Pairing Shanghainese Food with Fine Wines

Steamed hairy crab. Photo Credit: Fairmont Yangcheng Lake.

Pairing Shanghainese food with wine – learn how to pair wine with Shanghainese food  – with specific food pairings for steamed hairy crab, Mandarin fish, roasted fish with pine nuts, and other popular Shanghainese  dishes. 

Shanghainese Cuisine 101

Shanghai is China’s largest city. Because it is located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is also the country’s most important port. Interestingly, during the 1920s and 30s, it was one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. I fact, it was referred to as the Paris of the East.

Interestingly, Shanghai does not really have a distinct cuisine of its own. In fact, most of the dishes usually associated with Shanghai  are actually imports from nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Jiangnan Cuisine

The cooking style of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces is often collectively referred to as Jiangnan cuisine. To clarify, Jiangnan means, “South of the River”.

Because this style of cooking is very popular in Shanghai, many restaurants serving it – especially those outside the mainland – often position themselves as Shanghainese restaurants.

Shanghainese cuisine tends to be heavier and oilier than Cantonese cuisine , which is the most popular Chinese cooking style outside China.  Sugar and soy sauce are favoured condiments.

Interestingly, chicken, crab, eel, and fish are often soaked in alcoholic beverages and then quickly cooked or steamed – and sometimes even served raw!

Such dishes are somewhat poetically referred to as “drunken chicken” or “drunken crabs” in English. Preserved vegetables and salted meats are other favoured ingredients.

Dim sum and noodles are popular. Indigenous varieties include thick noodles and that perennial favourite: xiao long bao, or steamed buns with savory stuffing. If Shanghai has a signature dish, it would have to be steamed hairy crab. It is usually served with a dipping sauce of vinegar, crushed garlic, and brown sugar.

“Shanghai has been China’s most important port city, and this has allowed it to incorporate many regional and international ideas into its cuisine,” says Cheng Chi-keung, Chinese executive chef at the The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai.

“In Shanghai , there is more dependence on soy sauce and a great deal more sugar is used. Stewing, braising, and frying are the most common forms of Shanghainese cooking.

“The slow ‘red cooking’ technique is unique to Shanghainese cuisine and has now spread to other parts of China. Rice is the staple here, and seafood is also very popular in this port city.”

Pairing Shanghainese Food with Wine

To learn more about pairing Shanghainese food with wine, I got in touch with Chef Cheng Chi-keung at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai. He suggests pairing the following Shanghainese dishes with the following wines:

Braised Pork Ribs with Pine Seeds in Sweet and Sour Sauce

Torres Cabernet Sauvignon Mas Las Plana from Spain (red)

Braised Prawns Head, Sweet and Sour Sauce Deep Fried Prawns and Tail

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay from New Zealand (white)

Deep Fried Mandarin Fish in Sweet and Sour Sauce

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay from New Zealand (white)

These suggestions for pairing Shanghainese food with wine are courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board:

Duck Stuff with Eight Treasures

Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot (red)

Fresh Crab Claw Braised with Saffron Soup and Shark’s Fin

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (white)

Roasted Fish with Pine Nuts

Late Harvest (a Dessert Wine), Botrytis Sweet Wine, or Muscat

Shrimp Sauteed with Longjing Tea

Sauvignon Blanc (white)

Steamed Hairy Crab

Vintage Brut



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