Eating around the city's Chinese and Japanese options with Wang Zhiwei, whose roots in Shanghai run deep
Wang Zhiwei is the founder of the Penguin Guide—the Chinese social media juggernaut not the English book imprint—born in Shanghai and raised on its restaurants. The guy knows an unhealthy amount about the city’s restaurants, especially Chinese and Japanese shops, and when he writes about food in the city, lines form and menus sell out. But his own articles for Penguin, which has 1.2 million followers, are few and far between, and he keeps some of his favorites close to his chest. I pried a few out of him that go under the radar of most diners in Shanghai.
Tetote is a small izakaya with a Japanese owner. They have some signature dishes that other places can’t copy, and they are consistent, and that’s why I come here. They make this beef tongue, which is dredged in flour, pan-fried and then soaked in a light Japanese soy sauce that I order. It’s simple but tasty. They do a vinegar-ed Japanese mackerel, which they then cook a little with a BBQ gun, and a very interesting fried rice: they use gao cai, a kind of pickled vegetable, and dried fish liver. It’s really good.
The atmosphere and cooking aren’t tied to any region of Japan. Instead, it’s more home-style cooking. They lay out six or seven big bowls on the bar countertop, which you can pick from, and then there’s the rest of the menu to order from. The music is always Beatles or Beatles covers.
A few years ago, they stayed open until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Japanese guys would go there late night after going to the “dating and drinking” bars, but now that the Japanese community is shrinking, Tetote closes at midnight.
Don’t order the sushi there, it’s not a signature, it’s disappointing. And don’t order the “pizza”. They recommend it, but it’s not good. The rest, the cooked things, are very good. I think they are approaching the best you have in Shanghai, maybe even in Tokyo. And it’s about 200 rmb per person, unless you drink a lot.
Hao Sheng Jiu Jia is a tiny Shanghainese restaurant with a Michelin recommendation. If I want to take someone to eat Shanghainese food, this is where I go. You can’t order at the restaurant; you call in advance, tell them your budget (200 rmb is the maximum), and they’ll prepare all the food. In some ways, it’s very typical Shanghainese cooking, with the braised eel with garlic, the fried pork chop, their signature eight-treasure duck, which is really good. But in other ways, they are different. The food is lighter, they don’t use dark soy sauce, things like that.
There’s like this law in Shanghai that every Shanghainese is always disappointed by the hongshao rou at restaurants. That’s how I feel about theirs. But it’s only because everyone loves their mom’s hongshao rou the most, and no restaurant can ever recreate that. I love their wontons, the normal meat-and-leafy-green wontons, which they make with an egg wrapper.
They have one “VIP” room, which can fit ten people, and then three other tables and that’s it. Let me count: around 24 seats, maximum.
Wan Shou Zhai is the xiao long bao place on Shangyin Lu in Hongkou. You know it? Do you like it? I do, but maybe because I basically spent all my teenage years there. I kind of grew up there. Besides their dumplings, I like their cold noodles, which are seasonal, only in summer.
Yi Gui He is on Ji’an Lu, near Xintiandi, and the location is very interesting: the street is famous for the funerary shops. There are five or six funeral shops and a Buddhist temple right there. The noodle shop has been around for about two years.
The owner of Yi Gui He is the same boss as the famous Da Chang Mian place, also in the neighborhood. Yi Gui He does the fancy version of yangchun mian, a type of noodle without any topping. You’ve got to have very good soup, very good noodles and very good pork lard to make it. You can order toppings if you want, but then it’s not really yangchun mian anymore. I like their zha cai there, the pickled mustard tuber, which they make themselves. Don’t order the fried pork chop — overpriced. They also have the Shanghainese type of curried noodle, which I like. A lot of people come here just to buy raw noodles to take away.
For shengjian bao. And for their scallion-oil noodles. And their wontons. Good quality, especially for the shengjian bao, compared to Xiao Yang’s and other places. They have some franchises now. I’ve been to all of them – on Changning Lu, on Shaanxi Nan Lu. They are consistent, very consistent. Dong Tai Xiang is my favorite place for shengjian bao in Shanghai right now.
This shop, on Tianjin Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu, doesn’t do normal pork xiao long bao. They only do the expensive ones, with pure crab meat, or with matsutake mushrooms, the fancy stuff. The mushroom dumpling is really good. On weekends you’ve got to queue for half an hour.
My favorite place to eat sushi. I go here when I want high-quality but don’t want to pay really high prices. The average price on Dianping for Qianchuan is like 1,000 rmb, so you have to know how to order: order the 10-piece sushi set and maybe one cold dish, and it will be about 600 rmb. Just have that. It’s enough. It’s luxury but not too expensive. The chef, Qianchuan (or Maekawa), does some unique things. He makes his own yuzu sauce. He serves tuna collar sashimi, which is the fattiest part, and something I don’t see a lot in Shanghai. And he does seasonal menus with special fish.
The location is weird. The first floor is like a cheap gym and a noodle shop. Qianchuan is upstairs.
You know the Chaoshan beef hotpot, used to be very popular in Shanghai? This is also a Chaoshan hotpot but it’s famous for seafood, not beef. Even still, their beef is good and their beef balls are the best in the city. Gan Cao Chao Cai Guan started as a shabby street-food place but then moved into this two-story shop. Downstairs is all fish tanks and seafood and upstairs is the dining room. The hotpot base is just mineral water and bitter melon, very pure. The razor clams are especially good, and even things like the king crabs are fairly priced, like 500-600rmb, which is the normal price in Shanghai. Also, their Chaozhou-style marinated dishes — the lu wei — are really good: lu duck, lu goose.
Cantonese. Not Cantonese seafood. In the afternoon, they have great value lunch menu, with great dim sum, and they change their menu very often with the seasons. Its pretty famous for business dinners because they only have eight or ten regular tables but 40 or 50 private rooms. There are three things here, besides the dim sum: the oyster pancake, the zhe zhe bao, and the bao zai fan. The oyster pancake is the crispy style, not the chewy one, and it’s much better than the ones I’ve had in Taiwan or in southern China. The zhe zhe bao is named after the sound of the pot, which goes zzzzzzzzz when it comes to the table. They zhe zhe everything: vegetables, offal, beef tongue. Bao zai fan is a classic Cantonese rice dish.