How to cook like a Shanghai granny

How to cook like a Shanghai granny

Three Shanghai grannies dish out their simplest, but oh-so-tasty recipes so even we can whip up an authentic feast in minutes

Do you tire of skipping breakfast and munching on your regular greasy lunch bento? Good Chinese food can be made in a snap, insist kitchen-savvy grannies Wang, Hu and Pan, even if the only thing you're used to preparing is microwave ramen. Here they share their best foolproof recipes.

Shanghai grannie cooking - breakfastShanghai granny recipe no. 1: A sweet morning treat

"A good breakfast sets the mood for the rest of the day, that's why I like to start off with something sweet: eggs poached in milk, with fragrant osmanthus flower sugar stirred in. I made this for my daughter every morning before school, and even as an adult, it's her comfort food," says Wang Ling Bo. Sweet eggs? We tried this, and it was oddly comforting. 

Soft poached egg in milk with osmanthus sugar: Yields one serving


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • To taste, osmanthus flower sugar (桂花糖; find at a local supermarket)


  • Heat milk in a pot to boiling point on high heat. Watch the pot carefully so it doesn't boil over. Once boiling, switch heat to a low to medium-low flame.
  • Break eggs into a bowl, taking care not to break the yolks. Place bowl just above the milk and gently slip the eggs into the pot.
  • Keep the milk and egg mixture simmering without boiling. Poach eggs for about five minutes or until the egg whites have mostly solidified but the yolk is yielding.
  • Stir in osmanthus sugar and serve.

Shanghai grannie cooking - noodlesShanghai granny recipe no. 2: Nutty noodles

For lunch or a quick dinner, veteran cook Pan Jia Song adapts nutty Shanghainese cold noodles to healthy eating by adding layers of fresh vegetable. She gives two suggestions. "Don't let the peanut butter in the sauce throw you and make an ample portion, these noodles are really tasty." 

Shanghainese cold noodles with peanut sauce and vegetables: Yields one serving


  • Thin Chinese noodles; preferably fresh noodles from the wet market
  • Cooking oil (canola, olive, peanut oil all work well)
  • Handful of bean sprouts

For the sauce:

  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
  • Lukewarm water to taste
  • Soy sauce to taste, vinegar

For topping:

  • Raw vegetables like carrot, string beans and cucumber grated or cut into matchsticks
  • Cilantro or hot chili oil to garnish


  • In a pot, boil about two cups of noodles and the bean sprouts. Rinse cooked noodles and bean sprouts with cold water, drain and separate. Mix just enough oil to coat the noodles so they won't clump. 
  • In another bowl, combine peanut butter with about 1/5 cup of water and mix until you have a smooth sauce with the texture of runny yogurt. Add soy sauce and a small amount of vinegar to taste.
  • Combine bean sprouts and noodles, mix in the sauce. Top with vegetables and garnish.

Shanghai grannie cooking - shrimpShanghai granny recipe no. 3: Simple shrimp

"Sweet stir-fried prawns are always at the dinner table. But I make mine with honey instead of sugar for a flavorful glaze and so I don't have to make a mess of cornstarch," says Hu Min Gao. "You can easily dress this up for guests too." 

Pepper prawns with honey sauce: Yields one serving


  • 2 cups of large, shell-on tiger prawns with heads on, defrosted or fresh
  • Two tablespoons of cooking oil for sauté (canola, vegetable oil work well)
  • Handful of green onion, chopped
  • Two tablespoons of rice wine for cooking 1 teaspoon salt
  • To taste, pepper (preferably white pepper)
  • To taste, honey


  • Pat dry two cups of prawn. Cut the antennae and legs.
  • Add salt and ground pepper to coat.
  • Heat your pan or wok on high heat, until it is hot enough for a drop of water to instantly sizzle and evaporate.
  • Add oil and most of the chopped green onion.
  • With chopsticks, add the prawns and spread them so they don't overlap in the pan. Leave them to saute for about 30 seconds on each side, depending on the size of the prawns.
  • With the prawns almost cooked through, quickly add the rice wine and honey to taste (it's about a tablespoon for a sweet-toothed Shanghainese person) and coat prawns with the sauce.
  • Garnish with the remaining chopped green onion and serve.
Joanne Yao is a writer and editor based in Shanghai.
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