Bike Tour Around Shanghai's Former French Concession

A few weeks ago I collaborated with the good folks over at over at More Native Than The Natives to create a bike tour of my favorite spots in our old neighborhood of the Former French Concession in Shanghai. Chinese food in China is very different from what you've seen at "Chinese Restaurants"abroad; read on to find out more about how to order properly and which dishes are not to be missed! 

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The shared bikes popping up everywhere are my preferred mode of transportation around Shanghai & are especially well suited to explore my old neighborhood of the former french concession. Here is a map of some of my favorite spots around the area and also some of the places I went back to one last time before leaving Shanghai. These are all must-sees whether you're a die-hard shanghai convert with friends coming to visit or it's your first time discovering the city. 

1-   Start out early wandering through the hidden nooks & crannies of Jing’An Park. If you’re lucky you’ll see elders practicing tai qi or playing mahjong

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2-   Continue on to Jing’An Temple & admire the contrast between the traditional temple architecture and surrounding modern skyscrapers. I’ve always felt like it’s a metaphor of today’s China, which embraces extremes of every aspect.

3-   Turn left on Nanjing Road when exiting the temple and head to Shanghai Center (aka Portman) where you’ll find one of the branches of DIN TAI FUNG  at the far left corner for lunch. DTF is one of my (and many of my friends’) favorite restaurants. It’s a Taiwanese chain but their specialty “xiao long bao” (aka soupy dumplings) are actually a Shanghainese specialty and are to die for! Xiao long Bao are a type of steamed dumpling with paper-thin skin filled with broth and stuffing (I’m practically drooling just thinking of them).  You can admire the cooks hard at work through a window at the entrance; I’m always amazed at how fast they go!

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As for most Chinese restaurants, dishes are shared and one person usually orders for the whole table, so you can end up loving or hating a restaurant depending on who is placing the order. Don’t fret, it is 100% socially acceptable to order by pointing at pictures in the menu (even locals often order this way). As a rule of thumb count 1 dish per person + an extra 1-2 dishes (ie 3-4 dishes for a table of 2, 4-5 dishes for a table of 3..). Dish recommendations:

Obviously Xiao Long Bao are not to be missed- Pork is the traditional filling but the prawn and crab are also good, my absolute favorite if you’re willing to splurge a bit are the truffle and pork… I have no words to describe these, they’re amazing! – A word of warning, when eating the piping hot dumplings it’s easiest to eat them with a spoon (not to waste any delicious broth) and bite off a small piece of dough first to let the steam out.

Veggie wise I’m obsessed with the cold spicy cucumber plate, the stir fried cabbage & bacon, and the garlic fried spinach.

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4-   Exit Shanghai center to the right, head south on Changde Road, cross under the airborne highway down Fumin Road and turn right on Julu Road. More and more small designer shops have been popping up all around this area, known by the foreigners or “Laowai” as the Former French Concession. It’s full of charming back alleys of traditional Shanghainese-style housing called “Lane Houses”. Wander through these maze-like neighborhoods when you spot them, they’re full of unexpected gems and typical scenes of Shanghainese life (like people walking around outside in their pyjamas,). If you’re not intrigued by the xiao long bao at DTF, XIBO is another of my favorite Chinese restaurants from the province of Xinjiang, near Kyrgyzstan, there’s a distinct middle eastern influence to this cuisine. It’s very different than what we tend to think of as Chinese food. Try the lamb shanks, the grilled bread, the Xinjiang style fried rice and meat pies.

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Follow the trail on the map to Anfu Road, one of the cutest and trendiest streets in Shanghai full of cafés and independent boutiques, a great place to stop for coffee or desert.

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5-   Continue wandering through Wuyuan, Huating & Changle roads. Venture deep into the lane house on your right on Changle Road and all the way at the end when you think you’ve gone too far you’ll find a gorgeous shop showcasing traditional Chinese style batik and ethnic craft from southern China. On Fumin road be sure to peek in Madame Mao’s Dowry, a shop full of communist-era vintage and local designer goods. If you have a sweet tooth, ice cream at Mandi Mandi is homemade & delicious.

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 Scene from a local park

Scene from a local park

6-   Turn right on Julu lu and continue exploring the lane houses and turn right on Maoming road. All around the FFC you can spot reminants of Art Deco architecture, one of my favorites being the old Cathay movie theatre at the intersection of Maoming & HuaiHai Roads. Loop down through the lovely Fuxing road, then turn right on XiangYang Road and stop to take a break at XiangYang Park. If you arrive around the end of the day you’ll find the park bustling with life, in particular elders dancing in unison at the entrance of the park.

7-   Make your way to “Found 158” (also known amongst many expats as “Laowai Park” since this video went viral) a great place to stop for a well-deserved happy hour drink.

8-   Head to the nearby Southern Barbarian for dinner. This place specializes in Yunnan cuisine (a region near Thailand) another favorite of mine and also very different from what we think of as Chinese food. My recommendations of must try dishes are the spicy mint salad, smoked eggplant and tomato salad, fried goat cheese, grilled mushrooms wrapped in banana leaf, grandmother style mashed potatoes and bbq chicken wings. For the more adventurous type they also serve fried insects, which to be honest, don’t taste like much…

9-   Next head back to the intersection of XiangYang & Julu Roads where under the same roof you’ll find both KungFu Komedy Club & Kartel. I really recommend booking one of KFK’s shows which give a unique view of what it’s like to live in Shanghai as a foreigner, not to mention affordable and entertaining. Afterwards head up to Kartel’s rooftop bar (only open in the summer) for one of the most under-rated views of the city.

10-    If you’ve still got it in you, head to YY (aka Yin Yang), one of Shanghai’s oldest bars, it’s very low key, and usually not very busy but this place is worth a visit for the prohibition/communist vibe decor alone, not to mention the friendly owner who’s always keen to chat. Fun fact, the bar which is now in the basement used to be upstairs, when they were forced to move, the owner recreated the bar exactly as is, down to the windows which now have mirrors instead of glass panes.

Of course the FFC is only one neighborhood of many to be discovered in Shanghai! Would you like to see guides of more neighborhoods or cities? let me know in the comments below!

Pppsstt- Love traveling? Check out my other travel journal entries!