Survival Tips You Need to Know About Culture and People in Shanghai, China
1. Traffic/ Traveling Around:
a. People shove and push you from behind when boarding or leaving a train or bus. They will cut your queue. They will out-walk you for taxis. Don’t be mad. They are not rude; it is their way of living and culture. China has 1 billion people and they are afraid of left behind. You are allowed to elbow the person in front of you too. You will have to out-walk them for taxis. The ones who walk the furthest and puts in most effort wins. The Shanghaiese are very sporting when it comes to fighting for taxis. It’s a game they play and they aren’t angry if you outwalk them.
b. Taxi drivers are mostly honest except when they are at tourist spots. At tourist spots, they will negotiate a price with you, not run by meter, and then be friendly with you in the cab. Again, don’t get mad. It’s also their way of living, they try to squeeze you dry, cut you up and then be your friend.
c. Green Man Walking doesn’t give pedestrians the right of way! Turning vehicles have the right of way. Watch out.
2. a. The air was so polluted Wise Guy and Hookerlily couldn’t breathe and adjust for days. Bring oxygen tanks.
b. You can smoke ANYWHERE in Shanghai, even in air-con restaurants.
3. The Shanghaiese are proud people and they would treat you if they can afford it. If they pay, tell them once politely that you’d like to go dutch. If they reject the offer, don’t force it. It is a “loss of face” to them and they will get angry.
4. Bring hand sanitizer and clean your hands before EVERY meal. Wise Guy had a very food poisoning experience in Shanghai that destroyed the trip. He lost 3kg in 2 days, vomited 3 times and had diarrhea for a week. He can fit into his skinny jeans again. Readers are welcome to guess the eatery Wise Guy was poisoned.
5. In Singapore, girls are hotter than boys; in Shanghai, boys are hotter than girls.
6. Relatively safe from crime.
7. Tipping: Generally, no need to tip. Few exceptions: (a) concierge who helped carry the luggage (US$1 or 10rmb). (b) If there is a 10% service charge in posh restaurants, then don’t tip. If not, leave a 10% tip. (c) cleaning service for the room. In general, US$1 a day per person. By right, there are 5 of us who lived for 6 days, so we should tip US$30 or 300RMB but that’s too much, so we gave 200rmb.
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Five of us from RERG team paid for S$260 each for 6 nights at Rayfront Shanghai Celebrity Hotel (上海鼎园瑞锋公寓酒店)–celebrity hotel ok!!–a service apartment. The apartment has 3 bedrooms, 2 toilets, a living room, dining area, kitchen, a laundry area and a balcony overlooking the city. Very spacious and new. Comes with room service and daily housekeeping. Smacked in the middle of Shanghai, very convenient location. It’s value-for-money.
Must Eat for Shanghai
Cnn has a grammatically erroneous article on 40 Shanghai foods (foods???). RERG Team followed some; Hookerlily’s newfound sugar daddy, Shanghai New Money, and Mr NGFL’s Shanghai Boyfriend recommended us some, and we stumbled upon some.
I’ve separated the eateries into districts so it will be easier for your itinerary. Don’t need to travel to a specific area for food. Shanghai is divided into several districts.
长宁区 (Chang Ning District)
1. A Shan Restaurant (阿山饭店)
This is the only mid-range restaurant that Shen HongFei, whom CNN calls the fiercest food critic in Shanghai, picked out of the ten best restaurants in Shanghai. Not cheap too, about S$20-$30 per person. The location is a bitch, far away from the city, nearer to Shanghai Hong Qiao International Airport (best to plan to eat here on or from the way to the airport). But wow, after a few days of eating in Shanghai, this was what I was looking for. The place was very deserted, no music, quiet as a church mouse, no patrons. But so old school, with the menu written in tags on a board. The decor hasn’t been touched since 1980s I suppose. And the food was astoundingly amazing. The crew of RERG loved this home-cooked Shanghaiese family restaurant. Truly Shanghai food: order the 熏鱼 (smoked fish) a remarkable cold dish; mashed eel （清炒鳝鱼) ; vinegar fish; 猪油豆腐烫 (lard and tofu soup, very simple with fantastic flavors); and 8-treasure red-bean paste glutinous rice (八宝饭). Very, very awesome food. 2378 Hongqiao Lu, near Hongjing Lu 虹桥路2378号, 近虹井路, +86 21 6268 658
黄浦区 (Huang Pu District)
1. 小肥羊 Little Sheep
Hotpot in Winter is one of the best things ever. One of us had worked in Shanghai before and she insisted on coming here. Huge chain restaurant, occupying two entire levels of a building. A la carte ordering, not buffet-style. There are also cooked items, such as lamb kebab and man-tou (buns). There are opium seeds in the broth. But the hotpot was alright to us. Order vermicelli, made of potato starch, chewy, bouncy and very different. Multiple locations: 1390 lu jia bang lu, near zhi zao ju lu. 陆家浜路1390号，近制造局路 Website
2. 南翔汤包 (Nan Xiang Soup Dumping)
Probably the most famous soup-dumpling in Shanghai, there is even a branch in Singapore at Plaza Singapura. Buying it is quite an experience and quite pricy. You may queue out outside for the takeaway, or enter the restaurant. The higher level you climb up, the more expensive the dumplings get. I’d say the soup-bun that you suck up the soup only is over-rated. Nothing delicious at all, and we can’t taste the crab roe. The crab-roe xiao long bao, soup dumplings cost almost S$2 each and was good, not exceptional. The RERG tried Xiao Long baos (truffles XLB and Crab Roe XLB) at Ding Tai Feng in Shanghai and prefer Ding Tai Feng. 南翔汤包 is located within 豫园 (Yu Yuan or Yu Garden), a tourist spot. Just tell the taxi driver. She or he would know.
3. 臭豆腐 (smelly tofu) and 酒酿汤圆 (wine-infused glutinous riceballs)
Must have smelly (fermented) tofu. Mr NGFL and Hookerlily are fans but Wise Guy thinks it’s so-so. We all love 酒酿汤圆 (wine-infused glutinous riceballs). Actually there was little alcohol–although one alcoholic among us said she could taste it–it tasted more like a osmanthus (桂花) brew, sweet and gluey. The riceballs were the size of bubble tea balls, fun-sized and chewy. Someone should bring this to Singapore. There are smelly tofu and riceball everywhere but we had ours at Yu Garden, just outside Nan Xiang Soup Dumplings.
4. Barbarossa Moroccan Restaurant
Shanghai New Money wanted to impress us all so he treated us to Barbarossa, supposedly a Shanghai icon. The restaurant is located deep within a park. Walking in, you can take in how gorgeous it is. It is as if it is floating on a lake in a park. Didn’t seem like China at all; more like Central Park in New York. The food was not bad, well-executed, but nothing cutting edge. A main course costs about S$30, so a 3-course meal with a glass of wine would cost maybe S$50-60. There is a very popular bar on the 2nd floor. 231 Nan Jing Xi Lu, inside Ren min gong yuan, near Huangpi Nan Lu, 上海市黄浦区南京西路231号人民公园内, 近黄陂南路 +86 21 6318 0220.
5. 红梅龙虾 (Red Plum Lobster)
This is very local, roadside seafood. Any restaurant along this food street is fine but the two Shanghaiese boys Mr NGFL and Wise Guy picked up brought them here. This is REAL SHANGHAI. It is a food street full of touts and old men with monkeys performing for money. The toilet is in a lightless alleyway, so easy to be murdered or get a blow job. The boys ordered very Shanghaiese seafood, crawfish(小龙虾), hairy crab (大闸蟹，the male ones were in season so we ate their sperm), escargots, and grilled garlic oysters. I was a bit apprehensive about the oysters because one of the boys said he had never eaten raw oysters before. China-produced oysters, he said, aren’t safe to eat raw. We also ordered grilled food (with a grilled shop liaising with this shop) and had bull’s cock. Small and tough. (Maybe Asian bulls’ cocks are smaller.) Quite expensive by Shanghai standards. We spent 400RMB or S$80. 27 Shou Ning Lu, 寿宁路27号。 Opens till late night.
6. Mr and Mrs Bund
Ranked #7 in Asia, and BEST Restaurant in Mainland China by Miele Guide, RERG had to try it. The decor was eh.. ok, shrugs. The service went from average to amazing during the course of our meals. The amuse-bouche, complimentary bread, appetizers, and desserts were all excellent but the mains were so-so. Highly recommended: Lemon and lemon tart dessert. The lemon skin was treated for 3 days, emptied of its insides, then filled with custard, cream, grapefruit. Original. The view is fantastic, overlooking the iconic cityscape of Shanghai. No need to squeeze with the crowd below. RERG certainly likes the restaurant very much… but we are not sure if this is really the best restaurant in China. China is a pretty huge country. Still, we’d recommend it. Lunch set menu starts from 200rmb (S$40). 18 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road, 中山东一路18号. Just tell the taxi-driver 18 Wai Tan, 外滩18号.
7. Roadside stalls (South Bund Fabric Market)
Tailoring a shirt here costs only S$16-$23 and takes only 2-3 days but before you enter the building (kinda looks like Singapore’s Chinatown Pearl Center inside), eat at the roadside stalls. There was the green onion pancake (葱油饼) and I asked to add everything in, the fermented sauces and whatnot, but I didn’t add the hotdog. That would just be another hotdog bun. There was also a very interesting radish cake that is compacted and pan-fried so that it looked like a big chwee kueh. I had that too. They were both ok, but it was an experience. Other food included smelly tofu, grilled food, nuts, etc. 399 Lu Jia Bang Lu, near Nan Cang Jie, 陆家浜路399号，近南仓街.
卢湾区 (Lu Wan District)
1. 麻辣烫 (directly translated to spicy steam soup)
This is very common in Shanghai. It’s like the niang tofu in Singapore except it uses spicy broth. (You can request for non-spicy too.) There are a variety of ingredients we have never seen in Singapore and of course we ate them. You don’t have to come all the way to this shop but we were looking for a late-night supper place and this was near our new Shanghai friend’s apartment. 295 Jian Guo Xi Lu, near Rui Jin Er Lu, 建国西路295号，近瑞金二路
徐汇区 (Xu Hui District)
1. 殷记 (Yin Qi)
Just beside our Celebrity Hotel, this was the only shop that was opened at 7.30am in the morning when we arrived. Old Duck vermicelli soup (老鸭粉丝汤 10 RMB) was pretty awesome in winter weather for breakfast: the broth was light; there was yummilicious coagulated duck’s blood (鸭血) and the vermicelli was made of a different ingredient than Singapore’s. Made of potato starch, the vermicelli was very Q and bouncy. 锅贴 (pan-fried dumpings) was equally, if not more awesome. A sudden burst of juice. So much hot juice. Address: 1185 Xie Tu lu (near Ru Jin Nan Lu). 斜土路1185号，近瑞金南路.
2. 兰州正宗牛肉拉面 (La Zhou Authentic Beef Muslim Hand-Pulled Noodles)
We wanted late-night supper (about 3am-4am) but didn’t know where to get except the row of shops below our Celebrity Hotel. Halal hand-pulled noodles are very common in Shanghai. Surprisingly many halal places. Mr NGFL ordered his favorite, green scallions oily noodles, while I had 红烧牛肉面 (stewed beef noodles), kind different from Singapore one. More soupy, less savory. It was ok for me, but I found love in a hopeless place with the cute waiter here. Hello, Beautiful Eyes. It’s just a few steps away from Rayfront Celebrity Hotel but no really worth traveling all the way here.
3. 避风塘 (Bi Feng Tang)
You think Antoinette is fancy with its Parisian decor? Just a mid-range chain restaurant with 31 branches in Shanghai has the same kind of decor. They were not stingy with their heater in winter–awesome. We were there for tea. Everything was ‘good but…’ For instance, the wanton soup noodles had awesome wantons but the noodles was disappointing. The congee was flavorful but the century egg had no taste. We spent less than S$10 each on so much food. The XO carrot cake was the best but not so tasty when cold. Value-for-money. Multiple branches: 333 Tian Yin Qiao Lu, Teng Fei Building, between Ling Ling Lu and Nan Dan Dong Lu. 天钥桥路333号腾飞大厦, 零陵路和南丹东路之间10am-3am daily. Website
4. 塔哈尔新疆 (Tahar Xinjiang Restaurant)
Xinjiang is the northeastern part of China, and this is halal food. Bizarre decor, like 80s Swenson’s with floral lampshades and booths. We ordered several things. Memorable ones were horse meat (tasted like ham, served cold), and caramelized rock honey melon. Overly sweet, but the dishes were in general too salty and oily so the sweetness provided a contrast. Not really worth a visit, but we woke up late at 3pm and all the good restaurants were closed. Some of the waiters here really look like they are caucasians. 2701 Xietu Lu, near tian yue qiao lu. 斜土路2701号，近天钥桥路.
5. Donq Bakery
We tried at least 6 types of buns and cakes. Mediocre and expensive by Shanghai standards. Avoid. 580 Tian Yue Qiao Lu, Xing You Cheng Building Level 1, near Xie Tu Lu. 天钥桥路580号星游城一楼03号， 近斜土路.
6. 上海小南国 (Shanghai Min)
Huge enterprise serving Shanghaiese food with international branches, including Japan, Hongkong – sooner or later, it will come to Singapore. We ordered all the Shanghaiese specialities including duck’s tongue, crab-roe lion head meatballs (狮子头, just normal meatballs you find at cai-fan stalls), braised pork belly (红烧肉), Squirrel shaped Mandarin fish (松子鲑鱼, just deep-fried fish sliced in such a way to provide maximum surface area to fry with the shape of the fish intact), and their speciality of specialities, 招牌中的招牌, according to their menu, stir-fried shrimps. Mr NGFL loved the dishes and Wise Guy found Shanghaiese dishes so disappointing because they are so common and Singapore has much better Chinese food like this restaurant. For example, Singapore’s family restaurant Dian Xiao Er‘s braised pork was cheaper and so much more tender and succulent than this fancy, expensive restaurant. Wise Guy couldn’t get over paying S$40 for a pathetic plate of tiny shrimps. Mr NGFL retorted where we could get in Singapore for $40. Wise Guy didn’t want to argue anymore so he bit his tongue. But actually, anywhere. Crystal Jade, cze char stalls, and that buffet hotel at Havelock road, the tiger prawns were so fresh they were still alive 30seconds ago. This restaurant is really just style over substance; over-rated and over-priced. Multiple locations for 小南国. Check on Website
7. Koko Crepes
Multiple branches for bubble tea but we had crepes instead. It was fun but nothing spectacular. Along Ling Ling Lu towards our hotel.
1. In general, Shanghaiese don’t eat rice. Rice is filling, and so they see eating rice as a poor person’s habits. When a Shanghaiese treats you, s/he would order a million dishes but not rice. In case you need like your carbs (like Wise Guy), the usual practice in Shanghai is to serve the rice AFTER all the dishes are served up. Again, this practice is because the dishes themselves are suppose to fill you up. Tell the wait staff that you want your rice served together with the dishes. Rice drizzled with sauce is so delicious.
2. Street food and random old-looking shops are in general better than fancy, new restaurants.
3. Avoid chain restaurants. Years of communism and sudden capitalism have really ruined China. It feels like a deluge of soul-less money-making, crass machines, churning out newer, taller, shinier buildings with no charm and culture.
4. Shanghaiese food is in general spicy, vinegary and oily. Brace your stomach.