Long lines form in front of Guangming Village, Wangjiasha and other Chinese food stores on Huaihai and Nanjing roads in the run-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival this weekend.
It’s not just that special foods mark the annual holiday but that time-honored shops are considered the best places to buy them.
Retailers with long histories and trusted brand names sell a range of traditional Chinese and Shanghai dishes, dim sum and snacks. Once you step through the door, you can feel the special nature of these stores.
Savory luwei, or assorted cold dish of food cooked in marinades, steamed buns and sweet pastries are always crowd pleasers. Classic Shanghai flavors have also been merged with elements of Western cuisine, such as almond squares, eclairs and whipped cream cups.
Zhao Xiufang, who was born and raised in Shanghai, knows just which shops to patronize for the best of local specialties.
“I often buy Wangjiasha’s vegetable buns because they are fresh without being greasy,” she said. “I also like their Suzhou-style mooncakes, with either minced meat or red bean paste filling. Buying them has become a habit, a very pleasant habit.”
Zhao also said she likes Guangming Village’s savory pancakes, made with shredded white radish shreds, and the spiced salt pancakes sold at the Ha’erbin Food Factory.
“The white radish filling is crispy, and the spiced salt pancake has a good balance of sweetness and saltiness without being too dry,” she said.
Outlets like Ha’erbin Food Factory, Guangming Village and Changchun Food Shop started as unpretentious state-owned shops and they still retain an aura of humbleness. Their long history and unerring devotion to traditional recipes evoke nostalgia among many patrons. Quality is guaranteed. Generations of people have grown up with dishes like roast duck and salted chicken.
“The reason I come a long way to Guangming Village and then wait in line is the assurance of good quality and food safety,” said Zhang Yun. “The daily turnover there is large. Everything is sold out on the day. That’s a guarantee that the food is fresh.”
Mooncakes, the quintessential food to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, are actually sold all year around, fresh out of the oven, in shops along Huaihai Road.
If you have never been in these iconic shops, there’s no time like the present to see what all the fuss is about.
Address: 588 Huaihai Rd M.
Throughout the year, this shop attracts long lines of customers. The sales people are local Shanghainese, and they are very fast in taking orders, preparing packages and collecting payment. The lines move quickly considering the number of people waiting.
Still, some customers admit that they have waited as long as six hours to buy fresh minced meat mooncakes here. The product is so popular because the mooncakes are made in the traditional way, using large flat pans instead of modern ovens. The chef has to turn every mooncake to ensure that it browns on both sides to perfection.
The No.1 best-seller from the deli window is the duck braised in soy sauce, a classic Shanghai dish that’s a bit sweet but hard to resist. The ducks, slow cooked, absorb all the flavor of the sauce.
Also popular is the Shanghai smoked fish — fish chunks braised in a rich stock with soy sauce, spices, sugar and salt. Sautéed shrimp in hot oil and yellow croakers are also among the sought-after favorites. The second floor of Guangming Village is a restaurant serving some dim sum like shengjian, shrimp wontons and hot dishes.
Lao Da Chang
Address: 558 Huaihai Rd M.
The specialty here is ice cream, or bing gao. The texture is different from the gelato-style ice cream available everywhere in Shanghai now. Classic Shanghai bing gao has a rich, milky flavor without food coloring or preservatives. It is not as cold as Western ice cream but more like dense whipped cream.
Bing gao comes in three flavors — original, chocolate and mango.
Ha’erbin Food Factory
Address: 603 Huaihai Rd M.
Although this classic brand name has about 10 other outlets in Shanghai, the original store on Huaihai Road is always the most crowded because it has the freshest products in the largest range. It’s a haven for people with a sweet tooth.
The top favorite is almond bars, a chunky, sweet and buttery dessert that costs 55 yuan (US$8.6) per 500 grams. The aromatic toasted almond flakes are mixed with soft caramel, then layered on top of a custard-like base made with cream, eggs and sugar.
The calorie count may be high but so is the enjoyment. The squares are perfect with Chinese tea or with a cup of unsweetened soymilk as an easy breakfast.
The nutty treats come in a variety of versions, including peanuts, pecans and cashews.
Another famous product at Ha’erbin Food Factory is the butterfly puff pastry. The bite-size crunchy goodies are a perfect finger food.
Green bean cake is among the less sweet products on offer. It is soft and chewy, a great favorite among older people.
One tip: Buy fresh pastries in moderate portions because they don’t hold their crunchy texture for long.
Address: 805 Nanjing Rd W.
Long lines always form at this shop, especially before traditional Chinese festivals. Currently, the crowds have come for some of Shanghai’s most celebrated mooncakes.
The cakes typically have meat fillings, but Wangjiasha also offers a popular variation that adds preserved Sichuan pickles.
The minced meat mooncakes here are very juicy, and the crust is crispy without being greasy. There are also sweet mooncakes with red bean paste filling. Before the Qingming Festival every year, customers flock to this shop to buy qing tuan, the green glutinous rice balls stuffed with red bean paste. At Wangjiasha, there is a special savory variety filled with kalimeris, an edible wild plant.
Wangjiasha also sells classic Chinese dim sum like tiger’s claw, a sweet pastry with sugar glazing, and white radish cakes, Chinese rice pudding and various freshly steamed buns. Glutinous rice dumplings come in both sweet and savory varieties..
The second floor of Wangjiasha is a restaurant serving dim sum like soup dumplings and wontons.
Address: 615 Middle Huaihai Rd
This shop was renovated in 2014 and now has a bright, clean interior with tempting foods on offer. Aside from the popular mooncakes, you can also find classic Shanghai foods and products.
One favorite is Shanlin red sausage (山林大红肠), a signature food in Shanghai cuisine. The large sausages can be sliced and served as a cold appetizer, or stewed in a borscht-style soup.
Another popular product here, especially in winter, is the sesame and walnut powder that can be stirred into milk or honey water for a warming drink.