Leaving the city of Shanghai, a haven for gastronomy of all types and tastes, is like going through withdrawal. Gone is the luxury of being able to try something new on a daily basis. Let’s say you’re hankering some borscht for lunch and a little Greek for dinner, it’s available in Shanghai. Want to sample some vastly different craft beers? You can do it in Shanghai. Although Ningbo itself isn’t lacking in amazing food, it’s a world apart from Shanghai. The fact that the megalopolis is only 2 hours away by high-speed train isn’t all that bad for a return visit.
Of all the places in China, why is Shanghai a paradise for international and regional cuisines of all kinds, variations and fusions? This could be in part due to its long history of foreign influence. Since the 1920s and even earlier, Shanghai has been greatly influenced by Western and international culture and style. The first Western department store and Western pharmacy popped up there in 1920. Earlier yet, the first British Consulate, arguably the first foreign building in China, was established in the 1840s. Such exposure made Shanghai into the city to reside in in the 20s and 30s, and today this has led to it being one of the most modernized and international cities in China.
To find out more about the Shanghai food environment, we looked no further than Dillon King, the business development manager for Berry Bros & Rudd in Shanghai, and a food and beverage aficionado. “Shanghai has a large and diverse expat population coupled with international minded locals who expect high standards.” People tend to move on quickly if restaurants either slide in quality or fail to regularly innovate.
This has led to a fantastic global food scene that allows those who do their research to find (or even stumble upon) delicious and experimental food from all over. That is just what we had in mind when coming to Shanghai for a pre-National Holiday trip, on the lookout for unique cuisine and even more so for the city’s fabled quality craft beers.
After doing a little homework about the microbreweries around the city, we settled on three: the Brew at Kerry Hotel in Pudong, Boxing Cat Brewery and Shanghai Beer Factory. Since we spent most of our first day exploring the Bund and Pudong New District, we ended up at the Brew first. Having been voted for best beer in the city in That’s Shanghai’s 2015 Food & Drink Awards, the Brew definitely stood out not just for its drinks but the fact that the brewery was part of a five-star hotel.
With large glass windows and fantastic outdoor seating in the cool autumn weather, the Brew sought to do away with the stereotype of a stuffy brew house atmosphere for a more sophisticated one. Nevertheless, there was a reason why it was chosen for best beer, as all its brews shined through. Along with an apple cider, and unique flavors like the Skinny Green Lager and Dugite Vanilla Stout, their pilsner definitely stood out here. The beer had a nice dry lager flavor with a hint of sweetness at the end, crisp and refreshing. Another standout was their monthly session beer, the Mash Double Trouble IPA, a Double India Pale Ale made with tropical hops, which gave it a bit of fruity notes immersed in bitterness.
The next evening was reserved for the Boxing Cat Brewery, with their flagship brewpub located in a chic corner of the Former French Concession on Fuxing West Road. Boxing Cat has been around since 2008, and has been raking in awards and accolades for its beer ever since. A sign of a good brewery is when there can be vast differences between a few versions of the same brew. This goes without saying for Boxing Cat’s various IPAs. There were three IPAs on tap when we came in: the Roshambo Session IPA, their classic TKO, and Big Boy Double IPA. The Roshambo was light and not too bitter, perfect for the end of summer. Our favorite was the TKO, the definitive IPA: bitter hop flavors with a nice grassy finish.
Our final stop was Shanghai Beer Factory. The brewery had raked in an award for best food in the That’s Shanghai contest, and for good reason. The dishes went great with their unique selection of beers. SBF was definitely the place to go to try some very different beers. While there was the common pilsner, there were diverse flavors like the amberweizen, elderflower, and violet beers. The Elderflower beer stood out the most. It was nice and sweet, with the flavor of the flower – a sort of mellow vanilla-like taste – throughout. While it wasn’t the best on the list in terms of beer, it is definitely worth the visit to try out the unique beer.
The food was at first an afterthought when it came to the beer, but with so much amazing choices it became a major part of the trip as well. While dining at the Brew, we decided to try their Brewery Burger and weren’t disappointed. Although the bun was a bit thick, it compacted nicely, enveloping the flavors of the mayonnaise, patty, caramelized onions, cheese mushrooms and bacon together nicely. It was delicious with every bite, and the fries – served in a pottery red cup – were amazing.
While exploring around the French Concession on the second day, we happened across Le Petit Jasmine, a homely little café that served up wholesome healthy food. We tried their Jasmine Salad, lettuce with beef, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes and avocado. Each bite came with a nice hint of all the flavors, and its best shared.
The dinner at Boxing Cat, fried chicken and mac, wasn’t all that great, the third day made up for it. After doing a little research, we found a Russian joint close to the Bund fittingly called Red Square Restaurant. It certainly lived up to its name. The place was decked out with stained glass windows, fancy red cushion seats and booths with intricate wooden designs.
The food was great as well. We had the “Herring in Fur”, a thin cake made with eggs, beets, salted herring and sour cream that was fishy but sour and tart from the sour cream and beets. Next came the borscht, a nice and light soup with chunks of beef and veggies that went nicely with a little sour cream and black rye.
The amazing culinary capital of Shanghai is a nice place to visit, but returning to Ningbo and being able to tool around the Old Bund and restaurants there isn’t all bad. Coupled with its small city charm its refreshing. Still, exploring Shanghai’s food culture is a definite adventure and a city we would recommend if you want to try something out of the ordinary.