The fattiest foods in Shanghai… and why we love them

The fattiest foods in Shanghai… and why we love them

Some things in life are just too good to give up even in the name of your waistline, and these dishes are five of them

Whether staying in Shanghai for a month or a year, most of us can’t avoid leaving with twice the tummy we arrived with. How does it happen? Too many taxis, too many Tsingtaos. Oh, and all that incredibly delicious, and incredibly unhealthy, Shanghainese food.

We’ve discovered the five worst offending Shanghainese cuisines (which also happen to be the five tastiest in our opinion). Experts Seven Yi from WeightWatchers, and APCO Worldwide consultant and One Wellness nutrition guru Alison Carroll helped us figure out how we got so wobbly. And why we keep eating these delicious dishes anyway. 

Name: Pai Gu Nian Gao 

Dish: Deep fried pork chop and rice cake with gravy
Wobble rating: Per 100g: 400 calories, 20 grams of fat 

Experts weigh in:
Seven Yi: The rice cake is so crisp and delicious, it’s impossible to resist!
Alison Carroll: Generally Chinese cuisine is heavy in its usage of both pork and generous amounts of oil. And while pork is already a fat-laden protein that should be eaten in moderation, deep-frying pork in oil elevates calories and fat more than the diner might realize. Nian gao (rice cake) is also made from glutinous rice flour, which is a starchy high carbohydrate source.

Why we love it anyway: Sinking your teeth into those delicious oil-laden rice cakes makes you forget it's winter -- probably because of all that extra insulation you’re stacking on. And it smells almost as good as it tastes -- that frying pork fragrance gets us salivating every time.


Name: Hongshao Rou

Dish: Red braised pork belly
Wobble rating: Per 100g: 600 calories and 50g of fat

Experts weigh in:
Yi: This Shanghainese dish is a bit different from others accidentally fatty local dishes, because here chefs deliberately select pork with more fat, then add plenty of sugar, so it tastes extra sweet and delicious.
Carroll: At the first bite, you are hit with the depth and complexity of the braising, and supple texture from the fattiness and added sugar to the pork. But from a health standpoint, this is a terrible dish to eat on a regular basis. The combination of high fat and added sugar will give you a feeling of euphoria, and encourage you to eat more. Meanwhile your blood sugar will spike up from the burst of calories. But high fat and sugar are empty calories your body does not utilize well for energy -- and unused, empty calories are often stored as fat. So don’t overdo it on this dish.

Why we love it anyway: Just like we always suspected, this is the crack cocaine of Shanghainese dishes -- the sugar hit, the euphoric rush, the gluttonous giddiness followed by overeating guilt. And like true addicts, we can’t stop going back for more. After all, it was reputedly Mao’s favorite dish, and if it’s good enough for the Chairman…

Name: Sheng Jian Bao

Dish: Fried dumplings
Wobble rating: Per 100g: 300 calories, 20 grams of fat

Experts weigh in:
Yi: Chefs often add pork skin to the meat fillings raising the fat content, and the dumplings are pan fried for a long time, so the wheat powder skins absorb even more oil.
Carroll: Pan frying is not as bad as deep frying. But the dish is just pork filling and wheat flour (the dumpling skin). Without healthy components of fiber, such as vegetables, your blood sugar will spike up and down from the fat and quick release carbohydrates.

Why we love it anyway: You can grab a batch of these from hundreds of hole-in-the-wall venues around Shanghai, but this makes you treat them like a snack when in fact they’ve got more fat and calories than a (healthy) full meal. Still, they’re quick, dirty and deliciously satisfying. The main problem we see with these dumplings is it’s easy to eat too many of these bite-sized bad boys in one go, then spend the next few hours feeling sick. Or is that just us?

Name: Hongshao Shizi Tou

Dish: Red braised meatballs
Wobble rating: Per 100g: 400 calories, 40g of fat

Experts weigh in:
Yi: The meatballs are fried at high temperatures and water chestnuts are added, which makes it taste so good.
Carroll: Slow down when you eat this dish and consume moderately. People often eat many of these in a short period of time, not realizing how dense in calories they are, but they still don't feel full. So make sure you have a side of vegetables when you order this dish.

Why we love it anyway: These can actually taste quite light if cooked right, so they end up nice and fluffy. To be honest though, we’ll take pretty much any version of this dish. And as bad as it sounds, the more the restaurant has re-used the sauce, the better it generally tastes -- and the worse it is for you.

Name: You Bao Xia

Dish: Deep fried shrimp
Wobble rating: Per 100g: 300 calories, 20g of fat

Experts weigh in:
Yi: The shrimp is deep fried to separate the meat and shell and the Shanghainese like to add heaps of sugar, sending the calorie count soaring.
Carroll: Shrimp is a delicate seafood which can take on amazing flavors from spices and sauces. Generally shrimp is a good source of protein and low in fat so it has a positive nutritional profile, but deep frying and adding sugar to shrimp in You Bao Xia taints this. Considering the calories and fat in this dish, it’s better to opt of out this one and to eat shrimp prepared in a healthier style, such as grilled or pan fried.

Why we love it anyway: Weirdly enough, these always taste to us a little like fishy McDonald’s fries, perhaps because both have such high salt, sugar and oil levels. Which is in itself reason enough to love them!