18 Best Street Food You Must Try In Shanghai, China

street food in shanghai

While most parts of China offer food that is healthy and caters to a very specific taste, the city of Shanghai is a big exception. Offering universally appealing food that is simply sinful, Shanghai’s typically sweet and oily palate is hard not to love. Whether you prefer visiting authentic small street-side vendors or opulent and fancy restaurants, there is something for every kind of foodie. The food scene in Shanghai is one of the most popular in the world. And if you wish to opt for healthy foods or if you aren’t a fan of the oily Sichuan sauce-based fritters, you can try the rice balls, steamed dumplings or the famous tea egg. So if you are planning a trip to Shanghai anytime soon, read on to explore our list of the 18 best street foods you must try in Shanghai, China.

1. Jianbing

Jianbing Guozi 20180623
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Jianbing, loosely translated as a fried pancake, can be best compared to the French crepe or the Indian dosa. Typically served as a breakfast meal, this is a very filling food and can be had as brunch, too, if you have a limited appetite. Prepared using the typical ingredients of pancakes along with local sauces and spices, it is then topped with a variety of toppings as per your preferences, including scallions, chilli sauce, mustard, or meats of different kinds. Slowly growing in popularity internationally, you can often find this traditional dish in cities across the world.

2. Youtiao

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Another extremely popular delicacy that you can find on every street corner in Shanghai, Youtiao refers to a deep-fried dough that is often served as a breakfast meal. Accompanied with milk or soy milk, the Youtiao is also known as Chinese churros, Chinese breadsticks or crullers around the world. Some variations of this dish involve stuffing it between bread to make a type of sandwich, or wrapped with noodle roll. In more touristy places, this is served with soy sauce or chilli sauce.

3. Scallion Oil Noodles

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This dish originated in the city of Shanghai and is a must-try speciality when you visit Shanghai. While the most authentic variants of this dish are healthier, you can try noodles with a variety of toppings including meats, sauces, spices or vegetables to add a lot more flavour. You can have this dish as lunch, dinner or even as a mid-meal, street-side snack.

4. Liangpi (cold-skin noodles)

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Loosely translated as ‘cold skin noodles,’ Liang Pi is an extremely popular and simple dish prepared from rice or wheat flour, that resembles thicker noodles. It hails from the province of Shaanxi, and slowly growing in popularity all over China and the world. This dish is often served cold, making it a great meal to have on a hot day. Liang Pi is considered one of the dishes that consists of every flavour - tangy, savoury, herbal, sweet, and so on. It is prepared by creating a soft dough out of rice or wheat, boiled and then rolled into a thin layer. This is then cut into long pieces, creating the quintessential noodle shape. You can enjoy this dish with a variety of toppings and sauces, including hot chilli oil, cucumber juliens, and more.

5. Ci fan (Glutinous rice balls)

Masi (glutinous rice balls) with peanut butter filling (Philippines)
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Also known as Cifantuan or fantuan, the Ci Fan is a special dish that is added to the youtiao fritter, and is available in either savoury or sweet variants. The savoury variety will include salted and prepared meats such as ground pork, pickled cucumbers or other vegetables, tuna, kimchi, and more. On the other hand, the sweeter variety involves sesame seeds and plenty of sugar or jaggery. You can enjoy this as a breakfast item, or as a mid-meal snack on the streets of Shanghai.

6. Jian dui (sesame dim sums)

Jian dui in London (Chinatown)
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Looking for local Chinese dishes that can satisfy your sweet tooth? Try the Jian dui, also known as Ma Tuan or sesame dim sum ball, which is a type of pastry preparation prepared with rice batter coated with sesame seeds. Due to the sesame seeds and the deep frying method, the ball is crispy and crunchy on the outside, while the fermentation of the rice flour inside creates plenty of tiny air bubbles. This dish is often had for breakfast, and you can find different varieties incorporating coconut, crushed peanuts, or fried onions within it.

7. Stinky tofu

Stinky Tofu in Daxi
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Take advantage of the amazing nightlife in Shanghai, and head over to have the famous (or infamous) Stinky tofu, which is a variant of strongly fermented tofu that is had as an evening snack, usually served in informal lunch eateries or street vendors. Although it is fried, stinky tofu is extremely healthy to eat, as the fermentation process makes it light and fluffy, and soybean has one of the highest ratio of protein in it as compared to any other legume or meat. Often, the street-side variant of stinky tofu will have bamboo shoots added to it, giving it the quintessential black colour.

8. Sheng Jian Bao (pan-fried dumplings)

2019-02-22 Pan fried pork buns in "Taste Of Shanghai" restaurant, Sydney, Australia
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Sheng Jian Bao, also called Sheng Jian Mantou, is another popular street-side dish that is prepared by pan-frying pork and gelatin. Eating this dish requires mastering a technique, as the exterior is a very thin layer wrapped around a sort of soup that is made with ground pork, scallions, and a variety of spices and seasonings. The trick is to eat them with your hands, tear a small hole in the bao with your teeth, and drink the soup first so that it doesn’t burn your mouth, then eat the rest of the dumpling. Fortunately, it is way smaller than the usual steamed dumplings, so if you are brave, you can try simply popping the hot bao in your mouth and risking scalding your tongue.

9. Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings)

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Mainly served throughout most of East and Southeast Asia, Jaiozi is a special Chinese delicacy that is prepared in a similar way as dumplings. Dating back more than a thousand years, this dish is an important part of Chinese culture, served at the time of Chinese New Year and other festivities. The dumplings look like little crescent-shaped boats and symbolise prosperity for the eater. Jiaozi is prepared by roughly mincing meat, pork or vegetables, and wrapping a thin layer of wheat or rice dough around it. This is then steamed or fried, as per your preferences.

10. Tea egg

Tea eggs 1
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Tea egg is a unique and aesthetically beautiful savoury food that involves boiling an egg, cracking the shell a little with a spoon, and then reboiling it in tea or soy sauce. The cracks in the egg allow the sauces or tea to enter the egg, creating beautiful marbled patterns on the egg’s surface once the shell is removed. Tea eggs are extremely healthy if prepared in the authentic way, but if you wish to opt for lots of toppings and flavour, you can find tea eggs with fried onions, savoury toppings, crushed peanuts, soy sauce, and more.

11. Duck blood and vermicelli soup

Duck blood and vermicelli soup (20150819124849)
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Originating in Nanjing in the Jiangsu province, duck blood and vermicelli soup is another must-try street food that you can find in many variations in Shanghai. This is a variant of the Polish dish called czernina, and it is a type of clear vermicelli noodle soup. It is said that this dish was prepared accidentally by a man, who simply wanted a container to hold some duck’s blood, but dropped some noodles into the bowl by accident. He, then, cooked the preparation, and lo and behold, a wonderful dish was introduced to the world. Try this dish if you wish to opt for a lighter healthier meal, instead of the typical fried oily street food.

12. Baozi

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Baozi, also known as bao, is a type of wheat bun that is fermented with yeast and stuffed with delicious vegetables, seasoning or even meat. The baozi is fluffy and hollow, and some variants can also be sweet, prepared with sugar and soy sauce. Originating in Northern China, you can find this preparation everywhere in Shanghai today. Although you can eat baozi anytime you want, it is typically consumed for breakfast.

13. Cong you bing (scallion pancakes)

Chinese Chive Pancakes @ Jia Yan @ Paris
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A Chinese variant of savoury pancakes prepared with scallions, the Cong you bing involves topping a flatbread with vegetables, meat and of course, scallions, and then folding it in half. It is then fried in a pan, giving it that amazing crunchiness that is truly irresistible. This dish can be comparable to the Mexican quesadillas or soft-shelled tacos. However, something unique to Cong you bing is the multiple crepe-like layers to the pancakes, created by rolling the dough and folding it over itself.

14. Osmanthus cake

Osmanthus cakes
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This gelatinous Chinese pastry has a lovely aroma that is sure to charm you. Prepared using gelatin, rice flour, rock sugar and honey, as well as Osmanthus flower, this clear cake is sweet and chewy, with a unique texture. The Osmanthus flower is one of the very few flowers that have a sweet taste, making it ideal for adding to desserts and other meals in Chinese cuisine. In Shanghai, you are likely to find other variants of this cake that incorporate almond flour, different types of oil, chia seeds, egg whites, and more.

15. Cho Chao Mian (Shanghai stir-fried noodles)

Shanghai Fried Noodles - David and Camy Noodle Restaurant, Box Hill
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Sometimes the best dishes rely on simplicity to showcase their best flavours. Cu Chao Mian, or Shanghai stir-fried noodles, is a dish that features tasty handmade udon noodles, with a variety of meats and vegetables, in a delicious brown sauce that will leave you licking your fingers. The experience of watching the food stall workers deftly and efficiently put together an incredible meal of Cu Chao Mian in just minutes is the icing on the cake.

16. Shaokao (BBQ skewers)

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Shao kao literally translates to barbecue. It is a worthwhile experience to walk along the streets of Shanghai and watch the street food vendor prepare your barbecue-skewered meats right in front of you. The meats, tofu, and vegetables are marinated in a special Chinese five-spice powder, which is a blend of a variety of flavours, from tangy to spicy. This meal is often found at the night markets that open for tourists and locals, and you can find vegetarian options here as well.

17. Pai Gu Nian Gao

HK 上環 Sheung Wan 富臨集團 Foolum Restaurant 早茶點心飯食 food dim sum pork meat cake rice May 2019 SSG 06
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Pai gu nian gao is a relatively unknown hidden gem amongst international tourists when it comes to delicious Shanghai cuisine. Translating loosely as pork chop served with special rice cakes called Nian gao. Nian gao is a festive cake served during Chinese New Year, and is a type of steamed or fried glutinous cake. When served with the pork chop, the nian gao is glazed with delicious soy sauce that permeates through the gelatinous exterior, lending a delicious flavour to the cake. This is an amazing meal that you simply cannot miss.

18. Douhua (tofu pudding)

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After dining on all these delicious savoury and flavourful meals, you will surely start craving a sweet dessert to cleanse your palate and end the meal. Douhua, shortened from doufuhua, is a snack similar to pudding, prepared from soft melt-in-your-mouth tofu, and a variety of other ingredients, such as agar agar powder, demerara sugar, rock sugar, and more. Also called soybean pudding or tofu brains, this is an ancient meal dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. However, if you don’t have a sweet tooth, there is a variety of this dish that is savoury as well, and is prepared using wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pork or eggs. This savoury type originated from Northern China, whereas the sweeter variety comes from Southern China.

Experience the culinary art of Chinese cuisine in Shanghai

Most foodies can agree that sitting in a stuffy Michelin-starred restaurant is no way to experience the rich culture of Shanghai. Walking the streets of Shanghai, interacting with the locals in broken Chinese, and eating the food of the common man is an unrivalled experience when you are here. When you’re browsing the city’s night markets and streets, look out for these 18 best street foods, which are delicious and fulfilling to boot.

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Being a military kid, Shamika has lived and travelled all over India, and her nomadic childhood has fueled an immense hunger and fascination for new cultures and languages (she's a polyglot!)...Read more

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