Shanghai does not have a definitive cuisine of its own, but refines those of the surrounding provinces (mostly from adjacent Jiangsu and Zhejiang coastal provinces). What can be called Shanghai cuisine is epitomized by the use of alcohol. Fish, eel, crab, and chicken are "drunken" with spirits and are briskly cooked/steamed or served raw. Salted meats and preserved vegetables are also commonly used to spice up the dish.
The use of sugar is common in Shanghainese cuisine and, especially when used in combination with soy sauce, effuses foods and sauces with a taste that is not so much sweet but rather savory. Non-natives tend to have difficulty identifying this usage of sugar and are often surprised when told of the "secret ingredient." The most notable dish of this type of cooking is "sweet and sour spare ribs" ("tangcu xiaopai" in Shanghainese).
"Red cooking" is a popular style of stewing meats and vegetables associated with Shanghai.
"Beggar's Chicken" is a legendary dish of Beijing origin, called "jiaohua ji" in the Shanghainese dialect, wrapped in lotus leaves and covered in clay. Though usually prepared in ovens, the original and historic preparation involved cooking in the ground. The lion's head meatball and Shanghai-style nian gao are also uniquely Shanghainese, as are Shanghai fried noodles, a regional variant of chow mein that is made with Shanghai-style thick noodle. Lime-and-ginger-flavoured thousand-year eggs and stinky tofu are other popular Shanghainese food items.
Facing the East China Sea, seafood in Shanghai is very popular. However, due to its location among the rivers, lakes, and canals of the Yangtze Delta, locals favor freshwater produce just as much as saltwater products like crabs, oysters, and seaweed. The most famous local delicacy is Shanghai hairy crab.
Shanghainese people are known to eat in delicate portions (which makes them a target of mockery from other Chinese), and hence the servings are usually quite small. For example, famous buns from Shanghai such as the xiaolong mantou (known as xiaolongbao in Mandarin) and the shengjian mantou are usually about four centimetres in diameter, much smaller than the typical baozi or mantou elsewhere.
Due to the rapid growth of Shanghai and its development into one of the foremost East Asian cities as a center of both finance and contemporary culture, the future of Shanghai cuisine looks very promising.
Unlike Cantonese or Mandarin cuisine, Shanghainese restaurant menus will sometimes have a dessert section.