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Sweet, oily and utterly delicious

EATING your way through the National Day holiday is a delightful way to learn about Shanghai through its much-talked-about cuisine.

The dynamic dining scene offers an unsurpassed range of culinary delights, from swanky dining on the Bund to street food found in nooks and crannies ready for exploration. Eating is one of travel's principal pleasures since food is a tangible reflection of history and culture.

Shanghai food is recognizable worldwide for its thick-sauced soy dishes, and is often oily and sweet. Over centuries of immigration and cultural mixture, it has incorporated flavors from nearby regions. Shanghai cooking may not be one of China's eight major cuisines, but what makes it special is its combination of the delightful features of varied Chinese cooking styles.

There are two main types of cooking - benbang and haipai. Benbang literally means authentic local cuisine, which is traditional family-style cooking. Haipai represents "all-embracing cuisine" that absorbs and adapts elements of cuisines from other regions.

The main ingredients of benbang cuisine include fresh fish, chicken, pork and vegetables; oil and soybean sauce are used to enhance the flavors. Haipai cuisine commonly uses fresh seafood such as shrimps, fish and crabs, and dishes vary in form, taste and cooking methods.

Shanghainese are known to eat in delicate portions, hence the servings are usually quite small compared to those in the northern regions.

For truly authentic Shanghai dishes, it is recommended to dine at the featured restaurants offering delicious specialities.Rice-stuffed lotus root (nuo mi tang ou)

This signature Shanghainese appetizer is made from lotus root with glutinous rice, sweet osmanthus and honey. Lotus root is a delicacy in Asian cooking and has a mild taste and fresh scent. The cold dish tastes soft, sticky and fresh with the combination of sweet glutinous rice and crispy lotus root. It is a good start for a typical Shanghainese dinner.Red-braised pork belly (hong shao rou)

When it comes to Shanghainese food, most people stick to familiar favorites like hong shao rou. Hong shao, or red-cooking, is a popular way of preparing meats. It consists of pork belly in a thick, sweet, dark sauce, simmered for hours to soften the normally tough meat. Simmering in dark soy sauce gives the meat a reddish color. The sweet, aromatic chucks of meat are irresistible, even if they are quite greasy. It's a robust concoction, best eaten with plain steamed rice and simple stir-fried vegetables.Drunken chicken (zui ji)

Of all the "drunken" varieties of Shanghai dishes, drunken chicken is the most popular and often found on the cold platter served at the start of a dinner. After the chicken is steamed and chopped into pieces, it is then marinated overnight in Shaoxing wine, or other liquor, in the refrigerator. The Shaoxing wine gives this cold appetizer a delightful punch. Serve chilled, it is a heady delight.Ham and pork soup with bamboo (yan du xian)

This quintessentially Shanghainese soup, yan du xian, is simple, hearty and only available in winter months. It's made from cured pork and fresh pork plus fresh winter bamboo shoots and knots of tofu skins. It is important to use the proper ingredients to get the right taste. The smoked ham enhances the flavor and sweet, crunchy winter bamboo shoots add texture. The ingredients are simmered together in a clay pot for hours, producing a delicious, comforting, rich and salty soup. Some might find it too salty.Shanghai hairy crab (da zha xie)

Given Shanghai's proximity to lakes, locals favor freshwater produce and the most famous delicacy is da zha xie, or hairy crab. For almost two centuries, it has been a late-autumn ritual for most Shanghai families to eat hairy crabs when the crisp, cold autumn winds pick up. The best place to savor the crabs is at Yangcheng Lake on one of the floating restaurants where the crabs are harvested fresh from the river. Genuine Yangcheng Lake crabs cost more than similar crabs harvested from other lakes. There are dozens of ways to cook a crab but the most famous and favored cooking method is simple: just steam the crab with ginger and herbs. It is served with dark rice vinegar, a trace of sugar and minced ginger. The crab meat is believed by the Chinese to have a cooling effect on the body.


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