Although the city’s oily, sugary and soy sauce-doused cuisine can’t be heralded as the best eating on the mainland, we love our food here in Shanghai. And, in a city that offers so many culinary options, from roadside stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants, we wanted to celebrate that.
So here’s a list of the 40 foods you can find when you travel to Shanghai that we simply can’t live without.
1. Xiaolongbao (小笼包)
We just had to get this one out of the way first since no list of Shanghai’s favorite foods would ever be complete without the mention of our famous soup dumpling, xiaolongbao. The dumpling, cleverly hiding its soup within its delicately pinched wrapper, has reached cult-like fanaticism in this city.
Even though it burns the mouths and tongues of novice dumpling eaters (Note: you have to puncture the dumpling wrapper to let out the steam, and then slurp the soup slowly before shoveling the xiaolongbao down), we just cannot live without this Shanghai classic. We love it so much, in fact, we’ve even taken a few xiaolongbao tours of Shanghai.
Try: Phat in Shanghai’s Xiaolongbao Bike Ride
2. Di Shui Dong ribs
These fall-off-the-bone ribs are as succulent as they are tender. Sweetly braised in soy sauce, these put those miniature rib appetizers to utter shame. And, without the small bones found in those ubiquitous appetizers, the meat on these solid ribs can be inhaled in a matter of seconds.
Try: Di Shui Dong, multiple locations, 2/F, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, near Changle Lu 茂名南路56号, 近长乐路2楼
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3. Braised eggplant (红烧茄子)
Few truly love eggplant before they come to China, but once here, almost everyone’s a convert to this purple veggie. Of all the eggplant dishes offered in this city, the braised version of this hearty vegetable is by far the most savory.
Stewed in shaoxing wine, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, sugar, chilies and sometimes even pork, this Shanghai favorite has become a staple menu item at most restaurants. It boasts the perfect combo of saltiness, sweetness and savoriness – and we don’t feel so guilty eating it because it’s a veggie.
Try: La Gong Fu, 57 Yajiazhai Lu, near Changshou Lu 杨家宅路57号, 长寿路
4. Chicken of the fields: aka frog (田鸡)
Don’t be grossed out. Below that slimy skin lies meat that is superior to chicken in every way. Frog is the soulmate to your cold Tsingtao, and Shanghai’s four-legged answer to the buffalo wing. It’s cheap and plentiful and, because of these qualities, we’ve found that virtually every restaurant line cook can whip up a masterful dish of frog.
Our favorite is the gan shao niu wa at Xiang Li Ba Ba: a large pizza-sized plate piled high with spicy, tender frog, crisped rice cake nubs, potato slices and bamboo. If you’re a beginner try the San Gu Bullfrog.
Try: Xiang Li Ba Ba (香里巴巴), 217 Hongqiao Lu, near Gongcheng Lu 虹桥路217号 近工程路. For novices try: San Gu Bullfrog, 882 Zhaojiabang Lu 肇家浜路882号; or, 3 Fenyang Lu 汾阳路3号
5. The M Pavlova
Correction, the famous M Pavlova. Forget cocktails, trade in your yuan for a sweet slice of this meringue torte heaped with tropical fruit and glazed with tangy passion fruit sauce.
Dry and crispy on the outside and soft like angels once you dig in, the M Pavlova is far tastier than any beaten egg whites have the right to taste.
Try: M on the Bund, 7/F, 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu near Guangdong Lu 中山东一路外滩5号7楼, 近广东路
6. Grilled oysters (烤生蚝)
Shanghai is sea food foodie heaven and we have an entire street dedicated to oysters, mussels, scallops, crawfish and abalone (and for cheap!) to prove it. Every vendor on Shouning Lu has a slightly different take on three preparations of grilled oyster: oysters with black bean sauce, oysters with chili oil and garlic, and wannabe French oysters in “cheese” sauce.
You really have to try each tiny shack to find your favorite. Luckily for you, Shouning Lu is open 24 hours a day.
Try: Han Ji Shao Chao (韩记烧烤), 26 Shouning Lu, near Xizang Nan Lu 寿宁路26号, 近西藏南路
7. Choose your own adventure … in seafood
If you haven’t visited the Tongchuan Lu seafood market strip, go. Go now. This is the place to test and refine your haggling skills as hunger will drive you to a new level of motivation.
Once you amass a selection of fresh seafood (you can buy everything from scallops to sea cucumber at restaurant prices if you negotiate, or take a Shanghainese speaking friend), take your seafood to any of the restaurants on the strip. The chefs will cook it all up so you can devour everything on the spot.
Try: Tongchuan Lu Shanghai Fish Market (Tongchuan Lu Haixian Shichang), Tongchuan Lu, near Caoyang Lu 铜川路，近曹杨路口, open 24 hours
8. “The chicken has no sexual experience” (童子鸡)
We appreciate tongzi ji, or young chicken, if only for hilariously awkward menu translations like the one above and contributions from the local vernacular (“tongzi ji” is slang for a younger man dating an older woman, or another name for a male virgin).
Tongzi ji are eaten for their especially tender meat, which is stir-fried with green peppers or edamame (the Japanese don’t get to keep them all to themselves) or made into a medicinal soup.
Try: Tang Yun Qing Feng (唐韵秦风), 4/F, 580 Tianyaoqiao Lu, near Lingling Lu 天钥桥路580号4楼, 近零陵路,
9. Caramel strawberry kebabs (糖草莓串)
A descendant of the classic Sweet Hawthorne Kebab (糖葫芦), the appearance of these ripe, crunchy-sweet strawberry kebabs in vendor stalls announces “Spring is here” to Shanghai.
Get these strawberries at the height of their season in May. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a vendor who will glaze them before your eyes in a wok full of bubbling sugar.
Try: Fruit kebab vendors usually congregate in front of malls, park entrances or in tourist locations. Check for freshness and go for the ones that are individually bagged if available.
10. Raw, drunken crab (醉蟹)
Don’t let those translucent crab parts and globs of orange roe intimidate you. Drunken crab, made with spotted sea crabs, is a must-try for its textures: the flesh is yielding like cold sashimi, the roe creamy but firm.
The complex flavor of Shaoxing wine can be bit of an acquired taste (especially in drunken crab) so try it first with a bit of rice or porridge.
Try: Jesse Restaurant, multiple locations, 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Lu 天平路41号近淮海路. Can’t get a reservation at Jesse’s? Try Xiao Nan Guo’s version. Xiao Nan Guo, multiple locations, 214 Huanghe Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu 黄河路214号, 近北京西路
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11. Stinky tofu (臭豆腐)
Certainly the smelliest food in the city, stinky tofu – fermented and plenty offensive to the nose – is one of Shanghai’s favorite snacks, and one many foreigners love to hate. Our view: you can’t hate it until you give it a try.
Deep fried and doused with soybean paste and red chili sauce, the crispy outer shell of the oddly mild food (considering its stench) encases crumbly and almost sweet tofu. You know you’ve become a true Shanghailander when you smell this stuff from two blocks away and start running towards it – and learn that the really good stuff doesn’t actually smell that bad.
Try: Yunnan Nan Lu, near Yan’an Lu 云南南路, 近延安路
12. Element Fresh’s miso yogurt dressing
This dressing is liquid ecstasy. The first few times we tried the Laffa Bread Salad, we immediately fell addict to its miso yogurt dressing. Now when we order the salad, we don’t think twice before asking our waiter for an extra serving of it, just so we have enough to dunk the laffa bread into. Who said anything about eating a salad because it’s healthy?
Try: Element Fresh, multiple locations, 1/F Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu, 南京西路1376号, 近西康路
13. Niangao (年糕)
Soft and chewy sliced Shanghai-style niangao is an old-school treat that remains a salvation for bachelors cooking dinner as well as a popular lunch order at local noodle joints. Stir-fried with leeks and pork, or for special occasions mixed with pieces of hairy crab in a sweet brown concoction, niangao is freaking delicious. We love the sweet, gooey, chewy hairy crab niangao at Wang Jia Sha.
Try: Wang Jia Sha (王家沙), 805 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu 南京西路805号, 近石门一路
14. Mapo doufu (麻婆豆腐)
Although mapo doufu is technically a Sichuan dish, Shanghai has adopted the tantalizingly spicy creation as its own, as it can be found in most restaurants here. As legend has it, an outcasted pockmarked-faced old lady (mapo) created this dish featuring the tongue numbing huajiao – flower pepper. Just make sure to eat it with a bowl of rice, a tall glass of milk or, more likely, a cold Tsingtao, as this stuff can be tortuously, though addictively, hot.
Try: Spicy Joint (辛香汇), multiple locations, 4/F, Dabaishu Creative Garden, 930 Quyang Lu, near Handan Lu and Tengke Lu 曲阳路930号大柏树创意园4楼, 近邯郸路, 腾克路
15. Squirrel-shaped Mandarin fish (松子鲑鱼)
Also known as sweet and sour mandarin fish, this dish originates in Suzhou, a short hop from Shanghai. At first just an order for Shanghai-ning on holiday there, it became so popular that it was put it on the menu of every fancy Chinese restaurant in Shanghai. The Mandarin fish is scored, deep-fried into its distinctive “squirrel” shape and covered with a tomato sauce, shrimp, pine nuts and bamboo.
Try: Mei Wei Zhai (美味斋), 246 Shandong Zhong Lu, near Hankou Lu 山东中路246号, 近汉口路
16. Late night street noodles
Nothing better concludes a great night out than a hearty bowl of stick-to-your-ribs street noodles of virtually every variety. Stir-fried with greens, sprouts, spam or pork, an egg and a liberal amount of MSG and sugar, there is actually never a bad time to enjoy these. And even with a few former famed foodie streets closed, these carts can still be found at night dotting lanes and streets throughout the city.
Try: One of the best late-night noodle locations is found on the corner outside Cantina Agave, Changle Lu, near Fumin Lu 长乐路, 近富民路
17. Hanging roasted duck
This is the ‘Hai’s answer to Peking Duck: honey glazed roasted ducks found at almost any wet market in the city. We love getting a bird and watching the butcher go to town on it, quickly and near seamlessly chopping through bones and deploying the juicy pieces into Styrofoam containers. This duck is great in soups, on rice, with noodles – heck, we love it right out of its carryout box.
Try: Yunnan Nan Lu, near Yan’an Lu 云南南路, 近延安路
18. Hedonistic Champagne brunch
Nothing illustrates Shanghai decadence better than waiters pouring bubbly and a spread of 100 plus dishes from all over the world. We’re talking hours of epic eating here. Partaking in a humongous buffet with endless Champagne is something that you need to experience at least once in Shanghai, especially when there are Bund views involved. Luckily, every almost five-star hotel does a version of the Champagne brunch.
19. Red jujubes stuffed with glutinous rice, Xin Tai Ran (心太软)
The name “Xin Tai Ran” is a play off a classic Chinese pop song about a soft-hearted woman. In this case, the soft heart is a rice cake – as in sweet jujubes stuffed with mochi and served in a sweet glaze. Most Shanghainese restaurants offer some version (only in Shanghai with our sweet-loving palates would this dish scream “appetizer!” not “dessert!”). The best ones are freshly prepared when you order.
Try: Jesse Restaurant, multiple locations, 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Lu 天平路41号近淮海路. If you can’t get into Jesse’s try 1221’s honey glazed version: 1221, 1221 Yan’an Xi Lu, near Panyu Lu 延安西路1221号, 近番禺路.
20. Muslim hand-pulled noodles
What’s better than noodle soup? Easy – noodle soup where the waiter creates the noodles in front of your eyes. Flash-boiled in a savory broth for a mere instant, these noodles will surely hit the spot. The ball of dough is quickly stretched, twisted, and then stretched again until perfectly thin noodles are produced.
Try: Although you can get these noodles on almost any corner, a favorite of ours is Niudawan Lanzhou Hand Pulled Noodle, 560 Tianmu Lu, near Hengfeng Lu 天目路560号, 近恒丰路
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21. Water boiled fish in chili (水煮鱼)
The “water boiled” part of this dish’s name is total deception; the water is actually oil. We’re talking tender slices of fish (often wild catfish) completely suspended in a massive bowl of chili oil, with bean sprouts and more dried red chilies just in case. Don’t be intimidated, most of the versions of this famous Sichuan dish are spicy but bearable. Do go to a reputable restaurant so you don’t run the risk of ingesting gutter oil.
Try: Spicy Joint, multiple locations (all require advanced reservations, but it’s worth it)
22. Shengjianbao (生煎包)
What’s not to love about a fried fatty pork dumpling? Not a whole lot. This local snack made our list of fattiest foods in Shanghai … that we’ll never give up. Yang’s is of course the city’s go-to place for this sage-spiced and greasy snack. Even though Yang’s has moved out of its Wujiang Lu stall, fear not, as they can still be found on the newer (west) side of the same street. We love these so much, we’ve even taken a class at the Chinese Cooking Workshop to learn how to fry the perfect ‘bao.
Try: Yang’s Fried Dumpling, multiple locations, 2/F, 269 Wujiang Lu, near Taixing Lu 吴江路269号2楼, 近泰兴路. To learn to cook your own shengjianbao (and just about any other Chinese food), check out the classes at Chinese Cooking Workshop
23. Hongshao rou (红烧肉)
Love Hongshao rou? You have that in common with Chairman Mao and 90% of people ever to try this dish of soy sauce braised pork belly. A dinner-time staple, the amount of hongshao rou cooked each night in home kitchens and restaurants in Shanghai is surely epic.
Our favorite version is the signature hongshao rou from Jesse Restaurant, which comes in a rather sweet, soy glaze and just the right fat to meat ratio (clearly more meat than fat). It’s a secret recipe, but look carefully and you’ll notice they add diced cuttlefish to offset the porkiness of the meat. Classic.
Try: Jesse Restaurant, multiple locations, 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Lu 天平路41号, 近淮海路
24. Mini wontons in soup (小馄饨)
Piping hot bowls of tiny wontons suspended in broth, garnished with cilantro, dried shrimp and strips of egg regularly start off our morning. As you head out for the day you can find wet market grannies-cum-xiao wonton sellers making these little treats rapid fire by clasping mini-wrappers and minced pork together in their hands.
Try: Cheng Xin (盛兴点心店), 528 Shunchang Lu, near Yongnan Lu 顺昌路528号, 近永年路
25. Crawfish (小龙虾)
Here we are, back at Shouning Lu for a food that Shanghailanders go crazy for in the summer: crawfish. The 35-plus degree weather is just not bearable without these weekend buckets of crawfish tossed with chili consumed alongside cold, cheap Tsingtao with lots of friends chowing down as well. Don’t be scared to sit eye-to-eye with locals as you challenge them to a crawfish de-shelling battle on their own turf.
Try: Any place on Shouning Lu, but we like 17 Shouning Lu, near Xizang Lu 寿宁路17号龙虾馆,近西藏路
26. Drunken chicken (醉鸡)
Forget enjoying a meal while a bit inebriated, some of the best foods in Shanghai have already beat you to it. Of all the drunken varieties of dishes in Shanghai, we love the cold dish of drunken chicken the most. After the chicken is steamed and chopped into pieces, it then marinates overnight in a bowl of punishingly strong baijiu, or other hard liquors. Served chilled, the poultry is a heady, salty delight.
Try: Chun, 124 Jinxian Lu, near Maoming Lu 进贤路124号, 近茂名南路
27. Afternoon Tea
There is afternoon tea, and then there is High Tea in the afternoon Shanghai style. Shanghai’s elite, of course, prefer the latter. As one of the greatest gifts to Shanghai from the Brits, High Tea at the Peninsula’s ceremonious Tea at the Lobby is both decadent and delicious.
Complete with the 18 piece Lobby Strings, the light meal boasts a collection of Peninsula Signature Teas, which are best complemented by the lavish selection of finger sandwiches, breads and petit fours. Many thanks to the Duchess of Bedford for introducing us to this traditional and fashionable – not to mention pretty darn aristocratic – experience.
Try: Peninsula Hotel Shanghai, Bund 32, 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu 中山东一路32号，近北京东路
If it’s a food, we’ll put it on a stick and grill it for you in Shanghai. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or even at 3 a.m., kabobs are always a safe bet for something savory and delicious. Whether we’re eating squid, lamb or green bean kababs, they always make for a great snack.
Our favorites are the Xinjiang yangrou chuan’r (羊肉串) – mainly because the pieces of skewered meat are alternately pierced with a piece of fat and topped with a delicious cumin-based seasoning mix.
Try: Friday Muslim Market, Changde Lu in between Aomen Lu and Yichang Lu 常德路, 近澳门路和宜昌路
29. Whisk hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows
Before Whisk, we couldn’t find decent hot chocolate in Shanghai, much less hot chocolate with adorable, chubby homemade marshmallows. So although Whisk has gotten a lot of flack from neglected customers, we still wax nostalgic about those oh-so-holdable mugs and that thick chocolate soup though its become easier to get a cuppa at hof and Charmant. Still, credit where credit’s due.
Try: Whisk Choco Cafe, 1250 Huaihai Lu near Huating Lu, 淮海路1250号, 近华亭路; for the hot chocolate new players, try hof (30 Sinan Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu 思南路30号, 近淮海中路) and Charmant (1414 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu 淮海中路1414号, 近复兴西路)
30. Shanghai smoked fish (熏鱼)
We already love their clothes, but another reason we love Shanghai Tang is because of their modern interpretation of the classic Shanghai liangcai (cold dish) Shanghai smoked fish, offered on their weekend brunch menu at the cafe. Delicately fried, the cold fish is bathed in a sweet and savory brown sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Try: Shanghai Tang Cafe, 2-3/F, 333 Huangpi Nan Lu, near Taicang Lu 黄陂南路333号2-3楼, 近太仓路
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So simple yet so delicious, you can buy Hi-Chew – the irresistibly sweet, chewy fruit flavored candies – at almost any Shanghai convenience store. Out of the half dozen or so flavors, we cannot bring ourselves to stop chewing the peach flavor. Better than any Starburst, the peach is the perfect blend of sweetness and artificial goodness that makes us come back for more. And more.
Try: Available at Family Marts, City Shops, and Carrefours around town
32. Paul Pairet’s lemon & lemon tart
This tart is unbelievable. It is a candied lemon stuffed with a lemon sorbet, a lemon curd, and vanilla Chantilly. It’s then served with lemon sable. With a single pierce of the rind, the lusciously tart and sweet filling oozes out – and the three-day process to make it has been completed.
Don’t even bother trying to share it, you’ll end up being caught in the middle of a bitter spoon war. This is the single best dessert in the city.
Try: Mr & Mrs Bund, Bund 18, 6/Floor, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu 中山东一路18号外滩18号6楼, 近南京东路
33. Hairy crab (大闸蟹)
This species of crab is so popular, many fake versions of the Shanghai crustacean can be found when it’s not even hairy crab season (which is in autumn). Believed to have the cooling yin (of yin and yang) effect on the body, the female crab roe is where it’s at (although this is the subject of pretty heated local debates), and is a seriously good eat.
Don’t be intimated if you don’t know how to deconstruct this delicacy, ask the waitstaff at the restaurant for help.
Try: Tongchuan Seafood Market (pick a vendor, then pick any restaurant and they’ll steam these up for you). For a more relaxing meal try: Wang Bao He (王宝和酒家), multiple locations, 603 Fuzhou Lu, near Zhejiang Zhong Lu 福州路603号, 近浙江中路; or Xinguang Jiu Jia, 512 Tianjin Lu, near Guangxi Bei Lu 天津路512号, 近广西北路
34. Congee (粥)
There is a place you can always count on to help with a porridge craving: Dingxi Lu. Although this food street houses a variety of good eats from across China, every restaurant, whether they specialize in Cantonese, Shanghainese or any other type of cuisine, also does congee. Chaoshan Sha Guo, a must-visit spot for seafood congee lovers, will let you pick out your food as it swims in the tanks. Then they cook it up in a big, earthenware pot and voila – creamy, umami-licious congee.
Try: Chaoshan Sha Guo (潮汕砂锅粥馆), 805 Dingxi Lu, near Yan’an Xi Lu 定西路805号, 近延安西路, open 24 hours
35. All-you-can-eat Japanese buffets
Shanghai has the best Japanese buffets in China by far, thanks in large part to the Japanese expat community in Hongqiao, which we’re told is the largest in the world outside of Japan.
The quality and variety of the sashimi, sushi, tempura and izakaya-style snacks available here is astounding (and also greatly vary in quality), especially considering that sushi buffet in Beijing translates to a sorry spread of California rolls plus fake juice. All-you-can-eat-and-drink deals usually cost an average of $20 (RMB 150) per person.
Try: These Japanese food deals can be found at almost any Japanese restaurant in download, for one in closer to the Japanese community try Chu Hua (初花), 1446 Hongqiao Lu, Gubei Wan Hotel, near Gubei Lu 虹桥路1446号古北湾大酒店3楼, 近古北路,
36. Lion head meatballs (狮子头)
What’s not to like about giant Chinese meatballs? Lion head meatballs might not be as big as a lion’s head, but they are delicious anyway, sort of like the foie gras of meatballs with indulgent crab meat and a creamy texture. The delicate, porky nuances of these meatballs are quite irresistible with rice (lots of it). Bet the Italians are kicking themselves that they didn’t think of this one.
Try: Hai Jin Si (海金滋), 240 Jinxian Lu, near Shanxi Nan Lu 进贤路240号, 近陕西南路
37. Green onion pancakes (葱油饼)
The best green onion pancakes come from little old grannies (and grandpas) who get up at 6 a.m. to cook, knead and slap these petite bing in the city’s many nongtang. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across such a person in the morning (the long lines heading into residential buildings are a hint), make sure to pick up a green onion pancake.
Try: Ah Niang Cong You Bing (阿婆葱油饼), Lane 578 Xiangyang Nan Lu near Zhaojiabang Lu, 襄阳南路578弄口, 近肇嘉浜路
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38. Dry fried green beans (炒青豆)
To add a bit of green to most Chinese tables, many Shanghai restaurant-goers grab a plate of these delicious and dry-fried beans. Sauteed with vibrant red chilies and ground pork, these veggies are then lightly tossed with soy sauce and a touch of sesame oil.
Tan, a regular at the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, tells us he just “can’t have a meal without this dish.” It boasts two of Shanghai’s favorite ingredients: it’s got sugar and spice … and everything nice.
Try: Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, 2/F, 269 Wujiang Lu, near Metro Line 2, Nanjing Xi Lu Station, exit 4 吴江路269号4楼, 近地铁2号线南京西路站4号出口
39. Portuguese egg tarts (蛋挞)
We love Portuguese style egg tarts, and in Shanghai, Lillian Cake Shop is synonymous with this eternally popular pastry. And with the motto: “We probably have the best egg tarts in town,” who can resist this sweet treat?
Lillian does consistently tasty Portuguese style egg tarts with soft, flaky crusts and a filling just like creme brulee. They fly off the shelves after 5 p.m. during rush hour. Plus, they seem to be present on every busy downtown corner (the cause of Shanghai’s eternal traffic jams or sweet relief? Something we’ll continue to ponder).
Try: Lillian Cake Shop, multiple locations, 988 Nanjing Xi Lu 南京西路988号
40. Shanghai-style fried noodles
Shanghai cumian – a thickly cut pasta – is Shanghai’s gift to the wondrous world of noodles. Served at most dumpling joints, Shanghai-style fried noodles are usually stir-fried with beef, chicken or pork (sometimes even shrimp) then cabbage and onions.
As in most Shanghainese cuisine, a soy sauce-base is mandatory. Slurped up at most restaurants in the city, there is no shortage of this dish. The best, though, are found at Ming Ming Can Ting.
Try: Ming Ming Can Ting, 269 Beihai Lu, near Xizang Zhong Lu 北海路269号，近西藏中路
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2010. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.