Every few days our team will scour Shanghai’s dining scene for scrumptious dishes that’ll fill your belly without emptying your savings. Not to discriminate, we’ll search everywhere from bicycle carts to chic venues with twenty-course tasting menus, knowing that any spot could have the next Dish of the Day.
Crayfish season has just about peaked and you’re no doubt exploring the city for the plumpest examples of this Shanghai summer staple. But as seasoned xiaolongxiaers, we can tell you that for the most part, the quality doesn’t vary too much from place to place – at least compared to xiaolongbao. An exception is Duan’s Crayfish where you pick your crawdads live from a tub rather than the typical mass grave of pre-cooked critters, ensuring freshness. But the main deciding point is cooking method.
Many places, including Duan’s, prep them with 13 spices such as cumin, garlic, aniseed, and cinnamon, lending them a sugary kick, while others like Xia Man Tang jazz it up with beer-flavored xiaolongxia. And Fomo offers a flavor selection that would make Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans jealous. Newbies may want to stick with simple steamed xiaolongxia with chili oil, which can be found in greatest abundance on Shouning Lu.
Most famous is the central Xiangbadao (香吧岛) outlet on 20 Shouning Lu, denoted by the logo of a snickering crayfish, and constant crowds. Simply pick out your crawdads (40RMB per jin), choose a preparation (medium spiced xiaolongxia, 中辣小龙虾, is preferable for noobs), bring your gang and indulge yourself.
But be warned, the eating experience is pretty primal. The blood-red critters are first dumped into a metal tub and plopped on your table – most likely a fold-out one on the garbage-strewn sidewalk since Xiangbadao’s inside is eternally full. You then use your hands to wrench off the head, suck out the tomalley, rip off the tail-shell and remove that black strand of crop, before popping the candy cane-striped tail in your mouth. It tastes like tenderer lobster tail.
Xiangbadao does offer side dishes like fried rice and stinky tofu, but they don’t actually prep them in the kitchen. They instead have a pretty ghetto system of fetching sides from nearby street carts and bringing them to your table in a styrofoam container. Couple this with the fact that xiaolongxia aren’t the cleanest critters, and we see how this could be a gastrointestinal gamble for Shanghai newcomers. Fortunately, high turnover lessens your chances of becoming a human fire hose after dinner.
Xiangbadao – 20 Shouning Lu, Xizang Nan Lu (寿宁路20号, 西藏南路). Tel: (0)21-6326-4431. Open 24 hours.
Last time on Dish of the Day: Bai zhan ji (boiled and cut chicken) @ Xiao Shaoxing
See a complete list of our Dish of the Day series here.
Have a recommendation for Dish of the Day? Let Shanghaiist’s food editor Benjamin Cost know at [email protected]!