Cheap food abounds in Shanghai, but it’s not always in places you’d want to eat in. Another challenge is finding restaurants that are tourist-friendly but still reasonably authentic. To add to the confusion, online resources all seem to have different opinions on the best way to get good, clean, cheap food.
Possibly the best recommendation I’ve come across was in this Culinary Backstreets article by Jamie Barys: Tao Heung, a popular new dim sum restaurant in the IAPM shopping mall. (Malls in general are a good place to start, says an article on TripAdvisor, because they “offer the best value for the money in dining for visitors, and the sanitary standards are generally high. Here, you can spend as little as US $2 for a filling meal.”)
Tao Heung, like the IAPM mall that hosts it, is an import from Hong Kong. So you won’t be eating Shanghainese food there, though it is still authentic Chinese. Dim sum, of course, consists of lots of small dishes of widely assorted food. Jamie Barys says “Dishes are unbeatably cheap,” going on to say “None of these dishes costs more than 25 RMB (and some go for as little as 8 RMB on weekday specials.” Oh, and it’s all very good.
It’s also very efficient. You have the option of looking at a visual menu on a touchscreen and printing out your order to give to the staff. (This makes our local dim sum house — where the waitresses push carts around the room and you take what looks good — sound quaintly old fashioned.)
Choices at Tao Heung include everything from shrimp dumplings to steamed chicken’s feet.
You’ll find the restaurant at unit 301 in the IAPM Mall, 999 Huaihai Zhong Lu, in what is sometimes still called the French Concession.
If you don’t happen to be in that part of the city, fast food is another option. Although the most popular fast food chain in China is Kentucky Fried Chicken, the homegrown chains are gaining on it (according to a 2014 China Daily article). One of the most popular is Gll Wonton. True, the fast food dumplings are all made at company headquarters and shipped, frozen, to the outlets, but they’re also cheap, filling, and always available. Kung Fu Catering is another fast food chain — just look for the picture of Bruce Lee. Finally, for a place with minimal frills but freshly made dumplings, try one of the several Liu Family Harbin Dumplings locations.
Editor’s Note: While out and about, check out these ideas for romantic places to see while in Shanghai.