It’s been challenging, but also fun, researching restaurants in Shanghai. (Though I was sorry to find out that the Great World, the city’s legendary, notoriously wild multi-story amusement arcade, is now closed after somehow surviving from the 1920s well into Communist times. If it were still open, I’d have found a way to write about the eating there.)
One of the challenges has been simply finding out what’s on the menu. Many restaurants in Shanghai have either no website, or one that’s usually down, or a site without a menu. And imagine what it’s like when you’re actually there — you may find yourself looking at a menu that has no English, or worse, no pictures. So for my final restaurant, I chose a place that doesn’t have any menu.
That’s right. At Chun, whose name means Spring, they just cook whatever’s fresh and in season. After you’re seated at one of the four tables, according to the blog jinlovestoeat.com, the hostess asks about your tastes and then tells you what you’re going to get. SmartShanghai.com calls it “home-style Shanghai cuisine” and gives examples of “red-braised pomfret, duck leg with with sweet soy and pork stuffed snails.” National Geographic.com also mentions “juicy flash-fried river prawns, fatty pork shank, local vegetables.” Maybe if you want a better idea what to expect, you should have a look at what’s in the local markets that day.
To add to the adventure, the staff doesn’t speak any English, according to Smart Shanghai. You’ll need to bring someone who knows at least some Mandarin, or fall back on pointing to whatever looks good on someone else’s table. A Mandarin speaker will be required anyway to help you make reservations, which are essential with Chun’s small size and big reputation. (At a similar nearby restaurant, Lan Xin, overflow diners from the main room are seated upstairs in what is apparently someone’s living room/bedroom, Smart Shanghai reports.)
Eating at Chun may not be hassle-free, but after recommending several restaurants that specialize in dishes from other regions, I wanted to — finally — find one that was authentically Shanghainese. Besides, it’s at these hole-in-the-wall restaurants that you find not only a city’s real food, but its real culture too.
Chun is at 124 Jinxian Lu, on the borders of the French Concession. It’s open Monday through Saturday, from 11:15 AM to 1:30 PM and 5:15 PM to 8:30 PM. Prices are at the low end of the scale.
Editor’s Note: Having an authentic meal is definitely on the list for a family vacation, even when on a budget. For some other budget-friendly family fun while in Shanghai, check out these great ideas.