Top Chinese Food Recipes From Shanghai

The Most Popular Eastern Chinese Recipes

Among the 10 cuisines of China, Shanghai is the newest, although it has been around for more than 400 years. Despite being named after the bustling East China seaport, Shanghai cuisine, also known as Hu cuisine, really reflects the cooking styles of neighboring Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. 

It is characterized by a more liberal use of soy sauce and sugar than other parts of China. It focuses on raw ingredients and the foods' original flavors, as well as the use of seasonings. Compared to other Chinese cuisine, Shanghai dishes are more mellow and lighter in flavor with a slightly sweet edge. Sweet and sour is a taste combination typical of Shanghai cuisine.

Red cooking (slowly simmering poultry in soy sauce and seasonings) is a popular Shanghai cooking technique and results in the dishes taking on a shiny red color. You’ll also find an alternative use for alcohol because it's used for marinating ingredients, and season seafood dishes.

  • 01 of 08

    Beggar's Chicken

    Beggar's Chicken

    Yun Huang Yong / Flickr / CC

    According to legend, this beggar's chicken dish was invented by a food insecure individual who stole a chicken from a farmer and then buried it in the mud. Later he baked the mud-covered chicken over a fire, and the mud crust resulted in moister, tender meat. The legend continues with him selling these clay-baked chickens and making a more financially stable future for himself.

    In this simplified version of the recipe, instead of being coated in mud, the chicken is wrapped in aluminum foil before cooking.

    This isn't the only recipe with an unique name. Learn how other Chinese recipes came by their unusual titles.

  • 02 of 08

    Lion's Head Meatballs

    Shizitou (Lion's Head Meatballs) at Shanghai Dumpling King

    Gary Stevens / Flickr

    Oversized pork meatballs, meant to represent lions’ heads, are slowly simmered with bok choy in chicken broth. The shredded bok choy greens represent the lion’s mane.

    Traditionally, this lion's head meatballs dish is made with pork fat and cooked in a clay pot. Some recipes call for cabbage instead of bok choy, and the traditional meat used is pork, but it can be replaced with beef.

  • 03 of 08

    Pearl Balls

    Chinese stuffed rice balls on a banana leaf

    Jo Kirchherr / Getty Images

    This pearl balls recipe's name is derived from the appearance of these seasoned ground pork meatballs coated in sticky rice (glutinous rice). When steamed, ​the meatballs take on a translucent and pearl-colored appearance. This simple-to-make dish is an excellent appetizer or a main dish. Just be sure to soak the rice beforehand, preferably overnight.

  • 04 of 08

    Yangchow Fried Rice

    Yangchow Fried Rice

    Hidehiro Kigawa / Flickr

    What distinguishes Yangchow fried rice from Cantonese fried rice is that the individual grains of rice are cooked only with egg. Soy sauce, oyster sauce, or other seasonings are not included in this recipe; cooked pork, shrimp, onion, and peas are added at the end. Cooked ham can be used instead of the roast pork.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Four Happiness Pork

    Braised Pork

    IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd.  / Getty Images

    This four happiness pork recipe is another example of red cooking, where pork is slowly simmered in soy sauce, sherry, and seasonings. You will not see this dish on many Chinese restaurant menus because of the lengthy cooking time, but it easily can be made at home.

  • 06 of 08

    Soy Sauce Chicken

    Soy Sauce Chicken

    Dennis Wong / Flickr / CC

    Another red cooking recipe, soy sauce chicken is chicken slowly simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and seasonings. The juicy meat will fall off the bone, and the sauce—which you can save and reuse for your next red cooking recipe—will deepen in flavor and become richer over time.

  • 07 of 08

    Sizzling Rice Soup

    Sizzling Rice Soup

    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    A restaurant specialty, this sizzling rice soup is a treat for not only the mouth and eyes but also the ears, as it makes crackling sounds when the crisp rice is added to the hot broth. An impressive presentation for your guests!

    Chinese sizzling rice is known as guoba (also called crispy rice or rice crusts) and is usually served with a thick sauce and seafood, but is also delicious in this warming soup.

  • 08 of 08

    100 Corner Shrimp Balls

    Chinese Shrimp Balls

    Gary Stevens / Flickr / CC

    In this 100 corner shrimp balls recipe, a mixture of finely minced shrimp, water chestnuts, green onions, and seasonings are rolled into balls, fried in hot oil and served with a dipping sauce. Like a fancy shrimp toast, these beautiful appetizers are perfect for your next party.