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An Introduction to Food From Shanghai

23 July 2018

As the biggest city in the People’s Republic of China, the cooking style in Shanghai is one of the main cooking methods in the country. Shanghai cuisine is also known as eastern Chinese cuisine, as the city incorporates and adopts many cooking styles from the surrounding provinces, including Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Zhejiang.

What cooking style is used in Shanghai?

One of the main cooking methods used in Shanghai, and the rest of Eastern China, is ‘red cooking’. This technique sees food braised and slow-cooked in a sauce made from soy sauce, five-spice and sugar. Often, each family will have their own special recipe for such a sauce that is passed on to each new generation over the years. The method is known as red cooking as the process tends to leave the food with a red tinge, which comes from the soy sauce and five-spice powder. Sometimes, red food colouring is even added to make the food gain a more intense red colour, although this isn’t the traditional way! Sauces are a key part to food in this area, and are even added to stir-fry when cooking, rather than at the end!

What ingredients are used?

As in the red cooking sauce, soy sauce is heavily used in Shanghai cuisine. Both rice wine and rice vinegar are also used more often in dishes from Shanghai than in other areas, although this is not surprising considering that Eastern China is home to some of the greatest rice wine and vinegar producing areas in the country. Rice grows so well in this area due to its geographical features. Known as ‘the land of fish and rice’, East China is home to the infamous Yangtze river, the longest river in the whole of Asia. With a vast number of lakes emerging from the river, and wetland areas formed from all the water, the region has the ideal conditions for growing and producing quality rice. The mountainous terrain in the provinces surrounding Shanghai also makes the area prime for tea growing.

What dishes are from Shanghai?

There are a number of popular dishes that originate from or are most famous in Shanghai. One of the more well-known foods is the xiao long bao, a steamed bun filled with pork and other ingredients. They are also known as dumplings and are prepared and served in a traditional bamboo steaming basket.

Another common dish is the Shanghai ‘Lion Head Meatballs’, which are made from pork and cabbage. These big meatballs can be served either in a thick, rich and dark brown sauce or in a lighter broth containing thin rice noodles.

There are also a number of ingredients that are commonly used and most popular in Shanghai. The Shanghai hairy crab, also known as the Chinese mitten crab, is a crab with furry claws that is considered a delicacy in Shanghai. They are only available for a couple of months in the year, and there are only a limited number able to be consumed, so it is a premium crab with a hefty price tag for those who want to give it a try! Shanghainese cuisine also makes use of the thousand-year-old egg, or century egg, an egg that is preserved in clay for several weeks or months, until the yolk turns a grey-green colour with a creamy consistency, and the white becomes brown and jelly-like.

Would you eat any of these Shanghai dishes? If you would like to try any other Chinese food in the UK, then check out the range available online at Oriental Mart!

Image Credit: Gary Dee

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