We’ve heard of Hainanese, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew and even Hakka food. What about Shanghainese? What is Shanghainese food you might be wondering – wait, that’s a dialect group? Yes it’s an actual dialect group, with cuisine unique to it.
Its most famous gift to the culinary scene? Most probably xiao long bao. You may or may not have known that, but those delicate little dumplings full of broth that can warm the coldest of hearts originated from Shanghai.
Most Shanghainese dishes that we’re familiar with have been unceremoniously lumped together as “Chinese food” and made popular by larger restaurant chains.
What you’ll find below, however, is an introduction of the places and dishes for authentic Shanghainese fare in Singapore, from lesser known establishments that cook authentic dishes at a reasonable price.
1. Kim Fong
People’s Park Complex food centre has a truly unique ambience, at least in Singapore it does. Cavernous and always abuzz, it is home to a number of stalls specialising in cuisine hailing from the various regions of China.
The first stall you could consider visiting is Kim Fong, serving a savoury and white version of nian gao or Shanghai Fried Rice Flour Cake ($4), complete with the taste of wok hei.
While the chewy (in the best way possible) pieces of nian gao are fried with minced pork, dried shrimp – bold and pronounced, Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts may not make the prettiest of dishes but, is textural, savoury and fuss-free.
If you’re going with a group consider sharing xiao long baos ($4), shui jiao and guo tie ($5-10) or boiled and fried dumplings, respectively.
Address: Kim Fong, People’s Park Complex #01-1130, Singapore 059108 | Opening hours: 9:30am – 10:30pm
2. Tian Jin Fong Kee
Walk along the same row of shops and you’ll find Tian Jin Fong Kee. Do consider trying dishes from both stalls in People’s Park Complex as the two stalls serve dishes that the other might not. For example, Tian Jin Fong Kee has zha jiang mian ($4), a hearty bowl of noodles with meaty gravy ladled over and crisp slices of cucumber.
However, shui jiao and guo tie ($6 – $10) are what people usually order when eating at Tian Jin Fong Kee, you won’t be able to miss the dumplings piled high on tables, usually shared by groups of friends.
Address: Tian Jin Fong Kee, People’s Park Complex #01-1148, Singapore 059108| Opening hours: 12pm – 9:30pm
3. Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao
Much has been said about Zhong Guo Xiao Long Bao. This xiao long bao making power couple were featured in our Hipster Xiao Long Bao article earlier this year.
With fast, agile hands, these steam soup baos were coming out from the kitchen in a speed of light.
Located in Chinatown Complex Market, this stall has a perpetual queue, and (almost) everyone will be queuing for — no prizes for guessing, xiao long baos ($5.50 for 10).
Address: Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao, #02-135 Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335 | Opening hours: 11am – 9pm, closed on Tuesdays
4. Jing Hua Xiao Chi
Along a row of shop-houses just a short walk from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is the spot for affordable Shanghainese fare, in a casual restaurant setting.
Zha jiang mian ($5.50), is a bowl of thick wheat noodles coated in meaty gravy. The flavour of doubanjiang (fermented soy bean paste) is hard to miss, with fresh cucumber providing a refreshing crunchy contrast, this is zha jiang mian, the way it should be.
A plate of shui jiao ($9 for 10) will go down faster than you’d think, especially when the right (and only) condiments for them are used, namely vinegar with ginger and chilli sauce. These plump dumplings don’t disappoint as they’re packed with a good amount of filling, all snugly wrapped up in a skin in just the right thickness.
A word of caution though, your burps will be thick with the fragrance of onion after.
Wrap up your meal with the red bean pancake ($11). Hot from the pan, the pancake is crisp on the outside while remaining slightly chewy on the inside. Bite into it and the velvety red bean paste coats your mouth with sweetness.
Address: Jing Hua Xiao Chi, 21 Neil Rd, Singapore 088814 | Opening hours: 11:30am – 3pm & 5:30pm – 9:30pm
5. Xiang Yuan Ji
With the famous xiao long bao constantly in the limelight, it’s no wonder sheng jian bao seems to go almost unnoticed by the masses. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the bigger, less demure dumpling or bun is just as beautiful on the inside.
The sheng jian bao ($5 for 3) is pan fried at the bottom, leaving the rest of the bao fluffy, and the inside full of meaty broth just like you would find in a xiao long bao.
A Shanghainese variation of the tau huey takes the much loved breakfast or supper staple in the opposite direction. Salty soya beancurd ($4.50) sees the soft and supple curd served in a broth of salted vegetable and seaweed. May be an acquired taste for Singaporeans who are used to having it sweet. Nonetheless, you should try it for a different experience.
Address: Xiang Yuan Ji, 405 Jalan Besar Road, Singapore 209011 | Opening hours: 11:30am – 10:30pm, closed on Mondays except public holidays
6. Shanghai Renjia
Nestled deep in Ang Mo Kio heartland is Shanghai Renjia, a family owned restaurant that has an impressive and most importantly, affordable menu.
The Shanghai spring rolls ($7.20 for 6) aren’t like any other you’ve had, unless you’ve had Shanghai spring rolls in the metropolitan Chinese country itself. This isn’t just a deep fried side kick to the meal. I would liken the filling to a light cream-of vegetables, with strips of cabbage still crisp.
For something that’s more of a complete meal, go for the dry handmade noodles ($6).
The noodles as the Italians would say was “al dente“, while three types of onion oil give it a subtle fragrance. Topped off with lean and tender pork chop in a mildly sweet black sauce, and you’ll have a fulfilling meal.
To reinforce how much more there is to Shanghainese cuisine than xiao long baos, I’ve dedicated a line or two more to Shanghai Renjia’s sheng jian bao ($8.40 for 6). Just look at those perfectly plump baos.
There are two desserts at Shanghai Renjia but, I would recommend trying the glutinous rice dumplings in sweet rice wine ($3) for something a little different.
Address: Shanghai Renjia, 151 Ang Mo Kio Ave 5, Singapore 560151 | Opening hours: 11am – 3pm & 6pm – 10pm, Closed on Mondays
This wasn’t a smack down on the much beloved xiao long bao, but was intended to be more of a gastronomic eye-opener for you to enjoy more of what Shanghainese cuisine has to offer.