La Jiang is typical among the few spicy dishes. It is a Benbang dish featuring great flavor and bright color. Bean sauce and chili sauce are blended and stir-fried with shelled shrimps, chicken, chicken stock, pork, pig offal, dried small shrimps, bamboo shoots and various kinds of seasoning. This dish with such a great number of ingredients gives us some idea of how delicate Shanghai food can be.
3. You Bao He Xia is a good choice if you like sea food. Live shrimps are deep-fried and then sir-fried with a special sauce made of yellow wine, soybean sauce, sugar, shallot sauce and ginger sauce. The dish tastes fairly sweet and fresh.
4. Yan Du Xian is a delicious stew. Pork and ham are first steamed and then stewed in a soup with fresh bamboo shoots.
5. Qing Chao Shan Hu, also known as Xiang You Shan Hu, is an eel dish. Fresh eels are stir-fried with shredded bamboo shoots, yellow wine, soybean sauce, ginger, sugar and starch sauce. After being put on a plate, chopped shallot is sprinkled on the dish and hot oil is poured onto it. Consequently, Qing Chao Shan Hu crackles when it is served at the table.
Besides the dishes mentioned above, the city also provides diners with an extensive menu of many other delicious dishes such as steamed crabs, sauted shelled shrimps, braised fish, smoked fish, steamed shad, braised herring liver, braised eel, plain boiled chicken and stewed chicken.
Local snacks should not be missed. You should try the famous Nanxiang steamed stuffed buns, crab-yellow pastry, fried stuffed buns, chop rice cake, vegetable stuffed buns, Leisha dumplings and wontons. Various snack streets in the city have many restaurants and eateries to tempt you. Wujiang Road, Old Town God Temple Snack Street, South Yunnan Road and Xianxia Road are the best among them.
As an all-embracing city, Shanghai offers various delicacies from other regions of China and many foreign countries and areas. No matter how fastidious you are about dining, you can enjoy your time to the full!