Looking for a safe and delicious Shanghai restaurant? As mentioned in our Shanghai Food article, there are more than 60,000 Shanghai restaurants and eateries, offering a wide variety of foods to suit all tastes.
Although many Shanghai expats have minor stomach problems adjusting to the sweet and oily Shanghai cuisine when they first arrive, most adapt and learn to enjoy it.
For those who don't like Shanghai cuisine, you can easily find a Shanghai restaurant offering one of the wide variety of other Chinese regional cuisines, such spicy Sichuan food.
We describe the characteristics of the most famous Chinese regional cuisines below, and hope expats can try them all during their stay.
Apart from Chinese cuisines, there is a wide variety of international cuisines available at Shanghai restaurants. Vegetarians have an ever-growing choice of traditional Chinese and modern Western vegetarian food in Shanghai, and so do Organic food lovers.
Shanghai locals often use the well-known Dianping website to check thousands of consumer reviews, as well as enjoy special coupons.
Although Dianping has had some complaints for paid fake reviews, it is still the leader in Shanghai restaurant reviews.
they currently only have a Chinese language website, so Shanghai expats can check out restaurant reviews at Time Out Shanghai instead.
Serious food poisoning at Shanghai eateries is quite rare, but minor food poisoning cases have recently been reported in the press quite frequently.
Rather than a sign that this problem is getting worse, it can be attributed to Shanghai food safety authorities stepping up inspections, increased transparency, and the public making use of the Shanghai Food Safety hotline (Tel: 12331) set up by the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).
Apart from overall food safety in Shanghai, the SFDA is responsible for safety at Shanghai restaurants.
Any entities or individuals carrying out food catering services must obtain a Food Catering Services License from the SFDA.
To help enforce food hygiene, the SFDA implemented a restaurant supervision system in 2009. All licensed restaurants are inspected for hygiene and food safety, and given a plaque with one of three face symbols: a smiling happy face, a neutral face, or a sad face based on the Shanghai food hygiene point system.
This plaque should be hung in a visible location for customers to see. The evaluations for over 50,000 restaurants are posted publicly on the SFDA website.
In an interview with Time Out magazine in February 2013, Xie Minqiang, deputy director-general of the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration, stated: "The purpose is to urge food and beverage institutions to strictly fulfill their responsibilities in maintaining food safety, to expand government supervision to better protect and inform consumers, and to advocate safe dining."
He noted that some small Shanghai restaurants might not have these plaques, as they have not applied for a catering license. He suggested, therefore, that Shanghai expats should only go to restaurants where they can see the face symbol plaques.
In November 2013, a new points system was implemented to monitor Shanghai restaurants on an ongoing basis for all kinds of food safety violations.
A number of points will be deducted depending on the seriousness of the infraction, and when 12 points are deducted, the restaurant managers will be required to take part in a retraining course. If a second 12 points are deducted, then the restaurant will be required to close.
Shanghai's first food safety blacklist was issued on June 19th, 2013, banning several restaurants and people from continuing to operate in the industry due to violating food safety laws.
Several more Shanghai restaurants were blacklisted, closed and fined in October 2013 for various infringements, including passing alternative cheap meats off as mutton (lamb), reusing old cooking oil, aka swill oil, and one very worrying trick of adding addictive poppy shells to crayfish to make customers want to come back for more.
Fortunately, new methods have been developed to test for swill oil, and an alternative usage for it has been developed; turning it into biofuel for Shanghai public busses.
Many difficulties, however, still exist, including an inadequate number of food safety supervisors, as mentioned by a government report.
Chinese food is commonly divided into eight local regional cuisines. Here, in brief, are some of the characteristics of each of these main local cooking styles.
1. Sichuan cuisine, aka Szechuan, (四川菜, sìchuān cài; Simplified as 川菜, chuān cài)
It has bold flavors, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns (花椒, huājiāo) which have a numbing effect on the lips. The chili peppers and peppercorns combine to produce the 'ma la' flavor (Chinese: 麻辣, málà; literally "numbing and spicy").
2. Hunan cuisine（湖南菜, húnán cài; Simplified as 湘菜, xiāng cài)
Well known for its hot spicy flavor, fresh aroma and deep color. Liberal use of chili peppers, shallots and garlic. Hunan cuisine is known for being dry hot (干辣, gàn là) or purely hot, being hotter and oilier than Sichuan cuisine. It also uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes more frequently than Sichuan cuisine.
3. Cantonese cuisine (广东菜, guǎngdōng cài; Simplified as 粤菜, yuè cài)
The Chinese cuisine most familiar to foreigners. Light and fresh-tasting cuisine. Fresh seafood is prominent. Not greasy. Spices and herbs used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavors of the primary ingredients. Ingredients used at the peak of their freshness and quality.
4. Shandong cuisine (山东菜, shāndōng cài; Simplified as 魯菜, lǔ cài)
Light and non-greasy cooking style, preserving and emphasizing the original flavor and aroma of the ingredients (shallots and garlic are often used). Wide array of seafood, including scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers, and squid.
5. Jiangsu cuisine (江苏菜, jiāngsū cài; Simplified as 苏菜, sū cài)
Light, fresh and sweet taste, using a lot of fresh fish and crustaceans. Emphasis on using soup to improve flavor.
6. Zhejiang cuisine (浙江菜, zhèjiāng cài; Simplified as 浙菜, zhè cài)
Not greasy. Fresh and soft flavor with a mellow fragrance. Sweet to sweet and sour flavors. Mellow use of fragrance, emphasizing the freshness and tenderness. Abundant vegetables, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
7. Fujian cuisine (福建菜, Fújiàn cài; Simplied as 闽菜, mǐn cài)
Besides the famous "pickled taste", the food is colorful, sweet, sour and salty. Famous for the emphasis on seafood. Light but flavorful, soft, and tender, as well as retaining the original flavor of the main ingredients instead of masking them. Plenty of seafood and woodland delicacies.
8. Anhui cuisine (安徽菜, ānhuī cài; Simplified as 徽菜, huī cài)
Sweet and aromatic with a focus on taste, color and the temperature. Known for its use of wild herbs, from both the land and the sea, and simple methods of preparation.
Chinese cuisine is also sometimes known for its Four Great Cuisine Traditions (四大菜系, sì dà càixì) which includes:
Other well-known Chinese local cuisines include:
Shanghai cuisine (上海菜, shànghǎi cài; Simplified as 本帮菜, běnbāng cài)
Related to Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisines.
North East China cuisine (东北菜, dōngběi cài)
Salty and meaty, various flavors and ingredients together in one dish. Lots of various rough grains and dumplings (饺子, jiǎozi).
Beijing cuisine (北京菜, běijīng cài)
The famous Peking Duck (烤鸭, kǎoyā) and other delicacies from the Emperor's dining table.