4 best food streets in Shanghai

In the run up to the 2010 Expo, Wujiang Road Food Street, Shanghai’s premier character-filled street food strip, was shuttered. It’s been reborn, in a manner of speaking, but with plenty of Western and general Asian foods now in the mix.

Check it out by all means; especially the multi-tiered building at No. 269, where you’ll find a wide range of snack foods and branches of famous snack restaurants.

Sadly, food streets in-the-raw no longer exist. Yet there are a few pockets to hit, where snack outlets, humble canteens and sit-down restaurants are concentrated. Here are some favourites.

Qibao Old Street

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Barbecued sparrows on sticks at Qibao Old Street

Where? In Qibao, in the western suburbs of Shanghai, about 18 kilometres from the centre of the city. Access it on Metro Line 9; the train trip takes around 25 minutes.

Why? It’s a suburb of Shanghai now but Qibao, an erstwhile water town, retains a few hints of antique charm in its stone-flagged streets and graceful, arched bridges. Visiting here is a quick way to escape the city, especially on a weekday morning when the streets of Qibao are quiet. Avoid weekends unless you particularly crave the crush of hungry crowds. And we mean crush.

What? Although touristy, Qibao Old Street and the surrounding lanes have some lovely traditional architecture, including temples and teahouses. Food stalls sell a diverse range of treats, from sparrows on sticks, soy-simmered pork knuckles, tāngyuán, or simmered glutinous rice dumplings, hăitáng gāo, baked rice cakes with a red bean filling, banana rice in bamboo, hot pot, fermented tofu, beggar’s chicken, steamed buns, noodles and more.

Arrive feeling adventurous… and hungry. Vendors are packed close together – all you need to do is wander and graze on whatever takes your fancy.

Yunnan South Road

Where? Just on the other side of Yan’an Elevated Road, not far from People’s Square.

Why? At any time of the day, there’s a meal awaiting. Expect everything from breakfast-hour snacks, such as shēng jiān bāo at Dahuchun, cakes, dumplings and even coffee, through to Peking duck and pork chops with rice cakes.

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Colourful cakes at Yunnan South Road

In the evening, copper hot pots come out for northern-style coal-fired hot-pot dishes.

What? Aside from the casual, street eats, check out Deda at No. 2, a venerable European-style cafe. The original opened in 1897; it’s quaint and frequented by old-timers, who come for the coffee and cakes.

Xiao Shaoxing at No. 69-75 has been around since 1940. It serves a legendary cold simmered chicken, popular even for breakfast with a side of chicken congee (rice porridge).

Yan Yun Lou at No. 100 has been serving Shanghailanders its Peking duck since 1921 – and it’s very affordable. Staying with the duck theme, Xiao Jin Ling at No. 55 is famed for cold Nanjing salted duck.

Zhapu Road

Where? In Hongkou District, just over the Suzhou Creek, where few tourists seem to venture.

Why? It’s literally a stroll from Nanjing East Road, but feels like another world entirely. Gritty and uncompromisingly local, here’s an adventure you can easily take. Favoured among Chinese as a dining destination, Zhapu Road and the surrounding streets are filled with food and architectural discoveries for the intrepid – there are some wonderful old buildings.

What? It’s purely Chinese food on offer, with plenty of sit-down restaurants to choose from. With not much English in evidence, you’ll be pointing at your fellow diners’ dishes to order – that’s half the fun.

Try Haiwang Restaurant at 130-138 Zhapu Road for a large selection of dishes prepared in traditional Shanghai style, including sweet and sour deep-fried Squirrel Fish salt and pepper beef and roasted turtle.

Excellent too is Xiangmanlou at No. 429, with an equally ripper Shanghainese menu. For a change of food pace, try Chongqing Chicken Pot at 64 Haining Road, just off Zhapu, for spiced-up Sichuan offerings.

Zhejiang South Road

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Rice and red bean dumplings are a perfect snack while you're wandering the streets

Where? Parallel to Yunnan South Road, not far from the People’s Square end of Nanjing East Road.

Why? Ramshackle open-air food stalls are becoming a rarity in ever-developing, increasingly-regulated Shanghai. On this small downtown strip, for the time being at least, you can wend your way amid barbecue smoke and watch halal butchers at work. Muslim bakers cook náng, large, sesame-encrusted flat breads, in tandoor-like drum ovens. Snack on cumin-encrusted lamb skewers and fried beef dumplings.

What? Aside from grazing along the street and enjoying the vibe, you can sit in various restaurants by venturing to the middle section of Zhejiang Road. At Guanguanji Lamian, 70 Zhejiang Middle Road, gorge on chewy beef noodles and lamb skewers, washed down with red date tea.

At Xinjiang Pamir Restaurant, 205 Zhejiang Middle Road, you’ll get hearty Xinjiang favourites like braised chicken with potatoes and green peppers and stewed mutton with náng. Midina at 205 is well worth a look too; there are even a couple of outside tables and chairs if you fancy braving the downtown air.

This is an edited extract from Shanghai in 12 Dishes by Antony Suvalko and Leanne Kitchen (Red Pork Press, RRP $24.95), available online and in all good bookstores now.

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Image credits: (feature) Giftography / Shutterstock.com, (in-text) Red Pork Press.