Shanghai Dumplings: Your Ultimate 2023 Guide To Must-Eat Treats

Exploring the Delightful (and Delicious) World of Shanghai Dumplings

Dumplings: without a doubt, one of the foods you must try when visiting Shanghai or China in general.

But what exactly are Shanghai dumplings? Are they different to other Chinese dumplings? Why should you try them?

By the end of this article, you’ll have all the answers you need and more. So grab your chopsticks and let’s dive down the dumpling rabbit hole!

Shanghai Dumplings || What are they?

Shanghai Dumplings || Xiǎolóngbāo 小笼包

Shanghai Dumplings || Shēngjiānbāo 生煎包

Shanghai Dumplings || Shāomai 烧卖

Shanghai Dumplings || FAQs

Shanghai Dumplings – What are they?

Shanghai is a foodie’s paradise, and one of its most famous culinary delights is the humble dumpling.

First of all, let’s delve into the history of dumplings in Shanghai.

The city has a rich culinary heritage, and dumplings have been a favorite food here for centuries. The earliest forms of dumplings can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), when they were served as a kind of medicinal food.

Over time, dumplings became a staple of Chinese cuisine, with each region developing its own unique flavors and cooking techniques.

Chinese Food Therapy 食疗 shí liáo // A Beginner's Guide Thumbnail

Chinese Food Therapy 食疗 shí liáo // A Beginner’s Guide

What is Chinese Food Therapy? There are many things to love about living in China, and one of them is of course, the food (see below)! There seem to be an unlimited amount of food options in China. Shanghai alone…

LTL students making jiaozi in Chengde

The most typical example of Chinese dumplings are probably jiǎozi 饺子 – a dumpling with a meat or vegetable filling with a wrapping of thin pastry, usually steamed, boiled or pan fried.

In China, it’s traditional to make and eat jiaozi as a family on Chinese New Year’s Eve

Although this type of dumpling can be found all over China and even in other parts of East Asia, they are most commonly eaten in northern China. 

Heading south to Shanghai, dumplings can take on quite a different style to their northern cousins.

In the rest of the article we’ll discover our top 3 types of dumpling which are commonly thought of as Shanghai-style.

Shanghai Dumplings – Xiǎolóngbāo 小笼包

Shanghai Chinese dumplings – Xiao Long Bao

In Shanghai, the most famous type of dumpling is the xiaolongbao.

Usually served in a small basket, these small, steamed buns are typically filled with minced pork or crab meat, and they’re bursting with savory broth.

To eat them, diners carefully pick up the dumpling with chopsticks, bite a small hole in the top, and suck out the broth before eating the rest of the dumpling.

Abroad, these dumplings are often referred to as ‘Shanghai Xiaolongbao’ or ‘soup dumplings’.

However, soup dumplings aren’t actually from Shanghai. In China, they’re sometimes called “Hangzhou Xiaolongbao”. Hangzhou is another city southwest of Shanghai!

10 Must Try Shanghainese Foods 🍜 Your Complete Guide Thumbnail

10 Must Try Shanghainese Foods 🍜 Your Complete Guide

Chinese food is so diverse that it’s really difficult to say what’s best, so we’ve diluted it down. Here are the top 10 best Shanghainese food dishes.

Though the exact origin of these small, soupy buns are up for a debate, what seems clear is that soup dumplings originate from the 江浙沪 Jiāngzhèhù part of China (Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang).

Very tasty xiaolongbao can be found in this area!

You might also see xiaolongbao up northern in cities like Beijing and Tianjin, though the quality is not always the same as the authentic Jiāngzhèhù kind.

Up north, xiaolongbao tend to have fluffier buns and less juice-y. One of the delights of eating a good xiaolongbao is trying to carefully drink up the hot soup out of the dumpling before eating the rest in one bite.

Good luck and maybe bring some napkins!

Fancy making your own Shanghai dumplings?

Shanghai Dumplings – Shēngjiānbāo 生煎包

Shanghai dumplings – Sheng Jian Bao

Shengjianbao is one of Shanghai’s most common breakfast foods, and it has been since the early 1900s.

These beautifully pan fried pork buns are delicious, and really fit the bill of falling into the bracket of ‘Shanghai dumplings’.

Eating shengjianbao is another situation in which probably requires a napkin or two until you’re well-practised at eating them.

Like xiaolongbao, these pan fried buns have a pork and soupy filling.

In this case, the dumpling skin is thicker, with a crispier crust on the bottom and a thinner crust on top.

The buns are lined up in an oiled pan, as you can see in the photo below.

They are usually sprinkled with spring onion and/or sesame seeds during cooking. Both xiaolongbao and shengjian can be served with vinegar for dipping. Extremely tasty!

Shēng jiān bāo - the Cooking Process
Shengjianbao: the cooking process!

You can also find shengjianbao outside of the Jiangzhe area, but they much less common. In Shanghai, these are sometimes also referred to as 生煎馒头 (shēngjiānmántou).

In Shanghai, the word mántou can be used to refer to both filled and unfilled buns.

In the rest of China, the word 馒头 mántou specifically refers to unfilled buns, and 包 bāo or 包子 bāozi are filled buns.

Living as a Veggie in China // Top 6 Vegetarian Street Foods Thumbnail

Living as a Veggie in China // Top 6 Vegetarian Street Foods

Worried about being a vegetarian in China? Don’t be, China is the giver of some of the best vegetarian street food there is. Check out our top 6.

Shanghai Dumplings – Shāomai 烧卖

Shaomai are very different to the previous two soupy, Shanghai dumplings, but they are also a common find when scouring the Shanghai streets for a breakfast treat. 

What they lack in soup they make up for in glutinous, rice-y goodness.

Shaomai come in varying forms across China, though they originally hail from Inner Mongolia.

Breakfast in Shanghai // Discover The Sumptuous Shao Mai Thumbnail

Breakfast in Shanghai // Discover The Sumptuous Shao Mai

What is Shumai? Shao Mai (烧卖), also known as Shumai, is a popular savory breakfast in Shanghai. You can think of them as dumplings with an open top.

One of the most commonly know variations is the ‘Shumai’ or ‘siumaai’, which you would find in Hong Kong.

In Cantonese cuisine, a siumaai usually consists of a pork and shrimp mixture.

Siumaai’s wrapping is made from a thin layer of lye water dough, which is often bright yellow in colour.

These dumplings are usually seasoned with rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, chicken stock, and either an orange dot of crab roe or diced carrot.


The Shanghai variation is quite different from this Hong Kong or Guangdong ‘siumaai’.

For the filling, Shanghai shaomai uses a mixture of glutinous rice, pork mince, mushroom, and onion. The outside pastry is quite thin, close to the xiaolongbao style casing.

These dumplings are usually steamed.

Shao Mai - Beautiful!
Shao Mai – Beautiful!

All three of these Shanghai-style dumplings are pretty essential tasting when it comes to Shanghai cuisine.

You can usually find all three of them at small stalls across the city, especially around breakfast time. (Some of them are traditional breakfast foods in Taiwan too!)

Just keep your eyes peeled for the towers of steaming baskets.

A quick note for vegetarians: the traditional filling for these dumplings does contain pork.

Though they might not be on every corner, it is possible to find vegetarian versions of all of three around and about Shanghai.

Happy Eating and let us know which is your favourite!

Whether you’re a longtime fan of dumplings or a newcomer to Shanghai cuisine, there’s no better way to experience the city’s culinary scene than by sampling its many varieties of dumplings.

So grab some chopsticks, find a cozy restaurant, and enjoy the delightful world of dumplings in Shanghai.

Check out some other food related blogs from us!

How to Make Dumplings

Why not have a go at making dumplings yourself? With our Five Step Guide it couldn’t be any easier!

Baozi vs Jiaozi

Find out what the real differences are between baozi and jiaozi with our ultimate guide!

Yunnan Food Guide

Explore even more types of Chinese food with our list of the must try Yunnan dishes.

Shanghai Dumplings || FAQs

What is a Dumpling?

A Dumpling is a broad classification for a type of food that consists of dough wrapped around a filling such as meat or vegetables.

Does China have many types of Dumpling?

Yes, dumplings are China are very broad. You can have them steamed, fried, boiled and with meat, vegetables or even fruit/chocolate or cheese inside.

Where can I buy dumplings in China?

Dumplings are readily available all over China whether it be in a big chain restaurants like Din Tai Feng, or small side street shops. There are even street vendors that sell all different kinds so you will never be short of dumplings in China or Shanghai.

What are soup dumplings called?

In Chinese, soup dumplings are called 小笼包 (xiǎolóngbāo).

Want more from LTL?

If you wish to hear more from LTL Mandarin School why not join our mailing list.

We give plenty of handy information on learning Chinese, useful apps to learn the language and everything going on at our LTL schools!

Sign up below and become part of our ever-growing community!

BONUS | Want to study the local dialect known as Shanghainese? We provide Shanghainese Classes in person and online.



Leave a Reply

You will get a reply from us
Your email address will not be published. Name and Email are required.

  1. Plants in Chinese - LTL Shanghai Mandarin School

    […] in China. Chopsticks, firecrackers, scaffolding, paper, you name it, it’s even used in Chinese cuisine. Bamboo is a very common feature in traditional Chinese paintings, and in art it has come to […]

  2. Top 3 Things to do in Beijing during Chinese New Year - LTL Mandarin School

    […] from being delicious, it’s a Chinese tradition to make and eat dumplings on new years […]

  3. Food in Taiwan: Taiwanese Food You Simply Have To Try - LTL Taiwan

    […] Shanghai Dumplings – The Ultimate Guide […]

  4. Chinese New Year Do's and Don'ts - Things You Have To Know

    […] being little morsels of deliciousness, it is believed that the Chinese word for dumplings, “jiao zi”, is similar to the ancient word for replacing the […]

  5. Places to Visit Outside Shanghai : Hangzhou - LTL's Guide

    […] After your weekend trip from Shanghai make sure you try out some Shanghai local delicacies too like Shanghai hairy crabs or Shanghai dumplings. […]

  6. Business Trip to China - Martin's Story - LTL Beijing Mandarin School

    […] night was simple, different, tasty, authentic – incredible dumplings, fish, pork, noodles or rice dishes. Meals were totally relaxed with the rest of the family around […]

  7. Shanghai Jewish Ghetto - History Of Shanghai’s Jewish district - Explore Shanghai

    […] Kaifeng (开封), which has had a Jewish population of at least a millennium. Be sure to check out Shanghai’s Dumplings after your day exploring the Shanghai Jewish […]

  8. 3 Days in Shanghai - Ultimate And Complete Guide On Where To Go in Shanghai

    […] is known for its dumplings, a huge variety of them at […]

  9. Vegetarian Street Food in China You Cannot Miss - 6 Of The Best

    […] find noodles or potatoes inside a bun, but these fillings are actually extremely flavoursome! The soft, fluffy bun and savoury stuffing make a fantastic snack or […]

  10. A Day in the Life of a Student at LTL Beihai : Chris' Story

    […] return home in time for dinner. A meal of dumplings, pork and rice fit for a […]

  11. How to use Taobao (2020) - The Complete Go To Guide

    […] Food, clothing, customized dog bowl, books, and basically anything you can think of can be found here and delivered straight to your door usually within a few days, and usually with free delivery (Think Amazon Prime on steroids!)  […]

  12. Being a Chinese American in China (in 2020) - What's the Truth?

    […] also mashed potatoes, cōng yóubǐng (葱油饼, scallion pancakes) alongside raisin bread, and jiǎozi 饺子 (dumplings) as well as apple […]

  13. Chinese New Year in China: Noah's Story Living with a Chinese Family

    […] ate loads of vegetables, spring rolls, rice, dumplings and for the all the non-vegetarians there was plenty of meat like beef, chicken and […]

  14. Are wonton dumplings as well?

    1. Angela

      Hi Amy,

      Wontons are a type of dumplings, yes!

      Shanghai’s wontons are special for a few reasons. Firstly, Shanghai wontons are usually separated into two categories: big (大馄饨) and small (小馄饨). People eat big wontons for the wontons (there’s more filling) and eat small wontons for the soup. Secondly, the filling of Shanghai wontons are usually composed of pork, shrimp, and a type of wild vegetable.

      If you get the chance, you should definitely try them!


  15. Pizza in Beijing // The Ultimate List of Beijing's Top 13 Pizzas (in 2021)

    […] calzone or 大饺子 dà jiǎozi (big dumpling) as some of the LTL staff like to call it is a must try, and for only 10 RMB more you can upgrade […]