By Kyle Beldoch – UnTour Shanghai’s Fall Intern
Perhaps Shanghai’s most beloved snack, xiaolongbao (小笼包 – soup dumplings) technically originated in a suburb called Nanxiang (南翔). If you happen to be in Shanghai and looking for a foodie detour, it is definitely worth an afternoon visit.
For those hesitant to travel far outside of the downtown area without a guide due to a lack of language skills, don’t worry! The trip is simple and everyone knows you’ve come to try dumplings. From central Shanghai, Nanxiang is about a 45-minute subway ride on line 11. The subway system is extremely efficient and easy to navigate, with every stop featuring the English name prominently beneath the Chinese one. The ride costs just RMB 4-5 each way, depending on where you’re coming from.
When you get to Nanxiang station, the steaming dumplings are just three blocks from the metro stop. Simply take exit #2 and make a left at the first light onto Zhongjia Lu, which later becomes Mingzhu Lu. Walk two blocks then make a left onto Guyiyuan Lu. This is where the dumpling magic happens.
About 10 xiaolongbao restaurants line both sides of the street. The alleged creators of the first soup dumplings, whose technique for getting the soup neatly encased within the dumplings was a novelty at the time, is right around the corner on Huyi Highway. Located behind Guyi Garden, the restaurants serves thousands of dumplings a day and has become a tourist trap serving busloads of tourists making the pilgrimage to the original dumpling house. They appear to be resting on their laurels, however, as the dumplings were the worst we tried. The dumplings had clearly been sitting in their steamer baskets for too long, sticking together clumsily before breaking open altogether, letting the broth completely escape.
After being unimpressed with this first place (it closes at 4:30 pm sharp), I turned my attention back to Guyiyuan Lu. Here, all the smaller restaurants feature steaming xiaolongbao ready to order and easily visible from the street. I simply picked a place where the lady smiled at me and allowed me to take a picture of her wrapping up a fresh batch of dumplings. This time the dumplings were just as I had imagined, steaming when they arrived in front of me and filled with hot broth. These were the real deal. Although the ladies working inside only spoke Chinese, they had a menu written in English ready for tourists. Twenty dumplings cost RMB 30 and they also offer hairy crab roe dumplings at RMB 20 for 10. The pricing was the same at both restaurants and seemed to be the standard for the street.
After stuffing my face with dumplings I was ready to walk them off. Guyi Garden, a state run park, is located right next to all of the dumpling shops and is perfect for an afternoon stroll. The entrance fee is RMB 6 per person to enter and then you’re free to explore the water features, gazebos and manicured gardens. There is a waterway running through the park and if you get there in the early afternoon you can rent rowboats or paddleboats for RMB 20 per hour. I don’t recommend the boats, however, as the park isn’t big enough for it to be truly worthwhile.
In addition to the park, Nanxiang also has an old downtown area, bustling with local vendors. The shops range from clothing stores to little bakeries to souvenir shops. The streets are intersected by small waterways and all of the buildings are beautiful examples of ancient Chinese architecture. There is also a temple and a few monuments located in the area. Entering the temple will cost you around RMB 10, but you can still see plenty without paying to go inside.
Spending some time in Nanxiang definitely makes for a good afternoon activity. I recommend budgeting about 4-5 hours for the whole trip. Enjoy!
Green: Entrance to the Garden
Blue: Street lined with great Xiaolongbao
Orange: Original Xiaolongbao
Black: Walk 2 blocks west to arrive at Nanxiang Old Town on the right.