China is the world’s biggest energy consumer and producer, and is on track to become the world’s largest energy importer. Expats are flocking to cities like Shanghai to take advantage of the bevy of tech jobs available. And they need something to eat! We caught up with local Julie Cao of Here are her tips for exploring the city’s culinary scene.

Tell us about Shanghai.

Shanghai is China’s economic and financial hub. It’s a blend of old and new, east and west. Many expats come here for career opportunities. Like many large cities in the US, Shanghai is a melting pot of people from all parts of the world. Locals are able to communicate in English; but a majority still speaks Shanghainese, a different dialect from Mandarin.

What’s the food scene like?

Shanghai offers tastes from around the world. There are many restaurants serving provincial Chinese food, as well as Thai, Japanese, Korean and American food. The best food I found is on the small side streets, or in little shops packed with locals. If you skip the fancy restaurants and walk down the alleyways on South Yunnan Road, East Nanjing Road, and Qi Bao Old Town, you’ll find cheap yet delicious cuisine, such as soup dumpling, grilled seafood, tofu flower, and the traditional Sichuan hotpot. My favorite Shanghai dish is fried soup dumpling (Sheng Jian Bao), which is made using dough, broth and pork. Here’s how to eat it: dip the dumpling in vinegar, bite a corner of the dough, and suck out the soup.

Any foods Americans might find uber exotic?

You’ll find many new foods in Shanghai and throughout China. In addition to innards, chicken feet and live insects, some famous dishes in Shanghai include spicy bullfrogs, baby lobsters, grilled oysters, and scallops. One of the best ways to try exotic food is to dine with your Chinese friends, and ask them to recommend their favorite dishes.


Where are the best places to celebrate a birthday or special occasion?

Check out Hou Wei on East Nanjing Road. A big group can dine in one of their private rooms.

What if you want something fast, cheap and delicious?

Street food venders. They don’t have tables so you’ll have to find somewhere else to eat. There are also food courts in many malls where you can get hotpot, soup dumpling, stir-fried dishes, soups, and Korean bentos. They’re usually open until 10:00pm. For breakfast, grab some buns and a cup of soybean milk or a Chinese crepe from the street venders.

Any tips for grocery shopping?

The city’s wet markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and noodles. Everything comes unpackaged and the costs are based on weight. There are little shops where buyers can get rice and beans, and the shop owners will place special orders and deliveries if you promise to purchase from them. The local buyers usually haggle for the best deal, but all foods are reasonably priced.

Another option is to purchase food and supplies at the local grocery stores, including Lianhua and NGS. There are sections with unpacked vegetables and a wide array of meats and seafood, as well as pre-made lunches and dinners. There are several Western grocery stores in the city center where you will find cheese, Nutella, granola, and bacon.  Every item has an English translation and the employees speak English, so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. However, everything is expensive. Nutella usually costs $12!

What is the best thing about living in Shanghai? The worst?

The best aspects of living in Shanghai include the amazing transport system, cycle lanes and public facilities. The food is delicious, and safety is not a huge issue as people are more open-minded and law-abiding compared to other parts of China.

Some of the worst aspects of living in Shanghai are the air pollution and the language barrier. Regardless of your level of Mandarin proficiency, most locals prefer to speak Shanghainese, a dialect that’s difficult to master if you weren’t born and raised here. Dating in Shanghai does not come without its difficulties. People are hard-working and well-educated, but also very driven by material things. If you are a man, you will find that owning a property is the key to marriage.

Any tips for making the moving process easier?

Hire a mini-van to transport all your belongings. They are reasonably priced (between $8-9) and you can just wave them down from the street. Another option, when moving locally, is to use mail delivery.  Pack all your belongings and call the post office to collect your stuff. They will then deliver your package to the designated address in one or two days. For local delivery, the cost of each package is usually less than $5.00. The price will increase significantly once the delivery person realizes you are an expat. It is always wise to ask for a discount of up to 60 percent. Don’t get discouraged if your first bargain is rejected. Having thick skin is important. Keep haggling until you get a reasonable price.

About The Author Helen Anne Travis

I’m on a mission to help travelers enjoy richer, higher value experiences in popular (and not so popular) destinations around the world. In a former life I covered breaking news for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times. A reporter at heart, I enjoy uncovering the stories behind a destination’s food, drink and culture, as well as writing travel narratives. You can find my work in publications like AFAR, Yahoo Travel and American Way, to name a few. I’m a sucker for good beer, quirky personalities, and the occasional ghost story.