Home to 25 million people, Shanghai is one of those inconceivably big cities in the world. It has become the symbol of China’s economic prosperity in the past few decades, and is home to every kind of experience you might expect – or find unexpected.
Anthony Bourdain visited Shanghai twice; first, he visited to film season 3 (episode 7) of No Reservations, and again to film season 4 (episode 1) of Parts Unknown. These were his only two on-screen visits to Shanghai, though he did visit many other parts of China and commented in many of those episodes how he could never fully get China and there was always more to explore and try.
If you’re planning a trip to Shanghai, you’ve come to the right place. I visited Shanghai myself in mid-2013, and loved the culture shock and culinary experiences of China’s second-largest city. It’s a fantastic destination that shows off the dichotomy of history and modernity, and the powerhouse that China has become in the global economy.
Intrigued and ready to follow in the footsteps and forkfuls of Anthony Bourdain in Shanghai? Read on for a guide to everywhere he ate – and then plan your own Shanghai food adventures.
Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain visits Shanghai?
The No Reservations episode is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Apple TV, and the Parts Unknown episode is available on Amazon and Apple TV.
No Reservations (2007)
Bourdain made his first visit to Shanghai in the late 2000s as part of an episode that took him to several other parts of China too. He doesn’t visit many places on this first trip, but gets a taste of what the city has to offer – literally and figuratively – and it’s enough to inspire a return trip later.
NanXiang Steamed Bun Restaurant
If there’s one food you have to eat in Shanghai, it’s xiao long bao – also called “Shanghai soup dumplings” – and it’s the first thing that Anthony Bourdain has during his first visit. I had these almost every day I visited Shanghai, and they remain one of my favorite foods of all time – yes, they really are that good.
He learns how to eat these delightful bombs of scalding broth and meat at NanXiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, which, to be honest, seemed like a tourist restaurant. It doesn’t surprise me that he picks somewhere different to have them during his second visit.
Tony also tries tangbao, the larger version with just soup, served with a straw.
Yang’s Fried Dumplings
Shanghai soup dumplings are typically steamed, but some street vendors and restaurants also make them fried. Bourdain tries this style too at Yang’s Fried Dumplings along Wuzhong Road. He also has tofu beef noodles.
In addition to visiting Yang’s, Bourdain explores other street food vendors along Wuzhong Road – an area of Shanghai that’s known for market stalls and street eats.
At various vendors, he tries fried stinky, fermented tofu with pepper and garlic sauce, soybean sauce, sweet sauce, and hot and sour Sichuan-style beef noodles. (This latter dish is reminiscent of his trip to Sichuan earlier in his career.)
Parts Unknown (2014)
A few years later, Tony makes his way back to Shanghai as part of filming Parts Unknown. This time, he does things a bit differently: he focuses on the city and doesn’t rush the experience, as well as on the social and political factors at play during his visit (as he did in much of that show). There are plenty of places from this trip that you can dine at today, almost a decade later.
First stop? Xiao long bao again, of course! This time, Anthony Bourdain visits FuChun XiaoLong for XLB. He’s joined by Professor Zhou Lin, who served as Dean at Shanghai Jiao Tong University at the time. The discuss Chinese economic growth and global geopolitics over steamed soup dumplings and fried pork chops with brown sauce.
Next stop, Tony heads to Chun Restaurant. As he describes it, this restaurant has “no menu and no waiting list” – and you only get served if the chef and proprietor knows and/or likes the look of you.
Here he tries a number of other dishes, including you bao xia (wok-fried whole shrimp with ginger, garlic, salt, and soy), hong shao rou (braised pork belly with cinnamon, sugar, and anise), yan du xian (clay pot soup with bean curd stock, pork belly, tofu, and bamboo), and snail, duck, and fish dishes with rich sweet and soy sauces.
There’s more to Shanghai than soup dumplings! (Though that’s still the only thing I crave from there…)
Roosevelt Sky Bar
By the point in his career when Bourdain visits Shanghai a second time, his status earns him access to new dining experiences. This includes a two-part meal, starting at Roosevelt Sky Bar with wealthy Chinese national and Roosevelt China Investments President Tim Tse. They nosh on French oysters doused in champagne with more champagne to wash them down, before heading to their meal at…
Bund 27/House of Roosevelt
Called both Bund 27 and House of Roosevelt today, bere Tony sits down to a decidedly non-Chinese meal including New Zealand “South Pole” shrimp with wasabi and roast tomato, potato, and Australian Wagyu beef Tomahawk. They’re joined by other successful prominent Shanghai citizens including architect and designer Zeva Wang and real estate developer Daniel Yung, showing off how China’s economic prosperity has benefited some tremendously.
Er Guang Wonton
Stepping back down a notch to more everyday fare, Anthony Bourdain then heads to Er Guang Wonton with Shanghai-born English teacher Bill Wang. Over pork wontons, they discuss the future of China and what younger generations want – which will sound familiar to American viewers as their conversation reveals that our two countries have quite a lot in common in this aspect.
Di Shui Dong
As part of exploring the different aspects of modern China and Shanghai, Tony then meets up with hacker-turned-entrepreneur Thomas Yao, to talk about freedom on the internet and the future of technology. They meet at Di Shui Dong for another popular Shanghaiese dish, ziran paigu (cumin-rubbed ribs).
One of the odder scenes in Parts Unknown has to be the wedding crasher’s scene in Shanghai, right? In any case, Tony was right to pre-game with a Moscow mule at Bar Constellation before attending this event.
As for the wedding itself, the menu includes roast duck (pictured above, and something that he also tried in Beijing), beef tripe in garlic sauce, Kona crab, steamed turbo with scallions, and many more traditional dishes.
Unnamed Dai Pai Dong
After many, many drinks at the wedding that were forced upon him and which he was right to not refuse, Bourdain needs a hearty meal the next morning. Heads to a dai pai dong (noodle restaurant) to cure his ails. This particular one serves “Long Leg Noodles,” which might actually be the name of the place based on a bit of research (source 1, source 2)!
As you can see, there are plenty of good places where Anthony Bourdain ate in Shanghai – as far as I can tell, all are still open today! Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Shanghai? Let me know in the comments!