I don’t even know where to start foodwise… I also don’t know what your “tolerances” are with chinese food and what you already know anyway.
A must do in Shanghai is getting up early and getting a breakfast consisting of sheng jian bao and da bing (both typical street food). Also xiao long bao are a typical Shanghai thing but can vary widley in quality when bought at street restaurants (where it should be bought since it is not a “fancy food”, in my opinion). There is a ton of other street foods that is worth trying. Especially in Shanghai there is actually nothing sold on the streets that I would consider “uneatable” for western tastebuds - maybe chicken feet . Just try it all. Especially the semi-legal nightmarkets that suddendly pop up in the evening. Don’t mind all the scared westerners telling you the grim tales about gutter oil, I ate all that stuff for quite a while and I am just fine. Nothing of it will kill you, especially if you eat if for just a few days.
For restaurants the rule of thumb is: the more people the better, because you will usually share all the plates together. More people → more variaty of what you can order and try. And if you have some locals with you even better because they will know where to go and what to order. There are usually 10 decent restaurants on every street in Shanghai and they all do more or less the same stuff. Usually it is not worth it to travel over the whole city for some place to eat unless you are looking for something specific. If you don’t have locals to show you those places near you try couchsurfing. A lot of Chinese students are quite active there, eager to learn English and to show you their city. And most of them are foodies. Even if you are staying in a hotel couchsurfing is useful to connect. If you are alone and it is too “scary” to you to just walk into these really local looking restaurants and just order whatever (which is very understandable) you should try malls. In a lot of malls you have quite nice restaurants that strike a nice balance between quality and price and are usually very clean and have an “English” menu with nice big pictures. Personally I would stay away from the pricier, fancier restaurants. In my experience they usually just add spectacle, not necessarily food quality - something especially chinese tourists with a lot of money care about. Some of the best bites I actually had were in mall restaurants. You can even find quite experimental places there, you just need to know someone to show you since it usually is impossible to google it.
Any other specific things you are looking for? Maybe I can help. A bit hard to recommend if I don’t know what you are looking for… because there is plenty of stuff to do.
Bunch of things to do around here. There are some cool restaurants with food from regions of China that aren’t very common abroad. I live in the Jing’an district, so most places I know are around here. French concession is a bit more fancy, but also slightly more expensive. Check out Smartshanghai.com if you want to search for something in particular.
These are my favorite places here (Excluding Western food).
Yunnan: Very cheap and tasty resto in Jing’an, Slurp. Crossing of Changping lu/Yanping lu
Sichuan: Sichuan citizen and another one I don’t quite remember which is 20meters apart, both in Donghu lu.
Dongbei: A good one near the crossing of Jiangning lu and Changping lu. I agree with Mrog, try
-Xialongbao (Many places around the city have them, there’s one inside the IAPM mall which is quite good but pricier than the typical Chinese place)
-Sheng jian bao, which are amazing and very cheap. Another place in Jing’an, I don’t know the name because they don’t have English menu nor English name (Jiangning lu/Haifang lu).
-Little man: Awesome typical Shanghainese guy cooking great food. He doesn’t speak English and it’s not a proper Restaurant but food is amazing. My colleagues and I go there every week once or twice. Changping lu/XiSuzhou lu. If you are in Shanghai on Friday at lunch time, I could organize lunch there.
French concession: Places like Yongkang lu (Street full of bars); Kartel (Julu lu), Boxing cat brewery (Fuxing lu)
-Jing An: Wuding lu/Jiaozhou lu (Another street full of bars), URVC (Cool small club in Jing’An, Xikang lu/Anyuan lu).
Artsy: M50, Red square, Propaganda museum (Not really a museum but a nice collection of propaganda posters from the 20th century)
Sightseeing: Old city, the Bund, People’s square, Tianzifang, Xintiandi, South Bund (Nice park).
“Speak low” - an awesome cocktail bar, hidden behind a sliding bookshelf in a tiny shop called “Ocho”. There are 3 floors (too my knowledge), and you have to be invited to the next level (ask the waitress if there’s room upstairs). There are completely different drink menus on each floor. Google “speak low shanghai” for direction, it’s on the tripadvisor top 10 list, so not a very well kept secret Not a shabby place by any means, suit up and bring lots of cash. Drinks are in the USD20 range.
Thanks everyone for the tips!
While I an adventurous eater and do love street meat, it is a biz trip and I don’t think I risk an upset stomach on car ride out to the factories.
On the weekend, I might give the stalls a try
Couchsurfing is a cool idea but we have booked two hotels (PuLi in the week, Waterhouse for the weekend).
If you know anything close to there, let me know
If I return on my own dime, I’ll definitely will consider couchsurfting.
I was also wondering about boutiques and museums/exhibitions for design related things. Fashion, objects, tech.
Also what neighborhoods are good to check out for designers?
I mean using couchsurfing specifically for getting to know locals, not crashing at their places! Most of them either live with their parents or in student dorms until they marry anyways. But especially the “internationally minded” guys and girls are usually very eager to get to know westerners and actively search on couchsurfing for meetups (no actual couchsurfing involved). Just post a message with the dates you are there and that you are looking for a local to show you around and grab some food with you. I would be surprised if you wouldn’t get at least a couple of responses. Probably also a lot more insightful than hanging around with other expats/tourists or factory people all the time
M50 is a common design tip, but for my taste it tries a bit too hard to be artisanal and hipsterish. Still worth a look if you have the time, but don’t expect something gamechanging.
Is it your first time in China? If yes, then you probably will be very busy just exploring side alleys. You can still see a lot of the “old china” (in the parts where buildings usually don’t have more than two stories and look shabby) where life is happening still mainly on the streets. I could do that for hours especially when I just arrived Shanghai. The smells and sounds and impressions are mesmerizing. MUCH more interesting than touristy places like Xintiandi or Tianzifang which are nice and clean… but that’s about it. The density of Starbucks and pizza restaurants in those areas is pretty alarming
Another thing you should put on your list is hanging out in a chinese walmart or carrefour. It’s just fascinating how different the shopping experience is compared to any western supermarket. Prepare for life fish, turtles and a ton of stuff you never heard of. It gives a pretty good impression of what the average chinese middle class consumes (food or non-food items). Oh, and they also usually sell “clean” and safe to eat versions of some of the street food mentioned before, in case you want to spare your stomach. You can just google them.
If you are into electronics or gadgets you also should check out one of the huge electronic malls they have. Usually massive 5-6 floor buildings with houndreds of small independent shops that do normal retail, repair, online business and wholesale at the same time in the same place. Your chance to see thousands of boxes filled with computers, tablets, phones, spare parts and weird gadgets at once. And in the middle of it all a bunch of chinese dudes fixing phones. The hectic and chaotic athmosphere is pretty representative of Chinas current tech industry I would say. They are relatively easy to google.
Oh, and a general tip: Get a VPN BEFORE you enter the country. Yes, you will need one, the internet is THAT bad in China without one, trust me. Even if you stay just a few days. Those few bucks will be worth it
On the note of VPNs, I agree with Mrog. Get one BEFORE you enter China. Not having access to Google is an absolute nightmare and most VPN sites are blocked on enter Chinese Internet. You could resort to using Bing, but who in their right mind would do that… Beijing is currently undergoing some political meetings, so a bunch of VPNs got struck down. However, those should be done by the time you get here. As far as specific VPNs, I’m using PureVPN and Lantern, as a backup. Lantern is open-source, but reliable so far.