With so many Chinese delicacies hailed as traditional cuisine and honored dishes, you may be hard pressed to separate the marketing from the history. Now’s the time to get your facts straight; local specialties are truly the cream of the street-food crop. The dishes that make the list have earned their keep for the unique textures and tastes they offer.
Xiao Long Bao
China is famous for its dumplings – but what many newcomers fail to realize is the sheer, stunning variety of the things. At the top of your to-eat list is the xiao long bao. Originating from Nanxiang district in Greater Shanghai, the dumpling quickly took the region – and the country – by storm.
The perfect xiao long bao is a bitesize, pursed dumpling filled with a deliciously savory broth and meaty pork filling. The dumplings are served with rice vinegar and fresh ginger and must be nibbled and sipped first so the soup can be enjoyed before gobbling up the rest of the dumpling.
Although popular across the nation, braised eggplant has a particularly strong place in local Shanghainese cuisine. Unlike spicier incarnations of Sichuan Province or dried shrimp spiked equivalents in Hong Kong and Guangdong, the Shanghainese like the eggplant to shine in a wonderfully savory soy sauce with a dash of sugar.
Hong Shao Rou
Shanghai style braised pork is pretty much as Shanghainese as it gets. It represents everything that has made the city’s local cuisine famous. Rustic chunks of pork belly are slowly braised in a sweet sauce until the meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender and the marinade has reduced to a rich and sticky sauce.
These days though, whatever you try probably won’t be true hong shao rou, since in 2010, the local government of Hunan sought to standardize a recipe for the dish that was a firm favorite of Mao Zedong. Apparently, the dish only qualifies as true hong shao rou if made with a rare breed of Hunanese pig. But hey, if it’s made right, Mao would approve.
Although this iconic dish originates from the southwestern region of Sichuan, it has since been absorbed into local Shanghainese cuisine with flare. Shanghai is a meeting place of Chinese cultures, having attracted migrants from every stretch of its territory who have shaped the cuisine of the region.
Mapo dofu, in its true form, is a dish of tofu cubes marinated in a spicy sauce with fermented bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns, chili and more. In Shanghai, the dish is often tempered to local tastes with a reduction of heat and numbing pepper, and even a touch of sugar in some cases.
Now regarded an icon by many Shanghai locals, Lionhead meatballs are in fact a welcome gift from neighboring Jiangsu province. The meatballs are quite simply made from tender ground pork, chopped water chestnuts and a variety of staple Chinese seasonings. The meatballs are then either boiled in a savory chicken broth or are browned and braised in a rich soy based sauce.
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