Shanghai Specialty Food Stores: The Insider's Guide to Chinese Delicatessens

They're mysterious places, Chinese specialty food stores. But if you're interested in Chinese food you will inevitably find yourself wandering into one and contemplating the rows of strange foodstuffs and intriguing smells, wondering where to begin.

For a long time living in Shanghai I felt depressed about the lack of a really good European delicatessen, the sort of place where I would go back home to look at acres of cheese and sample four kinds of prosciutto. The great news is that the  equivalent does exist - think Harrod's food hall and Dean and DeLuca with Chinese characteristics.

Most specialty food stores have a similar range - cured, dried and preserved goods; baked goods and confectionary; fresh foods, and freshly-prepared meals to eat at home.

Here are three of Shanghai's best:

1. Shanghai First Food Hall 上海市第一食品商店
Recently refurbished, the Shanghai First Food hall on Nanjing Road is the oldest and most respected specialty food store in Shanghai. If you want to buy a food gift with prestige for someone important, this is the place to get it. The building dates to 1925 but the interiors were renovated in 2012, and it's very swish.

The first floor features premium seasonal fresh foods from around China (for example, the best of the best Shanxi persimmons), top range meats, food gifts, and international foods (don't get excited here - it really means biscuits and confectionary).

The second floor houses traditional dried and preserved foods including seafood, hams, sausage, mushrooms, dried fruits and pickles.
The hams here are the best you can buy in Shanghai, and come from all over China.
The dried mushrooms are absolutely best quality, but you will pay for the privilege. The matsutake mushrooms (below left) are selling for 2380rmb per 500g. That's almost $US800/kg. Gasp.

The selection of barbecued meats and freshly prepared cold dishes is outstanding here, although again, quite expensive. But all the staff are very, very helpful. 

The third floor is packed with small eateries including branches of Yang's Fried Dumplings and Nanxiang xiaolongbao. For the time being, the fourth floor has non-Chinese restaurants.

Shanghai First Food Hall
shànghǎi shì dì yī shípǐn shāngdiàn

720 Nanjing Dong Lu
Open daily 9am - 10pm

2. Shanghai No 2 Food Store 上海第二食品商店

The Shanghai No. 2 Food Store has branches all over Shanghai, but I most often visit the one near Shanxi Nan Lu - it's pretty representative of what they have to offer. It's an every day specialty food store (if that isn't an oxymoron), with more affordable prices. The fresh food section is small but is balanced by a huge snack and confectionary section.

For festivals and holidays No. 2 Store always has a seasonal special food, often sold from a street food-style cabin at the front of the store.

This is one of my favourite bargain buys - hawthorn paste (shanzha gao). It's sweet and tart and perfect with sharp cheddar or blue cheese. Use it exactly as you would use quince paste (and at a tiny proportion of the cost). I've actually come to prefer its more delicate flavour to quince paste.
Dried persimmons - also great with cheese

Ground black sesame - now you know where to buy it!

I'm also kind of addicted to No. 2 Store's sweets - the good old White Rabbit milk candies, and their miniature peanut nougats. Buy by weight - just grab a bag and fill it up.

If it's your thing, they also have a trustworthy supply of Chinese spirits. And yes, a good bottle of baijiu will set you back more than 2000rmb.

Shanghai No 2 Food Store
shànghǎi dì èr shípǐn shāngdiàn

994 Huai Hai Zhong Lu
Open 7 days

3. Shanghai Changchun Food Store 长春食品商店
The Changchun Food Store is my own favourite in Shanghai. It's small enough not to be overwhelming, has very helpful staff (although non-English speaking) and the food is very high quality. As an added bonus it's directly across the road from one of the city's best Shanghainese restaurants - Guang Ming Cun

They have an extensive cold foods section - 

Air-dried chicken and duck

The best hams

L to R: white poached chicken, Shanghai roast duck, Nanjing salt duck

Cold pig's ear salad (front) and duck tongues (rear)

Kaofu - a Shanghainese specialty with five-spice braised gluten, wood ear mushrooms, and peanuts

Marinated chickens' feet

Vinegar jellyfish, Shanghai style

And an equally extensive dried goods and baked goods section:
Dried fruits and sweets

Dried fish snacks

Air-dried fish from Shaoxing. Incredibly good.

L: Fresh Suzhou style moon cakes - savoury and sweet. These are the store's biggest-selling item.
R: Many foods have a small 'taste jar' so you can sample first and figure out whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral

Shanghai Chang Chun Food Store 
cháng chūn shípǐn shāngdiàn

619 Huai Hai Zhong Lu
Open 7 days 9am-10pm

Have another food store you love in Shanghai (or elsewhere in China)? Let us know below - it would be great to have a nation-wide list of the best!

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