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Shanghai Restaurant Reviews
You'll notice that most Chinese restaurants in Shanghai have large, round tables. The reason becomes clear the first time you eat a late dinner at a local restaurant and are surrounded by jovial, laughing groups of people toasting and topping off from communal bottles of beer, sharing cigarettes, and spinning the lazy Susan loaded with food. Whether feting guests or demonstrating their growing wealth, hosts will order massive, showy spreads.
Shanghai's standing as China's most international city is reflected in its dining scene. You can enjoy jiaozi (dumplings) for breakfast, foie gras for lunch, and Kobe beef for dinner. It's traditional to order several dishes, plus rice, to share among your party. Tipping is not expected, but sophistication comes at a price. Although you can eat at Chinese restaurants for less than Y20 per person, most simple Western meals cost a more Western price.
Most restaurants in Shanghai offer set lunches—multicourse feasts—at a fraction of the usual price. Also, check out the "Restaurant Events" section of City Weekend, That's Shanghai, or Smartshanghai.com, all of which list dining discounts and promotions around town.
On the Menu
Shanghainese food is fairly typical Chinese, with dark, sweet, and oily dishes served in great abundance. The dish sizes can be quite small—it's not unusual for two diners to polish off six dishes plus rice. The drink of choice is huangjiu, or yellow wine. It's a mild-tasting sweetish rice wine, which pairs well with the local cuisine.
Shanghai is full of fine restaurants from around the world, but sometimes the finest dining experience in the city can be had with a steamer tray of xiaolongbao—Shanghai's signature dumplings, which are small, steamed buns filled with pork and crab meat in broth. They're best eaten by poking a hole in the top with a chopstick or your finger—but watch out, they're hot!—and sucking out the innards. Match dumplings with a cold beer. River fish is often the highlight (and most expensive part) of the meal, and hairy crab is a seasonal delicacy.
Dinner hours in restaurants begin at around 5 pm, but often carry on late into the night. Many of the classic, local restaurants popular with the Shanghainese only close after the last diners have left, which sometimes keeps them open until the wee hours of the morning. Generally, though, dinner is eaten between 6 and 11 pm.
Even in the fanciest restaurants, main courses are unlikely to cost more than US$45. However, famous restaurants charge as much as the international market will bear—prices that often don't reflect the quality of the dining experience. If you're looking for an excellent meal and you don't care about the restaurateur's name, then exceptional dining experiences can be had for half the price.
Great local food can be found for supremely cheap prices (10 cents to $5 per dish), even in fairly nice restaurants. The experience of eating at a small restaurant is pure China.
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