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Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I love to cook as much as I love to eat, and on my upcoming trip to Shanghai, I’d love to take a cooking class to learn more about Chinese cooking and ingredients. Where can I take English-language cooking classes in the city?

With the typical Chinese menu offering 100-plus items, there is a world of Chinese cooking to be discovered, whether you’re in Shanghai for a brief trip or an extended expat adventure. Learning the cooking methods behind some of your favorite dishes will give you the tools to recreate (and adapt to your tastes) your favorite dishes at home using ingredients commonly found in neighborhood markets. One of the biggest expenses expats face in the city is relying on imported food to make Western dishes, which can provide even more incentive to learn to cook local delicacies.

Of course, we can’t all be Fuchsia Dunlop, the first foreigner to delve headfirst into the world of Chinese cooking by enrolling in culinary school – with classes in local dialect, no less – back in 1992. (Her enlightening memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, recounts her experiences, if you’re looking for inspiration.) Not to worry; there are plenty of great English-language options to start small in Shanghai. So sharpen your cleaver and get cooking!

Chinese Cooking Workshop
In the heart of the former French Concession, Chef Mike and his team lead students through a variety of wok-fried dishes or dim sum classics. There’s even an option to bring in a local noodle maker for a session making hand-pulled, Uighur-style wheat noodles. The kitchen has regular scheduled classes on topics such as Sichuan cuisine and Peking duck. It can also be rented on a private basis, so the two-hour classes and market tours can be customized to your specific requests and schedules, all interspersed with Mike’s insight into the Chinese culinary world.

The Kitchen At
With a weekly rotating schedule that aims to please both foreigners looking to learn Chinese cooking and local Chinese learning foreign dishes, this organized and beautiful loft kitchen is a great choice for a serious learner who’s in the city for a longer period. Run by a couple with event planning expertise and luxury hotel kitchen experience, the classes are well run and interesting for every level of experience. The Tuesday and Saturday morning Chinese dishes schedule rotates between classics like Cantonese fried rice noodles and more challenging dishes like “big fish head stew.”

Learning to make dumplings at Kitchen by the Garden, photo by UnTour ShanghaiKitchen by the Garden
In an ideal space for an intimate gathering of friends or family, Lin has created a fun and informative cooking class in the first level of her home. It’s up for debate whether the low profile and lack of signage is due to zoning regulations or the desire to keep a truly hidden and exclusive feel, but the quality of the dishes on offer and Lin’s welcoming demeanor and ability to explain the meanings and methods behind eating TCM–style make it a great value.

Cook in Shanghai
Founded and managed by Helen Liu, a young entrepreneur from Hunan province, Cook in Shanghai caters to small groups and organizes off-site events for Fortune 500 companies looking for team-building activities. The classes here also start with a trip to the wet market – perfect for figuring out how to use the Chinese produce you’ve been wondering about, as well as how to choose the best ingredients. If you speak Chinese, you may also learn some bargaining tips.

Check the website also for frequent activities and excursions to Chongming Island organic farms and events focusing on the specific foods eaten on holidays, perfect for learning more about Chinese New Year (dumplings), Lantern Festival (tangyuan), Mid Autumn Festival (mooncakes) and Dragon Boat Festival (zongzi).

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