Oodles of Noodles in Shanghai

Shanghai Noodle Tour-6677

One steamy July afternoon in Shanghai and four noodle houses, one Shanghai deco coffee house, a single one-stop shopping wet market later, I feel like I have a good handle on the best locals cum cult favorite noodle houses in this crazy hot city of modern mile-high skyscrapers on one side and historic districts reminiscent of Paris on the other.

In the French Concession area (Luwan) you catch glimpses of daily life as it has been for decades. This historic district was the domain of the French colonial community up until 1949. The French left their mark on the residential architecture, which boasts such tourist sights as Fuxing Park, the historic Jin Jiang Hotel, the shops along Huaihai Zhong Lu, the Xintiandi development, and the former residences of Sun Yat-sen and Zhou Enlai. {Source: Frommers}

Shanghai - French Concession

French Concession area of Shanghai

Shanghai - French Concession

Staying in the French Concession area there were many sights to see within walking distance: a beautiful verdant park where locals come to dance, practice Tai chi and seek refuge from the clamor of the city , an ancient golden temple against a backdrop of modern architecture – I’ll share more of these experiences in a second post. What you learn very quickly about walking in Shanghai is that pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. In fact, it seemed like a mad, mad world of bicycling masses, motorcycle maniacs, tour buses and deranged drivers with no rules of the road when the light turns green. Walking requires vigilance, but is still the best way to see Shanghai. The basic rule of survival is that cars always have the right of way, even when pedestrians have a green light, so look both ways and always be prepared to yield. A good practice is to follow the lead of the locals.

Shanghai bicyclist

Bicyclist and loaded cart. It’s very expensive to own and operate a car in Shanghai, so bicycles and motorcycles are the main mode of transportation.

Shanghai bicycles

While Shanghai makes it possible to experience the tastes of the world, let’s face it – there are some restaurants where a chaperone or translator is beneficial.  I had signed up for the Oodles of Noodles Tour with UnTour Shanghai before we left the states. It was a three-hour walking tour ($58.00) and all four of the noodle houses were in the French Concession. Along with my email receipt were instructions to meet my guide at Fuxing Park at 2:00 p.m. – the hottest part of the day during a heat wave that registered the highest temps in 140 years, since the government began keeping records! On this particular day, only two other people had signed up for the tour and they were forced to cancel due to transportation delays, so I ended up having a private tour. All sweating aside, it was truly an unforgettable UnTour.

Shanghai stone gate architecture, shikumen,

Guide and co-owner of UnTour Shanghai, Jamie Barys, turned out to be an American expat from Tennessee. Jamie came to Shanghai six years ago as an exchange student, fell in love with the city, and basically never left. She studied and speaks fluent Mandarin and is well educated about the history and current issues that face Shanghai. Jamie not only shared her knowledge about the diverse bowls at each spot but she explored the history of the enclaves we explored down to the longtang (walled brick town house rows) with distinctive shikumen (stone frame gates) and siheyuan (courtyard) architecture.

Our first stop was a hole-in-the-wall called A Niang Noodles (36 Sinan Lu, near Nanchang Lu). At lunch time, the place is packed and lines form as locals wait for tables to open up (the case for all the noodle shops, which is why the tour is scheduled for 2:00). Not being able to see inside due to the heavy plastic vertical blinds hanging in the doorway, it’s the kind of place that tourists would not venture into. Their specialty is noodles with yellow croaker – a tiny local fish that can be eaten, bones and all. If you’re not into the bones, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a little pile of them on the table. The working ladies were having their lunch. Jamie took care of all the ordering and had brought napkins which aren’t provided by many restaurants in China. She transferred some noodles and fish into the smaller bowls and we ate a few bites – the noodles had a nice chewy texture but I wasn’t crazy about  the mushy fish.

Shanghai Noodle shop

Noodles with Yellow Croaker

Noodles with Yellow Croaker at A Niang Noodles, Shanghai

Our second stop: Wei Xiang Zhai (14 Yandang Lu, near Huaihai Lu) and Jamie forewarned me about their very poor air conditioning. The heat was stifling, but their noodles in an oily, spicy broth topped with peanut sauce was good. A popular restaurant with an open door making it  a little more inviting to passersby and an interior that has remained unchanged since the 1940’s.

Shanghai Noodle shop

Shanghai Noodle Tour-6632

Our third stop was even better – probably unintentional but there was a progression at least in my estimation of the food. Ding Te Le (Alley 22, 494 Huaihai Lu) was down an alley way and is open 24 hours. It sported a brightly painted terra cotta orange interior with an unusual floor plan of a tiny entrance, with a tiny upstairs dining area and a tiny lower level dining room.

Shanghai Noodle shop

Their noodles are what I was looking for: one dish had a spicy broth with spicy pork and green Asian vegetables and the other dish of room temperature noodles had fragrant wonderful umami flavors from deeply browned and crisped julienned scallions and strips of pork marinated in soy. Excellent – I would try to find this place again.

Shanghai noodle shop

The fourth and last noodle shop was Lanzhou Lamian (316 Nanchang Lu), a Muslim eatery where the noodles are handmade upon order, quickly dipped into a boiling cauldron that sits outside the entrance. Becoming an expert noodle maker takes years of practice and is impressive to see in action.

Muslim Noodle shop in Shanghai


Shanghai noodle shop - Lanzhou Lamian

Lamian is a type of Chinese noodle that is made by stretching and folding the dough into strands (called hand-pulled noodles). The repeated twisting and stretching is aided by the weight of the dough and, depending on the number of times the dough is folded, determines the length  and thickness of the strands. The hand pulled noodles we had were very wide ribbons that resembled pappardelle. They had a wonderful chewy texture and were served with tomato, chow fun, and fried egg. The noodle soup had a flavorful broth and is served with beef (no pork since it’s a Muslim shop) and lots of fresh cilantro, green onions and chiles.

We skipped the dessert stop – both of us have a preference for  savory over sweet, and I needed to get back to the hotel and prepare for that evening’s business dinner and the next round of culinary China :)

When traveling to Shanghai, I highly recommend contacting UnTourShanghai – besides the Oodles of Noodles tour, they offer a Street Eats Breakfast, Street Eats – Night Markets and a Dumpling Tour. I plan on doing the Night Markets tour on my next visit. You’re the best, Jamie!


7 Responses to “Oodles of Noodles in Shanghai”

  1. Ally's Kitchen September 2 at 1:30 pm #

    The history you give along w/these fabulous foods is just so intriguing, Priscilla…it’s a lot of work, and I appreciate it!

  2. reciperenovator September 3 at 5:41 pm #

    I LOVE your travel posts. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Ginny Minninger October 17 at 7:17 pm #

    I also had a wonderful experience with UnTour of Shanghai. Your article and accompanying photos beautifully described the former French Concession area of this eclectic city. We spent 3 months there recently and never tired of exploring new places. I highly recommend booking one of UnTour’s offerings. These folks are the best guides in the city!

  4. Marlene phelps November 3 at 1:34 pm #

    I truly enjoyed reading your blog about your noodle tour. Hope to read more of your travels and food. Makes me want to go to Shanghai.

    • Priscilla November 3 at 3:57 pm #

      Hi Marlene – thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment :) You made my day!

  5. duodishes July 2 at 8:06 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this detailed look into your noodle-eating afternoon. The last two stops sound like the winners!

    • Priscilla July 6 at 10:46 am #

      Hi Crystal – You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by. I hope to be able to find those two noodle houses again :)

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