Shanghai's Best for Brunch
Calling all gluttons! When it comes to chowing down, Shanghai's restaurants know how to put on a buffet. Weekend brunches (mostly held in the big hotels Sun 11am-2:30pm) are not necessarily cheap (and a 15% gratuity is added to your tab), but they are sumptuous events and extremely popular among expatriates and Shanghai residents alike. Here's a sampling of the best hotel brunches:
Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La (Fucheng Lu 33, second floor; tel. 021/6882-8888) sets the standard high with the most extensive international brunch in town. Surely you can find something to eat from 10 food stations that span the globe's cuisine. Or maybe you'd like to try them all. The cost is ¥298, with champagne costing extra. The Stage in the Westin Hotel (Henan Zhong Lu 88; tel. 021/6335-1888) has garnered raves for its kids' corner; parents can now feast the afternoon away (¥498 with free-flowing champagne) while their children play under supervision. Le Bistrot All Day Dining Restaurant in Le Royal Meridien Hotel (Nanjing Dong Lu 789; tel. 021/3318-9999, ext. 7008) is another popular choice with its full international spread of everything from foie gras to sushi to an outdoor barbecue in the summer, with as much Mumm Brut as you want for ¥418. The Marriott Cafe at the JW Marriott (Nanjing Xi Lu 399; tel. 021/5359-4969, ext. 6422) outdoes the competition with its 360-degree bubbly brunch: a feast of sushi, oysters, lobsters, and unlimited champagne (¥458) against a backdrop of stunning city views and live jazz.
Outside the hotels, M on the Bund has the best views to go with your Bloody Mary and eggs Benedict; and Mesa serves the best healthy brunch around.
Shanghai's Favorite Dumpling
Xiaolong bao, literally "little steamer buns," are popular in many parts of China, but nowhere more so than in the Shanghai region. The characteristic that distinguishes this little dumpling from all others is the hot broth inside that will trickle into your mouth, or squirt onto your neighbor's lap, depending on how you handle it. Xiaolong bao is made by wrapping ground pork and a gelatinous soup in as thin a dough wrapper as possible. Sometimes, powdered crabmeat is added (xiefen xiaolong). After steaming, the gelatin has melted and the pork is bathed in a delicious hot oil, all inside the wrapper. Tip: Never bite directly into a xiaolong bao right out of the steamer, as the scalding broth can cause some serious tongue damage! Expert xiaolong bao eaters usually hold the top of the dumpling with their chopsticks, with a spoon underneath. Nibble at the skin on top and let the broth trickle onto the spoon, or wait a few seconds for the broth to cool, then slurp the whole thing into your mouth. If desired, you can add some vinegar and ginger.
To be expected, the question of which place serves the best xiaolong bao in town is a contentious one. Nanxiang Mantou Dian in Old Town may have the imprimatur of tradition, history, and fame, while locals may like the no-frills and inexpensive Jia Jia Tang Bao north of People's Square, but for modern connoisseurs who prefer their dumpling wrapper skins paper-thin and still able to seal in the juices, there's a healthy competition going between the upstart Taiwanese chain Ding Tai Feng and the Singapore-originated Crystal Jade Restaurant. For our wrappers, we like Crystal Jade by a skin, though, of course, you can resolve the question for yourself by trying all four outlets!