Savoring the Flavors of Shanghai

From decadent soup dumplings to zesty hand-pulled noodles, an experienced foodie makes her way through the flavorful cuisine on China's east coast.  

By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo By: Rachel Tepper Paley

Day 1

Nothing says “Welcome to Shanghai!” like a box of éclairs! These are waiting when I arrive to my room at the Langham Shanghai, located just off Huaihai Road, the flashy boutique-filled strip sometimes referred to as the “Champs-Élysées of the East.” It’s delicious proof that Shanghai, although more famous for juicy dumplings and slurp-worthy noodles, is home to pastries that can rival the best of Paris.

Day 2

I spend the day wandering through the former French Concession, an area of official French settlement between 1849 and 1943. Today, it’s an adorable warren of tree-lined streets brimming with shops and restaurants. I stop at a traditional noodle shop to scarf down “dry” Shanghainese noodles (meaning no soup) topped with tangy stir-fried pork, bok choy, and dried mushrooms. I pledge to find something similar back home in New York City.

Day 2

In the evening, I trek out to the Bund, the wide waterfront walkway that hugs the western bank of the Huangpu River. The air is damp and obscured by fog, which only serves to enhance the buildings sprouting from Pudong, the business district across the water.

Day 3

I wake up with a singular goal in mind: dumplings! At lunch, I elbow my way into a packed local lunch spot slinging halal treats from the Western province of Xinjiang. I finally snag a seat and some boiled dumplings stuffed with fennel seed-spiked ground lamb. Mission accomplished!

Day 3

Temperatures climb into the 80s today, so a supper of chilled hand-pulled noodles is in order. Less cooling, however, is the fiery chili oil in which the slippery strands are dressed. I can’t feel my face by the time the plate is clear, but I don’t care. These noodles are that good. In fact, I want more — my dining companions and I order another fiery plate before heading home.

Day 4

I’ve got a mountain of work to slog through today — the life of a travel writer ain’t all fun and games, people! — but I sneak away for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Confession: It’s the same one as yesterday. I find that I crave familiarity during periods of constant travel, although “familiar” can simply mean a restaurant I’ve visited before. Instead of dumplings, I mix things up with a bowl of rich beef soup swimming with thick wheat noodles and a dash of chili oil. I leave satisfied, both mentally and physically.

Day 5

Today is all about one thing: xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. I make a beeline for Jia Jia Tang Bao, a cramped spot widely considered to serve some of the best in town. The queue stretches half a block, but I pass the time by sneaking a peek at the staff as they single-mindedly roll dumpling dough into perfect circles with lightening-pace speed. What skill!

Day 5

Some thirty minutes later, I’m seated on a low plastic chair before a steaming bamboo basket, which cradles delicate pouches of fatty broth, pork, and crab. After a quick splash of sweet soy-and-ginger sauce, I devour them like a woman who hasn’t eaten in a month.

Day 6

I meet friends at Pelikan, a new Nordic restaurant with an interior that, oddly, wouldn’t look out of place in Palm Beach. It works, though — the bright, palm frond-lined wallpaper lends a pep that extends to the cocktail menu, which includes eight (!!!) different riffs on the gin and tonic.

Day 7

After a thrifty morning of nonstop haggling at a “fake market” specializing in knock-off products — I leave with a legit-looking “Samsonite” suitcase — I’m a frazzled mess and in need of some low-key relaxation. Good thing I’m staying at the Portman Ritz-Carlton. I slip into a luxe robe and think zen thoughts. Shanghai, it’s been real — see you next time!

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