San Francisco – Shanghai: Food

All this year, San Francisco is celebrating with her sister-city, Shanghai, China which is presently busy hosting the World Expo 2010.

In my post a couple of days ago, I shared information about The Asian Museum of San Francisco celebrating with an exhibition of Shanghai’s art and culture for several centuries. See: Link to:
San Francisco – Shanghai art exhibition

And, another way to experience Shanghai is to go to San Francisco’s Chinatown. Shanghai cuisine is actually fairly rare there as most people originally came from southern China, yet you will find cuisine from all over China, as successive waves of immigrants came.

Whereas your hometown may usually just have restaurants serving “Cantonese” or “Northern Chinese” or “Szechuan” cuisine, in SF’s Chinatown you can find just about any kind of the myriad of regional types.

In an article at the Asian Museum of San Francisco website, Shanghai’s delicate cuisine is explained by Olivia Wu – an executive chef at

She says that now, as Shanghai has built on her international gateway-to-China status, the city is a wide-open diner’s paradise. In that 21st century megalopolis, you can find traditional Chinese flavors to contemporary, experimental Western cuisine.

There, you can order from the most refined menus of shark’s fin and abalone alongside a wine list of expensive European wines, or you can be standing on a noisy Shanghai sidewalk, with futuristic skyscapers all above you, dipping a piece of deep-fried, famous stinky tofu into a plastic tub of chile sauce.

Anything — and everything — goes, full-speed ahead!

But the secret to dining well in this futuristic, cosmopolitan city is to realize that most of its chefs and products still come from surrounding traditional towns in the Yangtze River delta: Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Ningbo and Nanjing.

As hallmarks, seafood, freshwater finfish and shellfish, along with vegetables grown nearby, are often heightened by soy sauce, rice wine from Shaoxing and then touched with a pinch of sugar. Above all, Shanghai’s cuisine is described as delicately refined.

Well-known dishes include: Drunken chicken, smoked fish, river eels, duck, slow-braised ham, lion’s head meatballs and many vegetarian dishes. There is fresh bamboo, different in each season, as well as the salted and cured bianjian. In late autumn, comes the harvest of the local freshwater “hairy” crab (maoxie), which is most commonly steamed and served with a local inky brown vinegar from nearby Zhenjiang.

Perhaps the foods that express Shanghai best are the beloved soup dumplings (tangbao or xiaolong bao). Most Shanghai restaurants in San Francisco have the XL-B dumplings, for sure.

These are round sachets of perfect pastry. One mouthful contains the full experience: rich, hand-minced meat (pork) and an explosion of liquid soup inside the silk-thin cover of pastry. Yes, the inside of the dumpling needs some soupiness to be authentic. Shanghai cuisine hints at refinement and excess all at the same time.

“Small eats” (xiaochi) are an integral part of daily life for the people of Shanghai. These morsels are a source of joy for visitors, too. There is a broad canvas of characteristic xiaochi unfolding daily on the menus of storefront stalls, street vendors, at mom-and-pop eateries and even in the fancy restaurants of Shanghai.

Another favorite is shengjianbao (pan-fried dumplings). These are round dumplings, with dome-shaped tops studded with chives or sesame seeds. They are cooked like potstickers in huge, shallow cast-iron pots with wooden lids, until each dumpling is brown and crunchy on the bottom and soft on top. They’ll drizzle goodness down your chin!

In San Francisco, you may get some of these treats. Ask for them, and hopefully you will not just get a set of generic “Northern” dim sum (and they are certainly not Cantonese dim sum).

So, I suggest finding a real Shanghai type restaurant in San Francisco – in Chinatown, or beyond. See suggestions below. Experience a little of the renowned food of Shanghai.

In SF Chinatown, consider Bund Shanghai (ask for the “real” menu and the seasonal menu (offered sometimes), then solicit the staff’s recommendations. Do not just use the ordinary menu, which is “for tourists”).

Bund is at: 640 Jackson St, San Francisco (between Cooper Alley & Wentworth Place); Mon-Sun 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m; wheelchair accessible; good for kids’ moderately priced (accepts credit cards). The cafe is very clean and well-run. The xiaolong bao are excellent most of the time.

And, plan to take several hours to enjoy Chinatown while you visit for a meal. Pay particular attention to the area around Portsmouth Square, where you will see people playing Chess, Go and other games, along with doing their Tai Chi, especially in the morning.

Visit Chinatown early in the morning and have breakfast at a Teahouse for dim sum. The sights and sounds are very different before the hordes of visitors come. Ask anyone local, who’s up at that hour, where to get a Chinese dim sum breakfast. They’ll know.

Opening at 11:30am, for a different experience, you can also try Hang Ah Tea Room (Padoga Alley off Sacramento between Stockton and Grant) or ABC Cafe (650 Jackson) for heaping bowls of traditional congee (rice porridge), fried noodles, won ton soups and more.

Service, at many Chinatown establishments, is efficient and practical; it is not being rude, it is just that ambiance is not what’s offered, but excellent variety of food, well done, with pride, is what you can mostly expect.

If you want to check out Shanghai restaurants further away from the downtown core:

___ Try Old Shanghai in the outer Richmond district of SF at 5145 Geary Blvd, San Francisco. Mon, Wed-Sun 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. / Wed-Sun 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. wheelchair access; good for kids; moderate and takes credit cards.

___ Kingdom of Dumpling, 1713 Taraval St, (between 27th Ave & 28th Ave), San Francisco, CA 94116 (415) 566-6143 (Parkside Neighborhood). This would co-ordinate with a trip to Golden Gate Park and the Museums there, as will the restaurant above.

___ You can also head south to San Bruno (near the SF airport) to eat at Sunny Shanghai: 189 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066 Telephone: (650) 615-9879 wheelchair accessible; good for kids; moderately priced; takes credit cards. If you have a flight that lands near dinner time, this might be quite convenient and it is very inexpensively priced.


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©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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