While Shanghai doesn't really have a celebrated cuisine of its own, local chefs and restaurants have taken the opportunity to combine the best China has to offer with smatterings of international inspiration. Indeed, dining in Shanghai is a great opportunity for visitors to sample Chinese food of all kinds as well as interesting fusion cuisine.
Traditional Shanghai cuisine is known as benbang cai, and tends to be sweeter than food from other Chinese regions, flavoured with sugar, vinegar, ginger, and soy for a distinct flavour. Whether dining in style at a chic hotel restaurant or indulging at a roadside cart, tourists are spoiled for choice with delectable treats like xiao long bao (steamed soup-filled buns) and Shanghai hairy crab. The city's location at the mouth of the Huangpu River means fresh seafood is abundant, and the soy fields of the region provide the city's unique 'stinky tofu'.
Shanghai's food streets, some of the best of which are Huang He Lu, Yunnan Lu, and Zhapu Lu, boast a variety of cheap eateries, while flashier districts like the Bund and Luwan offer pricier fine-dining restaurants. Shanghai's major shopping malls all have food courts with many vendors offering everything from stir fries to dim sum for low prices, a great way to sample a variety of dishes.
Being a cosmopolitan city, Shanghai is home to a number of good international restaurants serving Thai, Japanese, French, Italian, and other world cuisines. There are also a number of new international chain restaurants.
The more expensive restaurants in Shanghai generally accept credit cards, but street vendors and takeaway joints usually expect cash. While hotel restaurants sometimes include a 10 to 15 percent service charge, tipping is not generally practised in Shanghai.
Shanghai is a major international port which is known in China for its enthusiastic embrace of all things new and fashionable, making it a shopper's paradise.
The Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Mall is a fascinating blend of western and eastern shopping, and Huaihai Zhong Street has a great selection of Chinese silk, which is a popular souvenir. The Old Town Bazaar has a variety of crafts and antiques, including popular Shanghai souvenirs like jade bracelets, cloisonné jewellery and vases, lacquerware and porcelain items, and vintage Cultural Revolution books and posters.
Other shopping districts in Shanghai include Parkson Shopping Centre, and the 'four cities': Yuyuan Shopping City, Xujiahui Shopping City, New Shanghai Shopping City and Jiali Sleepless City. Fuzhou Road is a great place to find cultural items like music, art and books.
Although knock-off items are popular buys in Shanghai, visitors should be aware that customs in many countries do not allow travellers to take multiple items of this sort back with them. Counterfeit souvenirs are also common, so buyers should be wary of paying high prices for easily faked items like jade and antiques.
Travellers should flex their bargaining muscles at street shops and markets, but the prices in formal stores and hotels are generally fixed. They should remember to keep smiling and draw the shopkeeper away from other customers for the best deals.
Known as the Paris of the east, Shanghai has a long-standing reputation as one of the world's top 'sin cities'. The nightlife can be seedy and there are many warnings given to visitors, but the ever-changing face of Shanghai's nightlife is vibrant and exciting and the diversity of offerings these days makes it easy to avoid the dodgier elements of this port city if desired.
The Bund has recently been given new life as a night time destination, with dilapidated buildings demolished to make way for neon-lit jazz clubs, cocktail lounges, and restaurants. Bustling bar and restaurant areas in Shanghai include the pedestrianised Nanjing Road, Hengshan Road, and Maoming South Road, all increasingly popular with expats.
The district around the Julu Lu and Tongren Lu intersection is a cheaper and more exciting option for those who want to party hard. There is still a booming sex trade in Shanghai and some areas of town are safer than others and it is best to stay in groups when going out at night.
Shanghai is a major concert destination in Asia, and travellers will find large international concerts on the calendar all year round along with a number of local Mando-pop or Canto-pop acts. There are also a number of good jazz clubs on Fuxing Lu.
If classical entertainment is what visitors are after, Shanghai has a number of options, including the Shanghai Philharmonic Society or the Shanghai Yueju Opera Group. They can also see acrobatic performances and touring productions of major Broadway shows, as well as touring ballet companies.