Shu Cai Ji (舒蔡记)
This place is in a street that has been for the chop as long as I have been going, and I’ve always wondered whether it will still be there each time I visit. That said, they had renovated a little between visits the last time I went so I am hopeful.
I eat shengjianbao and salted pork and greens rice here. They make the rice in what I would describe as a shengjianbao pan and it’s excellent. Their shengjianbao are great too, porky, not too juicy and a nice textured bun. I see people there eating eight shengjianbao and a plate of rice. Tip: don’t do this if you have any need to be productive in the afternoon. Instead grab four shengjianbao, eat half the rice and take the rest home for someone else, or a meal the next day. A lot of people order the curry beef soup – one of the mysteries of Shanghainese cuisine to me. What this dish represents of Shanghai’s history, the blending of east and west, is great, but I really can’t imagine any rendition that would taste good.
Killer yakiniku place out in Gubei. I haven’t eaten a bad dish there. Lots of marinated skirt steak, flank steak, tri-tip and the like. The flank steak, marinated and dipped in melted garlic butter after grilling (次世代牛横膈膜) is great. There’s a marinated beef intestine, which looks amazing and tastes so beefy (超级牛小肠), and grilled thick-cut tongue. They also have very decent ramen, with only two types available before 11pm, and a much longer menu after that. I like the chicken broth one. And they have ice cream on grilled honey toast.
Spring Onion Noodles
葱油拌面. A dish not a restaurant. Is this allowed?
Spring onion noodles are something pretty much anyone can rustle up — very simple — and made with store cupboard ingredients. It’s the equivalent of “spaghetti aglio e olio” – great for lunch, great as a snack, great when you get home drunk. Unlike that dish, which you wouldn’t find in a restaurant, you get 葱油拌面 in most noodle houses and Shanghainese restaurants, made to varying levels of quality.
I go back to these three regularly: Jianguo 328 for their version made with dried shrimp. As part of their lunch set, with a fried pork chop and iced tea, it’s one of my favorite lunch deals. Cang Lang Ting (沧浪亭) for their version made with pork slivers (pictured above). And Dong Tai Xiang for various reasons, including their shengjianbao, which I initially thought were bizarre, benchmarking against Xiao Yang’s, but I’m now a big fan of (and not a fan of Xiao Yang’s).
Hu Ji Potstickers (胡记锅贴)
I might just prefer potstickers in Shanghai to shengjianbao. And in a place that serves both, I’ll always choose them over shengjianbao. I’ve had many favorites over the years, including one on Wanhangdu Lu who I used to phone for delivery orders from – I probably shouldn’t be proud to report that they didn’t need to ask who I was when I called. I’m not sure whether it was my poor Chinese, or the regularity with which I ordered. I once checked with them that they knew where they were coming and they said they knew: I was the fat foreigner. I think that’s a compliment.
Anyway, I drop in there when I’m in the area and in need (they’re conveniently between a branch of F45 and the new Homeslice). Our current local is one on the corner of Taiyuan Lu and Jianguo Xi Lu, a five-minute cycle ride from where we live. It’s not the closest but I’ll make the extra effort to go there, however hungover I might be. A nice skin thickness, with plenty of jellied pork broth in the mix for that porky flavor and unctuous sticky browning on the base.
Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋)
Wei Xiang Zhai has not been short of coverage over the years and most people there are eating the sesame sauce noodles (majiang mian, 麻酱面) with good reason: it's very good. But you've got to move fast to get the best out of it, tossing it quickly or you end up with a claggy lump. I like to add their la rou (辣肉) on the top. It always strikes me as an anomaly in Shanghai's food, but the spice and the oil work really well with the sesame and it lubricates the noodles, therefore there's a lower clag-risk. This is a perfect solo diner's restaurant, go in there, order by the door and lurk behind whoever looks like they'll finish soon. In fact going with more than two people would just make it an ordeal. Sometimes in the summer when they're busy, they'll spirit you through the hectic but tiny kitchen into the lane at the back to eat which is a perfect Shanghai street eating experience. Don't bother with their pork chop, they're pre-cooked and not even a contender for that crown. And obviously I'd never order the curry beef soup.