Join Culinary Backstreets

Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Log in to Culinary Backstreets

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Editor’s note: For the latest installment in our series First Stop, we asked Fuchsia Dunlop where she stops first for food when she heads to Shanghai.

Dunlop is a cook and food writer specializing in Chinese cuisine. She is the author of four books, including, most recently, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. She has won many awards for her work, including four James Beard awards, an IACP award, four awards from the British Guild of Food Writers and an award from the Hunan government. Her writing has been published in the Financial Times, The New Yorker, The Observer and The New York Times, and she is also a frequent pundit on Chinese food on BBC radio and television, as well as many other media outlets.

I’m incredibly fond of Old Jesse. I’ve been going there for nearly 10 years now and eat there every time I go to Shanghai. I just love their food. Shanghai is a melting pot, surrounded as it is by so many of China’s great cooking traditions and also with Western influences, and Jesse has a really representative selection of traditional Shanghainese food. They do a really incredible whole fish head with oil-roasted spring onions. You unwrap the fish from its tangle of caramelized onions to get these sticky, gooey bits. The red braised pork is excellent as well, and in autumn, they make a marvelous hairy crab with silken tofu. I love the seasonal vegetable dishes – one of the great strengths of Shanghainese cooking – like alfalfa sprouts stir-fried with potent rice wine, which gives the dish such a lovely fragrance, and the long, green shiny gourds with fresh fava beans and Jinhua ham, which is a home-style dish and absolutely simple.

Fuchsia Dunlop, photo by Anna BergqvistSo many restaurants in China are very big and commercial, but Jesse is a very tiny restaurant, noisy, chaotic and it’s harder to get in, but it’s still great to go with a group and try a whole assortment of dishes. It’s popular among locals and has been mentioned a lot, so you really have to reserve in advance. The service can be friendly – they’re very busy but the waiters know about the food and are helpful. However, it’s difficult if you don’t speak Chinese to get the best out of the waiters.

Shanghainese food sometimes has the reputation of being sweet and everything being covered in dark brown sauce. A friend of mine went [to Jesse] and ended up having a lot of dishes cooked in soy sauce and wine, but it’s important to balance the red braised pork dishes with the fresh vegetables and very refreshing veg appetizers. In Shanghai, it’s all about balance.

  • First Stop (0)
    Editor’s note: In the latest installment of our recurring feature, First Stop, we asked […] Posted in Shanghai
  • Old Jesse (1)
    Ask a Shanghainese person for the best běnbāng, or local, restaurant in town, and you’ll […] Posted in Shanghai
  • Tangyuan (0)
    Lantern Festival (元宵, yuánxiāo, or “first night”) is the 15th day of the Chinese New […] Posted in Shanghai

Related stories

May 10, 2014

First Stop: Lillian Chou's Shanghai

Shanghai | By Winnie Yang
By Winnie Yang
ShanghaiEditor’s note: In the latest installment of our recurring feature, First Stop, we asked Lillian Chou, former food editor of Gourmet and now a freelance writer in Beijing, where she heads first for food when she arrives in Shanghai. There are several factors that decide where I eat first when I arrive in Shanghai –…
April 4, 2014

Old Jesse: The Inside Track to a Guidebook Favorite

Shanghai | By Jamie Barys
By Jamie Barys
ShanghaiAsk a Shanghainese person for the best běnbāng, or local, restaurant in town, and you’ll probably be pointed toward Old Jesse. The doyenne of haipai cuisine, this ramshackle restaurant is the darling of the guidebook industry, with mentions in publications from Travel + Leisure to Lonely Planet, but that doesn’t mean that it’s foreigner-friendly. In fact,…
March 3, 2015

Tangyuan: Light Up First Night

Shanghai | By Jamie Barys
By Jamie Barys
ShanghaiLantern Festival (元宵, yuánxiāo, or “first night”) is the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, and marks the last day of Spring Festival. This “first night” is actually the first full moon of the lunar new year, and in the Year of the Sheep it lands on March 5. In Shanghai, revelers typically head to Yu Gardens, a…