Shanghai’s dining scene still contains its share of neighborhood dumpling and noodle shops, but the overall trend is marching towards mall dining and chain stores in the ever-changing downtown, historic and suburban areas. A silver lining: At least a handful of our favorite street stalls have also taken the plunge into new digs, with the same dishes, but shiny (read: soulless) interiors. You win some, you lose a lot sometimes.
Heading out to Gubei, Shanghai’s East Asian expat district, for Korean barbecue is one of our favorite meals any day of the week, but this year we brought a friend who took the meal to a whole new level. Alex Xu, the former chef/owner of Baoism turned Yunnan winemaker, smartly skirted the corkage fee by bringing a magnum of 2015 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon. The versatile Beaujolais paired perfectly with our spread of gogi-gui, banchan and japche, and trips to Gubei have never been the same since.
Food festivals are still something of a novelty in Shanghai, which made this year’s FEAST even more impressive. Held back in May, the two-day rooftop culinary extravaganza was on point. Our favorite local pop-up Fly By Jing was our first stop of the day for their famous zhong dumplings. These Sichuanese snacks are not available at any of the local restaurants, but Jenny Gao (the force behind FBJ) makes the sauce from scratch. It’s an addictive sweet and savory combination of sweetened reduced soy sauce, garlic, chile oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Fusion versions of Chengdu classic dishes were all the rage in Shanghai in 2017 (hopefully this trend continues for years…), and Taiwanese-American chef Austin Hu’s spicy chicken fingers (a peppercorn-dusted fast food play on lazi ji) was another favorite bite at FEAST. The guava, coconut and pineapple Hawaiian shave ice from Alan Wong’s was the perfect way to end a meal in the hot May sun. We’re still dreaming about it as winter envelops the city.
As China moves from a saving economy to a spending economy, conspicuous consumption is definitely on the rise, and more diners are frequenting places that look as good as the food tastes, like the local outpost of the Jean-Georges empire. This is not our usual kind of spot or night out, but for a recent celebratory meal – seven years of food tours in Shanghai! – we couldn’t pass up the insanely good price point of the restaurant’s Friday night Caviar Happy Hour. The combination of holiday decorations, Bund views and extensive cocktail collection (don’t miss the yuzu drop and the ginger margarita) coupled with inventive caviar-topped dishes all at RMB 88 each made this a clear winner. Everything is delicious, but whatever you do, don’t miss the signature, an intricately steamed egg whipped with heavy cream, vodka, salt, lemon juice and butter and topped – of course – with caviar. If there’s a dish that this year summed up for us what eating “local” in the new Shanghai global style means, this might have been it.
Kong Yi Ji
In preparation for hairy crab season, we hosted a dinner with all of our guides at Old Town’s Kong Yi Ji to taste test as much of the menu as possible. From the bamboo braised in pork jus to the shepherd’s purse wontons in hairy crab and goji berry broth, we discovered so many new dishes – plus the best Shaoxing huangjiu options in the city. We’ve been back to Kong Yi Ji multiple times, but nothing beats a jam-packed lazy Susan being spun by people who are obsessed with Chinese food and love discovering new dishes as much as we do.
Night Eats + Wine
What’s better than eating a fabulous meal with ten of your closest friends? Doing it for a worthy cause. This year’s Chi Fan for Charity (chifan means eat in Mandarin), took place in Beijing, Shanghai & Hong Kong, and raised over RMB 200,000 for two worthy charities. Normally only open to restaurant venues, we pushed the organizers to expand the event and were eventually able to participate this year with a special Night Eats + Wine Pairing Tour. We visited our classic evening tour stops, but for each dish we selected an award-winning boutique wine from around China. If you’ve ever thought about pairing hairy crab soup dumplings with a sparkling chardonnay from Shanxi province’s Taigu county – let us assure you, it works. At the second stop we cracked open a bottle (or three) of a 2014 Riesling from Kanaan Wineries in Ningxia to pair with our Xinjiang lamb skewers and hand-chopped wok-fried noodles (丁丁炒面). Pairing wine with regional Chinese cuisine is not an exact science, but we’re happy to be doing our part to test the boundaries of good taste.