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So you’ve eaten your way around Shanghai’s delicious noodle shops and restaurants but want to bring a taste of China back home? Or maybe you’re searching for a weird food gift (pickled chicken feet anyone?) for a hard-to-please friend. You’re in luck, as specialty food shops dot the city and are quite popular with locals, offering a huge variety of well-packaged items.

A country the size of China, with its vast differences in climates and various local cultures, has a huge variety of specialty food products. Often, these items are the only local industry in a remote area, so they push hard to distribute them far and wide. It’s customary for locals to bring such gifts to friends and family whenever traveling away from home, so you’re in good company at these food shops.

Xinjiang food shop, photo by UnTour ShanghaiXinjiang
Stopping by a shop specializing in Xinjiang products is always interesting, as this region, in the country’s northwest, and bordered by Russia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, India and other countries, is arguably China’s most exotic and far-flung. Most customary here are dried fruits like grapes and apricots, as well as the best variety of nuts and honeys you’ll find anywhere. Some shops stock fresh fruit as well. Surprisingly, you’ll even find some wine and sweet fruit liqueurs made from mulberries, though the quality isn’t exactly to international standards. You may even find some camel milk products if you’re lucky.

Hailing from northern China in Heilongjiang province, Harbin food stores are famous for their baked goods. Unfortunately, none of the region’s famous sausages or milk popsicles make it here. Their range of sweets always attracts crowds, and you’ll see especially fierce queues in the shops when the butter cookies are hot out of the oven. Order by the jin (斤, or 500g) and share with friends at your next picnic. The almond cookies and chocolate-dipped wafers are great too.

Cured meat at the Huaihai Zhong Lu food mall, photo by UnTour ShanghaiFood Malls
Located right around the corner from our favorite noodles in the city at Wei Xiang Zhai is a street-level complex that offers a fascinating stroll through a wide array of treats. Don’t worry if they are largely unidentifiable to you – that’s half the fun. You’ll run the gamut, from famous regional sauces for cooking to every type of noodle, dried seafood, whole cured ham hocks, tea, candy and much, much more. There’s even a bit of sampling allowed, so don’t be shy if you want to try something, as the friendly ayis are eager to make a sale. You might not find too much that ends up striking your fancy, but we do recommend the excellent black sesame brittle, perennial-favorite White Rabbit candies and the individually-packaged Taiwanese pineapple cakes. Prices are clearly listed, again by the jin, so don’t worry about having to bargain.

If you really want to make a day of it, visit the epically large Nanjing Lu complex. It’s located just off the main pedestrian street that connects the Bund to People’s Square, so it’s firmly on the tourist trail. It’s been in operation since 1926 but the complex was modernized in 2012. Now there are some foreign chains like McDonald’s, so it has lost a bit of its original charm. Head up to the second floor to find the variety of just about every food product you never imagined to take away, or explore the cafes and stalls on other floors. Just please skip the McDonald’s.



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Kyle Long

Published on March 28, 2016

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