Are you new to Shanghai and struggling to find anything healthy you are used to? Then look no further! I have compiled a little guide to my favorite places to shop and eat. It’s part of the tips I give to any new person I meet in Shanghai, so I thought I may as well write it up as a blog post :-)
Use your Shanghai time to go back to the basics
First of all, think of moving to Shanghai as a time to learning the basics again. At home, we often rely on convenience products - mostly processed ones - to get us through the week of cooking and feeding ourselves and our families. When coming to Shanghai, you realize that there are many products simply not available here or are so expensive that it hurts you to pay at the cashier after a quick shopping stroll. Use your time in Shanghai wisely to learn the basics of some pantry staples and to get creative in the kitchen. If you hardly ever cooked before, then congratulations, this is your time to step up to the chopping board and lose all inhibitions in the kitchen.
Some of the things you may want to learn to make from scratch here:
nut butters and milks
batch cooking for frozen meals
hummus and other dips with veggie sticks
energy bars or balls
your own bread or baked goods
To get started in your kitchen, there are just a few essentials you may want to get to make your home preparation life easier. Amongst these essentials are:
a good, sharp kitchen knife
2 chopping boards
food processor and/or blender
small, medium, and large pots and pans
2 strainers (metal or plastic): one with smaller and one with bigger holes
Drinking water quality
To take your mind off some of the obvious things in China, let’s talk water pollution right away. Yes, the water we get in Shanghai from the tap is not the healthiest. Tap water in Shanghai comes from the Huangpu and Yangtze rivers. Since China has some of the most contaminated natural water resources in the world, that is not very reassuring. The water is then treated in filtration centers before ending up in your faucet.
The main contaminants in tap water:
Old lead pipes in some of the buildings leave heavy metal and rust residue in your water. Lead is extremely poisonous as it causes organ dysfunctions and blood disorders. Other heavy metals in tap water include mercury, chromium, copper, and aluminium.
Chlorine and some of its byproducts (like trihalomethanes) can be found in extreme dosages in Shanghai water. These are known carcinogens when ingested. And don’t forget that it can also dry out your skin, hair, and cause aging of your skin. Inhaling too much of it can cause asthma.
Nitrates are washed into the rivers from the farming industry where an excess of pesticides and herbicides is used. While our bodies can withstand quite a severe amount, if we are exposed to it longterm (as in living with it daily), headaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing can be the first symptoms.
Different kinds of bacteria and virus strains often contaminate the water at the filtration centers. You will have probably already experienced your first “food poisoning” or gastro infection here - that is exactly where it comes from.
If you are going to be cooking a lot, you may want to think about reducing your exposure to these contaminants. There are several store bought water options or filtration systems you can use:
Drink and cook only with bottled water: you may not be keen on buying so much bottled water for the environment and also do consider the leaking of the plastic and its softeners into the water.
Big bottles with water dispenser: these are the most common ones you will find in China, and are often in all apartments when you first move in. However, be aware that these big water bottles can often just be filled with tap water, there is no way to check.
Brita filter: this is the easiest water filter, since it’s not a big investment. The amount of water you can filter (around 1 - 2 liters) is not a lot, but enough to get by. Just make sure you change the filters regularly enough. Available at City Super and World Health Store (see below).
Bigger filtration systems: Aquasana, Canature filters, and Greenwave all need to be installed in your kitchen either directly to your tap or with an extra tap. The filter needs to be changed regularly as well, but most of the companies provide a service to come and change it or you can get refill cartridges yourself. For big amounts of water, these are the way to go, plus they really get out all the nasties. You can even get some to install to your main water supply in order to filter all your water - meaning also bathroom taps. This is great, since the contaminants do soak in through the skin as well.
Health food shopping essentials
When it comes to grocery shopping in Shanghai, most newbies complain about how many days they spend running around to all these different places in order to get everything they need just for one meal or one week worth of groceries. And yes, I completely agree, that can be a complete nuisance. However, learning how to shop a little bit more smartly can help with this. Here are my favorite places to get the majority of everything I need:
274 Wulumuqi Lu, near Wuyuan Lu
The one and only! If you have not taken a trip to this tiny fruit and vegetable stall on Wulumuqi Lu, then now is the time. You can pretty much find anything imported (and a lot of local goodies) for decent prices. The avocado lady is an institution and pretty much always the answer to “where did you find this?”. Stock up on natural nuts and seeds while you are there, find the freshest herbs in town, and the cheapest extra virgin olive and coconut oil. Make sure to go throughout the week - on the weekends this place is overrun with everyone you know!
This is where I do the majority of my shopping. The produce is by far the freshest in town, because of the high turn over rate. The avocados are sublime for all my raw food endeavors, and it's one of the only places for fresh Western kale.
Both have various locations around town
Although they sound so similar, these are very different chains. You can find imported packaged foods here like breakfast cereals, baking essentials, sauces and dressings - if you are willing to pay the price. I am always shocked with how little I walk out with, while spending so much! I only buy very special things here I can’t find anywhere else: maybe a specific spice, gluten free flour or special imported fruit and veggies.
An online grocer with all things health related. Find a whole site dedicated to superfoods, fresh (organic) produce, versatile spices, and a large selection of dried grains and beans. There is also a new selection of ready made salads, dips, soups, and other delicious treats. Plus find Lizzy’s smoothies here (see below). This is my go to place for cacao nibs, chlorella tablets, and unique cold pressed oils.
Two other online grocers I personally don’t use very often as the quality of produce and customer service really varies. But you can find a lot more general pantry staples and household goods here than you can on Kate and Kimi.
Anken Life, Shop S9A, 1st Floor (back lane), 667 Changhua Lu, near Anyuan Lu
In case you are a huge smoothie and juice fan but do not have your own equipment at home to make these healthy concoctions, check out Lizzy’s. Run by a holistic health coach, it is one of the only places in Shanghai you can get smoothies and juices, which are actually balanced in nutrients for optimal health benefits - rather than just flashy colors and nice taste. Although Lizzy’s definitely doesn't lack any taste! Order them directly from her site, visit her flagship store at Anken Green or order through Kate and Kimi (see above).
Both have various locations around town
In case you are looking for very specific health products, these two places may be your lucky finds. WHS stocks protein powders, lots of vitamins, and other supplements. Sprout Lifestyle on the other hand has a big selection of superfoods and a small cafe for healthy, vegan, gluten free, and raw food finds. They also offer healthy food workshops.
Healthy eating out
If you are used to plenty of health food cafes back home, you may initially be disappointed here in Shanghai. While there are places to get healthy dishes, I often find it a waste of a meal to go out when I could just be making something nicer at home. But of course I understand that that is not always possible: work obligations, school runs, out of town guests, and general Shanghai busyness can get in the way of preparing something healthy and delicious at home. Here are the places I fall back on often enough:
A quick word on MSG
Excess oil, salt, and sugar are common when eating out anywhere in the world. In China, you can add MSG to the top of that list. No matter if you eat in Chinese restaurants or Western places, you can be sure that 99% of everywhere you eat out uses MSG.
MSG is short for mono sodium glutamate. It is a flavor enhancer, making everything taste stronger and more delicious, giving a meaty, savory taste. While some people are completely against it, they forget that MSG actually occurs naturally in plenty of foods: mushrooms, tomatoes, cheeses, and other dairy products.
Although food industries around the world call MSG safe, there are people who are extremely sensitive to it: headaches, dizziness, water retention, bloating, and a cloudy mind can all be side effects of MSG. People often react to MSG only after a certain dosage. If we have it once in a while, it may not cause any problems, but if we get exposed to it at every meal, it may just make us feel generally uncomfortable. I often make clients very aware of the ubiquitous use of MSG, since I believe it is one of the main reasons newbies put on the common Shanghai 10 in the first few months here!
Green & Safe:
6 Dongping Lu, near Hengshan Lu
A boring name, but a cute cafe and shop where their own organic produce is being sold. The bakery section has spelt products (otherwise unheard of in Shanghai!!!), and the selection of high quality nut and seed oils is outstanding. The cafe itself changes its menu seasonally with fresh salads, pastas, roasts, and sandwiches. It is definitely one of my favorite places to stop by for a fresh meal. And while you’re there, check out the unique chocolate selection for all of you with a sweet tooth!
Various locations around town
One of the first pure vegetarian restaurants in Shanghai, Pure & Whole is always a good choice when it comes to fresh, wholesome food. While some of the dishes may seem more exciting on the menu, there are definitely a few things I really love: the dip selection is by far the biggest in Shanghai! If you crave a vegetarian burger, this is the place to go. The salads include some special whole grains you don’t see on menus every day. And the raw apple cake is one of my favorite desserts in town!
57 Fuxing Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu
A small cafe and wine place on Fuxing Lu. The food is a mix of Western salads, Middle Eastern appetizer favorites, Italian pastas, and Asian stir fries. The hummus is definitely one of the best in town, and you can even buy it to take home. I simply love the calm atmosphere and the fact that is not as overrun as some other places.
308 Anfu Road, near Wukang Lu
The newest addition to the health food scene in Shanghai, Hunter Gatherer has their own farms from which they make the majority of their dishes. You can buy the produce, as well as freshly made almond and peanut butter, speciality sauces and dressings, and lots of gluten free snacks. The cafe section has set dishes that don’t change too often. You can choose your base (rice, noodles, salad), add a protein, and veggie side dishes. In general, everything is very tasty, and washing it down with one of their signature drinks is a must. In the summer time I always go for the QQ Basilade, in the winter I love their Apple, Spice, and Everything Nice. Recently they have added an entire baked goods and dessert stand: tasty, but sadly not very healthy options.
428 Madang Lu, near Hefei Lu
My favorite place for vegan Chinese food. Although sometimes the food can be quite oily, some of the dishes are simply beautiful and creative. Try the shepherd’s pockets, the little veggie parcels in tofu skin, and their creamy curry with brown rice!
Various locations around town
If you have walked around your neighborhood, you may have already bumped into a Wagas or one of the massive empire’s other restaurants: Baker & Spice, Henkes, Mr Willis, La Strada, etc. Known for a good salad and sandwich selection, some juices and smoothies, plus delicious pastries, this is an easy go-to spot when you need something quickly. I love the Wagas salad, I always take one away to bring on an airplane with me when I travel and didn’t have time to prep and snacks.
I hope this helps to settle into the wonderful city so many of us call home for a while. If you have any other questions about what to find where in Shanghai, please feel free to contact me anytime!!!