Shanghai cuisine, known as Hu cai (滬菜 in pinyin: hu4 cai4) among the Chinese, is one of the most popular and celebrated cuisines in China.
Shanghai does not have a definitive cuisine of its own, but refines those of the surrounding provinces (mostly from adjacent Jiangsu and Zhejiang coastal provinces). What can be called Shanghai cuisine is epitomized by the use of alcohol. Fish, eel, crab, chicken are “drunken” with spirits and usually served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also commonly used to spice up the dish.
The use of sugar is very unique to Shanghainese cuisine and, especially when used in combination with soy sauce, effuses foods and sauces with a taste that is not so much sweet but rather savory. A typical Shanghai household will consume sugar at the same rate as soy sauce, even excluding pastry baking. Non-natives tend to have difficulty identifying this usage of sugar and are often surprised when told of the “secret ingredient.”
Beggar’s Chicken is a legendary dish wrapped in lotus leaves, covered in clay and oven baked to steamy, tasty perfection – in olden times, it was baked in the ground. Lime-and-ginger-flavoured “1,000-year-old” eggs is another popular Shanghainese creation. The braised meat ball and the Smelly Tofu are also uniquely Shanghainese.
Facing the East China Sea, seafood in Shanghai is very popular. Locals though favor freshwater fish just as much as saltwater products like crabs, oysters, and seaweed.
Shanghainese people are known to eat very little (an often target of mockery from other Chinese), and hence the servings are usually quite small. The Xiao Long Bao (Shanghainese: shoh lonpotzi, or sanji) in a miniature bamboo steamer is now popularized throughout China as a Dim Sum. It is a smaller version of the meat-filled steamed bun and more delicately made.
Due to the rapid growth of Shanghai and its development into one of the foremost East Asian cities as a center of both finance and contemporary culture, the future of Shanghai cuisine looks very promising.