How to eat fresh and safe in Shanghai is one of my top concerns since I moved here, so I decided to organize a Shanghai grocery shopping guide, especially since China doesn’t have a good reputation when it comes to food safety. Shanghai has great – not just great, but tons of amazingly delicious, excellent restaurants. However, Eating out all the time could become expensive. Of course, there are other cheaper choices at small eateries, but these small local places often add lots of additives to their dishes, and local flavours tend to be overly sweet and salty for my taste. Also, it’s always better when you know the food comes from trustworthy sources. (Although I have to admit that I’m quite in love with the convenience of food delivery in Shanghai, I do cook sometimes!)
This guide is suitable for :
- Fresh off the boat expats
- Foreign exchange students who don’t have lots of money
- Backpackers/couch surfers who are looking for cheap and healthy ways to eat.
(Last updated: November 15th, 2017)
You don’t drink water from the faucet because this is China. Just don’t do it. I buy large bottled water. Not very environmentally friendly, I know. The other way is filtering the water first and then boil it.
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Unlike the farmers’ markets in the states and Europe, buying fruits and vegetables from local vendors is cheaper than the supermarket. The vendors directly transport the products from local farms, and you can find them all in a designated location. They usually charge the products by weights. If the vendors like you, they might throw in some spring onions or an apple for free! Just make sure you wash the vegetables and fruits thoroughly because they might use pesticide. They most likely used pesticide.
Milk, butter, and cheese are relatively more expensive in Shanghai but not unaffordable. The French chain store Carrefour (家乐福) has them at a decent price. Milk from local company Guangming (光明) cost around 20RMB.
I like my eggs, and I buy them from the local supermarket like Lianhua (联华) or farmers’ market because I can handpick my eggs from the carton instead of buying it by the box, and it’s so much cheaper. 12 eggs cost around 7RMB. The eggs are always fresh, and the hens probably laid the eggs in the same morning because you can still see feathers on the eggs sometimes! Don’t know how to pick a good egg? pick the ones with a more pointed head to make sure the eggs are real because believe it or not, Chinese makes fake eggs, too. (How do you even fake an egg?) Also, the darker colour the egg, the tastier it is because it’s laid by older hens 😉 Remember to wash them gently with warm water before you cook them.
Buying grocery online is what’s hip now. You can find some great quality meat for a reasonable price online, and some of the providers would even do same day delivery. However, most of those apps are only in Chinese. Before I began to order my meat online, I used to go to the more expensive supermarkets such as CitySuper or CityShop specifically for meat. If you feel adventurous, try buying from the local butchery at the farmers’ market. Note that Chinese use a different measurement system for weights. Instead of the gram (g), they use jin (斤), and 1 jin is equal to 500g.
Getting lazy to cook or just need to grab a quick meal? One of the best things about Shanghai is there are convenient stores everywhere. The major chains are FamilyMart (全家), Lawson (罗森), All Days (好德), and C-Store (喜士多). They all open 24/7. Most of them sell sandwiches, microwave meals, and cooked food on site. I preferred Lawson over FamilyMart because my taste bud tells me that Lawson uses less additive in their microwave meals. Their meals also come in good portions with more vegetables. I like the cooked food on site at C-Store, especially the big fried chicken patty!
Missing food from home? Central Wulumuqi Road (乌鲁木齐中路) has many small shops that sell imported goods. CityShop, CitySuper, Ole, Carrefour all have decent selections. There’s a famous small shop on Wulumuqi called the Avocado Lady. The store is famous among expats, and it also sells fresh meat and vegetable at a reasonable price. (And wine – Lots and lots of wine.)
Shanghai is an international city. If you have special cravings, it’s probably not hard to find what you’re looking for. For example, if you are craving for Japanese snacks, the supermarket at Takashimaya has it all. Our biggest defeat at the moment is we cannot find kaviar anywhere in Shanghai! (Kaviar is a fish egg sauce from Sweden.)
I update this guide every now and then. Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts, and please comment if you know where to find kaviar in Shanghai!
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Also published on Medium.