The first episode of Season 4 of Parts Unknown took us down some pretty familiar alleyways. (Haven’t seen it yet? You can download it free on iTunes!) Anthony Bourdain’s philosophical musings about where all the communism went serve as background music, and you see locals slurp soup dumplings, eat ribs with chopsticks, toast with baijiu and relish in the late-night dining scene. But how can you go to there? Come with us!
Bourdain waxes poetic about the city’s famous treat (ie: “I translate them as pillows of happiness that will scald your tongue and throat if you don’t know what you’re doing”, “ballistically designed delivery vehicles for pure pleasure” and “As they’re steamed, the delicious, delicious fat renders into a soup of the gods”), but he also gets something very wrong here. Standard xiaolongbao do not have shrimp, although you can add it if you like. We also love the in-season-right-now crab roe and pork version. Get them while they’re at their best!
If you want to sample the best of the city, join UnTour Shanghai’s Hands-On Dumpling Delights tour. In addition to sampling xiaolongbao, you’ll also learn how to make another local delicacy (shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings), as well as try boiled dumplings, wontons in fragrant soup and potstickers.
Most guests take their wontons to-go from this nocturnal dumpling stand, mainly because the few seats that they have are usually packed full. The Pang family’s signature is oversized pork and mustard green wontons topped with a peanut sauce that sets it apart from the thousands of other dumpling stands in town.
Take a friend who speaks good Chinese here, as the menu is a back-and-forth conversation between the owner and the guests. Several copycat restaurants have sprung up on the same street after the New York Times featured the restaurant, so be careful you’re going to the right place. Prices rarely go over RMB 150 per person and this is about as homestyle as it gets.
124 Jinxian Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu. 进贤路124号近茂名南路. Tel: 6256 0301
We love this little slice of bustling late night action in Shanghai so much we created our Night Markets tour around it. Available on Monday & Thursday nights (and occasionally Saturdays during our busy season), we try the crawfish, snake (for those who are brave enough!), Hong Kong style puddings and skewers here. Then we head to a second night market to show you a different side of Shanghai Supper.
Di Shui Dong
Bourdain’s dining partner at this Hunan style restaurant remains pretty underwhelmed by the food at this expat favorite and we completely agree. The ribs are famous in the circles of foreigners who call Shanghai home, but more of the credit for DSD’s popularity should go to the English language marketing and menu the restaurant has employed than the kitchen’s talent. If you’re looking for good Hunan food, try Guyi or even Hunan House. Both also have English menus, but the food is more authentic, the décor is much nicer and you’ll actually eat with locals instead of other foreigners with guidebooks on the table.
When his fellow wedding crasher calls baijiu “wine”, Bourdain interrupts after a ganbei (shot): “We have to get this straight. That is not wine. That is, like, grain alcohol. That’s what we call liquor.” Precisely, Chef. We wish we could sneak you into a real Chinese wedding – our favorite was when the bride walked down the aisle to the Pirates of Caribbean – but in lieu of that experience, we recommend you try the local firewater at Yuan, a bar that makes the moonshine more palatable in excellent cocktails.
Under an aluminum sheet roof down a dirty alleyway, this couple makes some of the best late night noodles in town. Actually called “long foot soup noodles” (not legged) it’s just around the corner from Er Guang, and also Lao Shaoxing Doujiang, our favorite nightowl street food vendor in the city. Chef Bourdain, we’d love to take you there the next time you’re in town!
Down the alleyway of 166 Zhaozhou Lu, near Ji’nan Lu. 肇周路166弄弄堂里近济南路。Hours: 9:30pm-1:30am