Mall dining in Asia is nothing like its American counterpart, thanks mostly to the humid climates of Singapore and Hong Kong.
These two islands have tunnels and bridges connecting malls throughout the cities, making them easy to traverse while staying inside the air-conditioned environment. When temperatures spike – as they do on most days – crowds flock to the malls; the restaurants have followed suit. You can eat everything from excellent snack food to Michelin-starred meals in malls in Hong Kong and Singapore. But what does all that have to do with Shanghai?
From 2012-2014, China used more cement than America did in the entire 20th century. The constant development is so ubiquitous locals joke that the national bird of China is the construction crane. Most of the developers who open malls in Shanghai are Hong Kong and Singaporean companies, and they bring with them high standards for mall dining.
Many of our favorite backstreet eateries are taking their dishes to the relative safety of skyscraper malls.
Moreover, all that upward mobility from redevelopment means that many of our favorite backstreet eateries are taking their dishes to the relative safety of skyscraper malls – away from the chengguan who enforce the no-sidewalk dining policies and the threat of eviction resulting from redevelopment and unpredictable landlords. Here are a few of our go-to food courts.
Located next to the high-end Xintiandi shopping area, Hubin Dao takes its cues from its upmarket neighbor. You won’t find a food court here; each restaurant in the mall – and there are many – comes equipped with its own dining room. Taoyuan Village serves up its Taiwanese breakfast treats on level one. On the same floor is Spice Bazaar, a foreign-friendly Xinjiang restaurant with an excellent English menu of Chinese halal classics. Upstairs on the third floor is In & Out. Not to be confused with the popular American burger chain, this Yunnan restaurant dresses to impress, with minority costumed waiters and handicraft décor. The food doesn’t disappoint either – we always order the fried goat’s cheese (乳饼 rǔ bǐng).
This former French Concession mall is located just off Huaihai Road, one of the city’s most famous thoroughfares, and houses such luxurious brands as Gucci, Apple, TWG Tea and Bang & Olufsen. Instead of a food court, they spread their dining wealth around the mall – keep in mind the cheapest options are concentrated in the basement and the price point goes up with the floor count. On the third floor, the dim sum favorite Tao Heung serves up steamed Cantonese dishes you can pre-order from a computer while you wait for your table. Just around the corner from Tao Heung is a second branch of the best Shanghainese restaurant in town, Old Jesse. Guyi, a Hunan restaurant we love for its cumin-encrusted ribs (自然排骨 zīrán páigǔ) and al fresco dining at its Fumin Lu location, spreads out tables onto the marble floors on the sixth floor along with Da Dong, the Peking duck emporium from Beijing.
This subterranean food court near Taikang Lu (on top of Dapuqiao metro) has a maze of cheap options on its B2 level. Lin Long Fang, famed for their xiaolongbao (Shanghai-style soup dumplings), set up its second central location here. From September until December (peak hairy crab season), order their crab roe soup dumplings and marvel at the thin-skinned wonders. You won’t get to watch the chefs rolling them to order like at their original location on Jianguo Lu, but the dumplings taste just as good. Also at SML Plaza is Taiwan 7 Brothers, a vegan eatery that serves up mock meats made of mushrooms, tofu and wheat gluten. They also offer Taiwanese vegetarian recipes without the fake pork, such as nine-story pagoda eggplant and stir-fried tea tree mushrooms. Grab dessert at Lillian’s, the Macanese egg tart stall, to end on a sweet note.