We love both. But in the spirit of the real local lifestyle, we’ve decided to search out the most delicious and wallet-friendly street food in Shanghai. Some of them are Shanghai-native eats, others are popular snacks from destinations around the country:
1. Xie ke huang (crab shell pie, 蟹壳黄)
Although those hairy crustaceans from Yangcheng lake aren’t available year-round, xie ke huang, aka the poor Shanghainese man’s hairy crab, can be found around the town in any season. Baked in a clay oven until golden brown, these little oval pies are stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. The name is inspired by its appearance – freshly baked xie ke huang looks like crispy golden crab shells.
2. Sheng jian (fried bun, 生煎)
It’s hard to resist succulent pork buns, especially when they are fried and garnished with fresh spring onion and toasted sesame. They taste best just out of the pan – totally worth the blisters on your tongue.
3. Chinese-style fried chicken (中式炸鸡)
Picture a chicken fillet being fried in a wok with chopped dried chilies, scallions, ginger and garlic, then sprinkled with sesame and five-spice powder. Viva fusion street food.
4. Ci fan (rice ball, 粢饭)
Ci fan is one of the most popular breakfast foods in Shanghai. These glutinous rice balls have everything you ever needed for an energetic start to your day. Typical stuffing includes a you tiao (fried dough stick), pickled vegetables, pork floss, white sugar and sometimes eggs and ham. Tastes best when hot.
5. Pai gu nian gao (pork chop with rice cakes, 排骨年糕)
The best part of this Shanghainese dish is neither the deep-fried pork chop nor the sweet soy sauce glaze, it’s the nian gao. Made of glutinous rice flour, nian gao has a compact texture that seals the subtle, fragrant taste of sticky rice from any heavy sauce.
6. Xiaolongbao (soup dumpling, 小笼包)
You can get eight of these velvety and delicate Shanghai classics for next to nothing. The cure for any hunger pang, these are seriously good.
7. Chai Pan wonton (柴爿馄饨)
Nothing beats a bowl of warm wonton soup at 3 a.m. on a freezing winter night. We know the soup is laden with MSG, but one bite of the translucent wrapper and its tasty pork stuffing, and you’ll know it’s worth it.
8. Cong You Bing (green onion pancake, 葱油饼)
The best green onion pancakes are cooked up by 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 longtangs.
9. Tofu flower soup (豆腐花)
Made by curdling soy milk, this smooth tofu soup contains the subtle flavor of soybeans beneath a colorful mixed dressing of dried shrimps, pickled radish, seaweed, scallion, soy sauce and chili oil.
10. Mung bean pie (绿豆饼)
Most Shanghainese prefer their snacks savory over sweet, but mung bean pie is one exception – you will find locals queue up around the block to buy them.
11. Tang gao (deep-fried donut, 糖糕)
Shanghai’s answer to donut, these deep-fried Krispy Kreme look-alikes are made from glutinous rice flour and coated with white sugar. They look seriously greasy, but taste seriously good.
12. Hong shan yu (baked sweet potato, 烘山芋)
Sweet, fluffy, and fibrous, these baked sweet potatoes are a nice contrast to most cheap eats in Shanghai. Usually sold out of a pushcart, they are one of the healthiest snacks in town.
13. Yaxue fensi tang (duck blood and glass noodle soup, 鸭血粉丝汤)
Brought to Shanghai by a few duck-loving Nanjing natives more than a decade ago, yaxue fensi tang is what many Shanghainese consider the go-to choice for a quick but hearty lunch. It’s got everything: duck soup, duck blood and entrails, green vegetables and glass noodles. What more could you ask for?
14. Ci fan gao (deep-fried rice cake, 粢饭糕)
Sometimes, simple is best. This salted glutinous rice cake doesn’t have fancy stuffing or pretty garnish, but one single sheet will instantly hit the spot.
15. Stinky tofu (臭豆腐)
You know you are becoming a true Shanghailander when you start craving stinky tofu. Once we got over the initial shock of the stench of the snack we found the tofu clean and silky.
16. Ma qiu (sesame ball, 麻球)
If you’re a fan of red bean and sesame, ma qiu is the perfect treat for you. These glutinous dough balls are filled with sweet red bean paste and coated with white sesame. They are then deep-fried until golden brown.
17. Guo tie (pot stickers, 锅贴)
Pot stickers were born when a fried bun and a dumpling fell in love. From the dumpling, it inherited its elegant appearance; and from the fried bun, it inherited a sizzling personality. Need we say more.
18. Tea eggs (茶叶蛋)
They might only be eggs hard boiled in green tea and soy sauce, but tea eggs are Shanghai’s go-to snack – they can be found in every convenient store, breakfast stand and small-scale Chinese eateries.
19. Qiang bing (puffy pancake, 羌饼)
The older generations in Shanghai grew up eating qiangbing at the breakfast table. Made of lightly salted dough and chopped spring onions, this large round bing is often cooked in a flat pan until it’s puffy and golden brown.
20. Shuang dang or dan dang soup (双档或单档)
Shuang dang and dan dang soup used to be the stars of Shanghai’s nighttime street food scene, but they are now available mostly in small restaurants.
A bowl of dan dang soup includes a pork-stuffed tofu-skin wrap and a diced-shaped fried tofu nub also filled with minced pork, and sometimes a handful of glass noodles. When served with double portion of wraps and tofu pieces, the snack becomes shuang dang.
21. Kebabs (烤串)
Few things taste better at four in the morning than a few grilled kebabs. Our favorite is of course the yang rou chuan (羊肉串) – lamb kebabs. Perfectly seasoned with cumin and paprika, they make for a perfect ending to any night out.
22. Taiwan shouzhua bing (Taiwanese pancake, 台湾手抓饼)
Why we love it: We aren’t sure if shouzhua bing really originated from Taiwan. What we do know is that this greasy, yet incredible tasting bing has captured the hearts and stomachs of Shanghai population.
23. Rou jia mo (Shaanxi-style sandwich, 肉夹馍)
Pick your meat, and then add the veggies you want – we love the chicken with cilantro, lettuce, and plenty of chili sauce. The buns are steamed, split open, then stuffed with the most tasty meat and veggie mix.
24. Shaxian steamed dumplings (沙县蒸饺)
In the past decade or so, this legendary Fujianese snack has conquered most of the first and second-tier cities in China and the metropolitan area of Shanghai. These flower-petal-shaped steamed pork dumplings taste gorgeous with just a few drops of Fujianese chili sauce.
25. Dan bing (egg pancake, 蛋饼)
For most Westerners, Chinese breakfast is either too bland or overly greasy. Dan bing, aka jian bing, boasts healthy ingredients and flavorsome sauce and, most importantly, it keeps your tummy content all morning.
26. Liang pi (cold jelly noodles, 凉皮)
Having grown in popularity across the Middle Kingdom, Shaanxi liang pi has established itself as the perfect summer lunch or a snack. Dress the chunky, chewy jelly noodles and fresh vegetables with sesame sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, and then sprinkle some toasted peanuts and sesame for the final touch. Voila.
27. Malatang (numb, spicy soup, 麻辣烫)
After this popular street snack from Sichuan adapted itself to satisfy Shanghainese taste buds, it quickly became a local favorite. A humble version of hotpot, you pick your own skewered vegetables and meat from the shelf, and get staff to boil them together in chicken or pork broth.