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6 Shanghai dishes, 6 delicious ways to be lucky
Whether its wealth or happiness you're after in the Chinese New Year, do it like they do in Shanghai and eat your way to both
Over the past 30 years, Shanghaining have had an ever-expanding variety of food choices, making the once-a-year family reunion dinners on Chinese New Year ever more tantalizing.
Even with the growing variety of food to choose from, when Spring Festival approaches, there are always several dishes on almost every Shanghainese family’s table. They not only represent Shanghai’s particular -- and delicious -- cooking style, but they also take on new meanings within the city itself.
Here are six of the traditional lucky dishes that have a special place in the heart of Shanghaining everywhere.
Niangao in Mandarin has the same pronunciation as “year rise,” so people eat it every year in hopes of getting a promotion and getting an extra ounce of luck -- at home and work -- in the coming year.
In a city that works as hard as it plays, it’s not a surprise that this is one of the more frequently given gifts in the city.
The light-flavored Ningbo niangao, what Shanghaining usually eat, is made from high-quality, short-grained japonica rice. It’s regarded as the “transformer” at Chinese New Year dinners, becasue it can be cooked in every conceivable way.
More on CNNGo: DIY niangao this Chinese New Year
Although it's a nationwide tradition to eat niangao on Chinese New Year, Shanghai chefs have some unique local recipes, such as niangao soup with veggies and fried niangao with hairy crabs or with cabbage and shredded pork.
Sweet niangao with osmanthus flowers are also popular in Shanghai.
Steamed whole or sliced and deep fried, niangao's sweet taste and soft texture is one of the first things Shanghairen reach for during Chinese New Year.
Best place to get sweet niangao: Waipojia, RMB 8
Waipojia, 8/F 166 Xizang Bei Lu (inside Joy City), near Kaifeng Lu 西藏北路, 近开封路, +86 21 3639 5699
Also known as "tangyuan" or "yuanxiao" in northern China, round-shaped foods are referred to as "tangtuan" in Shanghai.
Because of the food's shape and the character "tuan," meaning getting together, the dish signifies good wishes for family reunion.
Technically, any material can be used as tangtuan filling, so you never really know what you’re going to get when you take a bite of a tangtuan. But that’s half the fun.
More on CNNGo: What superstitions do you believe in this Chinese New Year?
It’s a tradition in Shanghai that the whole family eats tangtuan together on the morning of the Chinese New Year’s day, and the “tangtuan banquet” marks an end to the Spring Festival period.
Although more and more foods are becoming acceptable fillings for tangtuan, traditional Shanghairen still favor tangtuan filled with lard and sesame, sweet bean paste and meat.
Best place to get tangtuan: Qibao Laojie Tangtuan Restaurant, RMB 1 each
Qibao Laojie Tangtuan Restaurant, 26 Zhen Nan Lu, near Fuqiang Lu (Qibao District) 真南路26号, 近富强路 +86 21 6459 2917
Babaofan is Shanghaning’s must-have dessert for a family reunion dinner, always appearing as the last course.
Babaofan literally means “sticky rice with eight treasures,” so this dessert embodies all kinds of luck and happiness.
Also, it's sweetness represents the idea of a sweet new year -- and satisfies Shanghairen's famous sweet tooth. The idea that “you are what you eat” isn’t lost on Shangahining.
More on CNNGo: A sweet and stick Chinese New Year tradition -- babaofan
Few Shanghairen can name the eight ingredients in babaofan correctly, but we love it all the same. See the link above for a recipe.
There are tons of variations of this dish (one reason no one can name all the ingredients), but popular local varieties are sticky rice babaofan filled with sweet bean paste, and one made from black sticky rice.
Best place to get babaofan: Qiaojiashan, RMB 10-20 each
Qiaojiashan, 313 Xiangyang Nan Lu, near Yongjia Lu 襄阳南路313号, 近永嘉路, +86 21 6437 4174
Shanghaining must have at least one fish dish at their Chinese New Year family dinner, standing for “having leftover every year,” because fish is pronounced the same as “leftover” in Mandarin.
Xunyu, or braised fish in soy sauce, is a typical Shanghainese cold dish.
Shanghai cooks generally cut the fish into pieces, marinate them and fry them in oil before soaking the fish in soup flavored by soy sauce, sugar and other condiments. The result: a strongly flavored, and delicious xunyu.
A little sweet and without any annoying tiny fish bones, xunyu is always the favorite cold dish among kids.
More on CNNGo: 5 Chinese eating habits explained
Another popular dish that hits the aquatic life requirement is stewed whole fish. It’s delicious, but remember not to turn the fish body. See the link above for an explanation of that superstition.
Best place to get xunyu: Old Shanghai Braised Herring, Shanghai No. 1 Secret Recipe, RMB 29
Shanghai No. 1, 6/F, 99 Huaihai Dong Lu, near Xizang Nan Lu 淮海东路99号6楼, 近西藏南路, +86 21 3331 7177
Also known as “tacai” among northern Chinese, this dish is called as “takecai” or “takucai” by Shanghaining.
In Shanghainese, “take” is pronounced the same as “tuoku,” meaning “eliminating bitterness.”
This vegetable get its name because it grows between two harvest seasons, when food was often scarce. Previously lower class families would have this vegetable during Spring Festival in the hope of getting rid of bitterness in the coming new year.
More on CNNGo: 5 winter TCM commandments
Takecai has a soft yet slightly bitter taste, and it’s an in-season vegetable during Shanghai winter.
Among local chefs, this vegetable is usually fried alone, sometimes with winter bamboo strips or spiced dried bean curd.
Best place to get takecai: Fried takecai with winter bamboo from Lugan Small Town, RMB 28
Lugan Small Town, 350 Changle Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu 长乐路350号, 近瑞金一路, +86 21 6256 2520
6. Soybean sprouts fried with bean curd
Soybean sprouts fried with bean curd is one of the most common Spring Festival dishes in Shanghai.
Although a simple recipe made from everyday ingredients, this dish conveys a strong family message: the soybean sprouts resemble ruyi, a Chinese jade representing good luck and success.
More on CNNGo: Winners of Shanghai Best Eats 2010
As one of the healthier and lighter dishes in a traditional Shanghai New Year’s meal, it’s no surprise this is one of the most popular with Shanghaining.
Best place to get soybean sprouts fried with bean curd: Leyangchun, RMB 12
Leyangchun, 142 Zhongshan Zhong Lu, near Fuzhou Lu 中山中路142号近福州路, +86 21 6361 1145