Eating in Shanghai: A No-Holds-Barred Culinary Experience

Jul 17, 2018 1:30:00 PM / by Trisha Sanchez

Trisha Sanchez

Trisha is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An International Business major at Champlain College, she is studying abroad in Shanghai this semester.

In this week's post, Trisha dishes what it's like to eat like a local in Shanghai and shares examples on how she stays open to new food.


Eating in Shanghai has been the biggest no-holds-barred cultural experience (and shock) thus far, and without access to a kitchen in our residence (where we would otherwise be able to tap out and prepare a western meal on occasion), we all experienced a head-first dive into the intricacies of the local cuisine. The first culinary encounter I faced was the breakfast provided at our residence. Besides boiled eggs, all the foods were very heavy and what I would consider to be lunch or dinner meals. These were things like pan-fried noodles, fried rice and corn on the cob, giant steamed pork buns and many varieties of hot cabbage, hot cucumbers, and eggplant. It was a difficult adjustment to make from the light cereal and toast breakfasts with maybe a few sausage links or strips of bacon many of us are accustomed to having back home so early before work or class.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Summer2018_From Trisha Sanchez - Skewered Food

In fact, many of my peers resorted to strictly eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they provided us bread and condiments for. My coworker Billy and I eventually found ourselves migrating our breakfast routine to the fried pancake street food they serve at a cart outside our internship office. They crack an egg inside and wrap it up with either Chinese sausage (which is a bit sweet) or basted chicken. It’s still a bit heavy for breakfast, but at least it’s similar to foods we’d usually consider in the early morning!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Summer2018_From Trisha Sanchez - A Sample of Shanghai Cuisine

Something I’ve found myself excited about is just how many parts of the animal go into cuisines here. I’ve had the opportunity to try everything from hooves to intestines, and I even surprisingly admit that the marinated intestine rice at my coworkers’ favorite lunch spots has become a favorite dish of mine! Although I’m surprised at times just how many strange parts of animals you can find cooked at restaurants here, I am intrigued by how sustainable it must be. From my experience thus far, I would guess that there must be virtually no waste from any animal stock.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Summer2018_From Trisha Sanchez - A Chinese Meal

A friend of mine and I have opposite troubles with fish and poultry. I love all the baked fish here, it’s always tender and flavorful and marinated to perfection. However, he’s found that he can’t eat any fish here because he’s unaccustomed to fish bones. Whereas I grew up in a Russian household and this is not new to me, he’s found this extremely off-putting and rather difficult to eat around.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Summer2018_From Trisha Sanchez - Duck on a Skewer

On the flip side, whereas he’s been to Beijing before and is used to eating chicken and duck with the head and beak left on, this for some reason I can’t seem to stomach. Whenever I’ve felt as though I might be craving a whole duck or chicken at a restaurant and open the menu to see that the entire head and face is cooked along with it, I typically have politely declined. I’m waiting to see if I’ll grow more comfortable about cooked heads by the end of our second month here, but so far it’s hard to say!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Shanghai_Summer2018_From Trisha Sanchez - Fried Whole Crab in the Shell

I love anything on a skewer here. If you go to some of the more off-beat tourist areas you may find some fried insects, but most of the food around has been tasty meats and interesting seafoods with lots of spices! I particularly enjoy the octopus. One of my favorite spots is Delicious Food City, next to the Bund where you can see Pearl Tower. Something I’ve never seen before that I tried there was fried whole crab in the shell! At first glance, I immediately found myself wondering “Wait, is this edible?”, to which the answer is ‘kind of’. It’s certainly a bit harder to chew and I wouldn’t recommend it to exotic food novices as something like this may bear a larger chance of upsetting your stomach later, but to a more seasoned exotic food connoisseur I would highly recommend it.

Thanks Trisha!

Trisha's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Shanghai Program

Topics: Shanghai, China, Food Abroad