You may think you’re a daredevil when it comes to trying new foods, but there are some dishes that are beyond adventurous – especially in China’s glamourous city: Shanghai. The Shanghainese certainly aren’t afraid to explore their culinary taste buds, and if you visit this dazzling city, you’ll soon realise that.
As well as interesting street food, some of the top restaurants have fascinating dishes on their menus that would stretch the palate of any regular diner. From hollowed-out yak’s penis to squirming sea worms, we’ve found an array of jaw-dropping Shanghai eats that we dare you to try!
Available at the chain Sichuan restaurant ‘Ba Guo Bu Yi’, the meaty yak’s penis is sliced into ‘palatable’ pieces and served in a hollowed-out melon with chili oil. The portion size is big (yaks are well-endowed) and rumour has it the flavoursome taste is similar to oxtail…mmm?!
Fried Honey Bees:
photo: ©Jeremy Hurd
A popular snack with sweet-toothed locals, a bowl of honeybees is a traditional Yunnan dish originating in the mountains. Deep-fried with salt and pepper, the bees are said to be naturally sweet and are sometimes served alongside fellow insect friends – such as grasshoppers or stick insects.
Head to Shanghai’s Tongchuan Seafood Market for bargain jars of sea worms. Sold alive, the creatures shoot water when poked and are pan-fried with garlic and leeks – then served still squirming on the plate!
photo: ©Kent Wang
Served as both a pub snack and a stewed restaurant dish, pigs tails are rumoured to be extremely good for the skin. Originating in the north-east of China, you’ll also spot preserved pig tails for sale in many of the city’s market stalls.
Brave an evening at Yunnan-style ‘Jin Long She’ restaurant and tuck into the famous snake hot pot – said to have a similar texture to fried chicken. But if that’s not quite enough snake, sip an aperitif of snake-head liquor, or go all out with a shot of snake blood!
photo: ©Elizabeth Allen
Served on a stick on street stalls in popular tourist areas, starfish is considered an acquired taste even by locals. If you fancy sampling, break open the tough skin to reveal a green mush which is said to taste damp and salty like the sea!
Live Drunken Shrimp:
photo: ©Kwong Weng Yong
This controversial dish features river shrimp served both drunk and very much alive. They’re soaked in a spirit until they are so drunk they begin jumping around circus-style in the bowl of liquid, which thankfully comes with a lid to prevent them diving into your lap. Once they have soaked up all the boozy liquid they are consumed, still alive.
A popular bar snack in Shanghai, Yunnan beetle grubs are available deep-fried in various sizes, and said to have a similar consistency to pork scratchings, but with a nutty flavour. Unlike live grubs they don’t burst in your mouth releasing their gooey insides. So there’s plenty of reason to head to one of the pub and order a beer and bowl of grubs, right?!
Chicken and Duck Blood Soup:
Probably Shanghai’s favourite soup, this local delicacy (known as Jiya Xuetang) contains solidified duck blood as its main ingredient. Known for being very healthy, the locals believe that eating duck’s blood can strengthen your own blood and the taste is said to be not dissimilar to tofu.
photo: ©Dani Leis
Cow Stomach Lining:
This popular dish is available cooked in a range of different ways – from boiled in a soup, served cold and chunky, or fried in a spicy sauce with a side of rice. Said to be rather flavourless and with a texture similar to squid, the chewy stomach lining can be found in most local eateries, in case you’re interested!
photo: ©Herry Lawford
Said to increase brain power, duck’s heads are served in many Shanghai restaurants as well as being readily available from local markets. If you want to brave them then you need to peel off and eat the spiced skin, as the bulk of duck’s head is not digestible. The remainder of the snack can be gnawed, and many locals also enjoy sucking out the fatty juices and cartilage. Yum.