Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’: Satisfying Pumpkin Cravings For All Budgets

By Sophie Steiner, October 30, 2020

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Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’ is where we take a deep dive into a certain dish or food fad, one by one, creating a guide for where to sample the best (and sometimes worst) of them, all around the city and for any and every budget.

After visiting four different Starbucks and calling more via Elema, we can, in fact, confirm that Shanghai has yet again said goodbye to the OG Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte until next season. To be completely honest, we aren’t the biggest fans of that lukewarm, semi-burnt coffee smothered in saccharine, over-foamed whipped cream, but to score that pumpkin fix, we have been known to sacrifice far more. Looking for our next pumpkin hit, we scoured the city, uncovering pumpkin in every possible shape and form, including a reservation-only pumpkin patch for KOL wannabes. Slip on those glass slippers and buckle up Cinderella, because this carriage is about to take you to your pumpkin prince.  

Bargain (RMB1-30)

Chinese Bakery Goods (RMB1-3)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On many street corners and in the baked goods section of larger wet markets, seeking out a Pumpkin Cookie (nangua bing 南瓜饼) is worth skipping your regular Hema grocery order for (and it’s time to stretch those Chinese language skills with some personal interaction anyway). Like a fried pumpkin-flavored Oreo stuffed with gooey roasted pumpkin, these pumpkin bombs will set you back less than the cost of a metro ride. Although they are equal parts pumpkin and oil, we do concede that is the optimal ratio for Chinese winter desserts. 

O’Mill’s (RMB13) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

O’Mills Pumpkin Scones are buttery, flaky and light – three adjectives that describe a textbook perfect scone. Delicately sweet with a hint of fall spices, these fluffy bread bites pair expertly with a hot coffee in the morning or as a dessert with tea at night. Make sure to carve out some time from your busy schedule for the most important person in your life – you. 

BreadTalk (RMB 15 for one, comes in a set of two)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

BreadTalk’s Pumpkin Lantern Muffin is available in chocolate and vanilla, which should have been the first hint – why is the flavor not just pumpkin? The muffin itself is dry with buttercream frosting that tastes more like butter than anything else, leaving a not-so-pleasant film on your tongue. 

BreadTalk, like 85 Degrees or any of those other garbage bakeries, have so many colorful, enticing looking pastries that somehow all taste the same – like a semi-sweet puffy ball of nothing. If there’s pork floss on at least a third of the pastries on offer, that is a telltale sign that a place is what we have deemed a trap bakery. Avoid these at all costs. 

Back to the task at hand, evaluating these not-so-pumpkiny muffins, which we later realized was due to the fact that it’s called “pumpkin lantern” – we  can only assume that the pumpkin aspect is thus relating to the shape of said muffin rather than the flavor. What the hell is a pumpkin lantern? Sounds like a trap that only would be pulled by a trap bakery. Case in point. 

Strictly Cookies (RMB22) 

Image courtesy of Strictly Cookies

Strictly Cookies has done it again with their November cookie of the month, Pumpkin Spice Cookie. Made with freshly roasted pumpkin and seasonal spices like cloves and nutmeg, this warming treat is ideal for fall. They will also be selling small tubs of cream cheese frosting for those looking to really dive into decadence. Make sure to snag it before the end of the month, or you will have to wait until next November. Do note that while the cookie does appear to be somewhat undercooked, we realized this is just the result of the pumpkin first being roasted and then baked. It’s just pumpkin being pumpkin. 

Dutch Pies (RMB26/slice, RMB198 for a large pie, RMB288 for an XL pie) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

It’s not a pumpkin article without a Pumpkin Pie, and Dutch Pies’ is one of our favorites in the city. Simple, yet classic, it delivers on everything that a pumpkin pie should – a tender, flaky crust and a gently spiced, dense pumpkin filling that doesn’t crack as it cools. Snag a slice for a snack at their store location in Jing’an or get an entire pie delivered via Elema for your favorite fall gathering; we promise there won’t be any leftovers. 

Image courtesy of Dutch Pies

Balanced (RMB31-55)

O’Mill’s (RMB32) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

This pumpkin pie isn’t your mom’s version, made from a can with store-bought crust. O’Mill’s Pumpkin Pie uses real roasted pumpkin, brought in from Xinjiang, with a buckwheat flour base for the crust so that it’s totally gluten free. Less sweet than most pumpkin pies, the gourd’s natural sugars are allowed to shine. 

REVO by Saucepan (RMB32 for 300ml) 

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The Creamy Pumpkin Soup from REVO by Saucepan is the best way to satisfy that pumpkin craving without messing up your diet goals. A classic, thick roasted pumpkin soup with a hit of cream and seasoned with thyme and a parsley garnish makes you immediately forget you’re even eating healthy. It’s all about the gourd intentions. 

Pie Society (RMB35) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The 100% vegan Pumpkin Pie at Pie Society is made using coconut oil instead of butter, with no eggs nor cream in the filling. This results in an ultra-dense texture for the well-spiced, satisfyingly sweet filling that we can really get behind. The coconut oil results in a chewier crust, making the whole dessert more like a tart – another plus. The unsweetened whipped cream didn’t add much, but seemed to be the reason for serving it cold, the way a true pumpkin pie should be. Unaware that it was vegan until fully devouring it, we were pleasantly surprised to be doing our bit to save the planet, while simultaneously satisfying our sweet tooth. 

La Matcha (RMB38) 

Image courtesy of La Matcha

Alright, we’re getting into the Pumpkin Spice Lattes now, so if you’re a basic b*tch, pay attention to these next few, each one with a funkier twist than the last. La Matcha’s Pumpkin Matcha Latte is exactly what the name says, a tri-layered beverage of pumpkin puree, milk and matcha that is as delicious to drink as it is photogenic. (Hello Insta feed!) The slightly bitter matcha is mellowed out by the pumpkin’s natural sweetness, and adding in the ultra-creamy milk makes it dessert in a glass. 

Bitter (RMB40) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Valentine’s Day meets fall in the form of the Pink Peppercorn Pumpkin Latte at Bitter. Blended pumpkin is mixed with a shot of espresso, milk and cinnamon, before being topped with citrusy pink peppercorns. Skeptical about sipping on whole peppercorns, we were pleasantly surprised by the hint of berry fruitiness they added, along with a little spicy crunch – who doesn’t want to chew their latte just a little bit?

Egg (RMB38 sans alcohol, RMB58 with a shot of pumpkin liqueur) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

To round out our PSL segment, the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Egg has a boozy add-on that we couldn’t recommend highly enough. Kick that blend of pumpkin puree, double espresso, milk and mixed spices up a notch with a shot of pumpkin liqueur for an extra RMB20. It’s thick, creamy AF, and kicks Starbucks out of the pumpkin patch. 

Gelato Dal Cuore (RMB40 for 2 scoops + cone) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Who cares that the temperature is dropping when you can get Pumpkin Gelato at Gelato Dal Cuore. The super creamy texture is condensed milk meets roasted pumpkin, or, for those lucky enough to get the reference, egg fruit – mildly sweet, thick and buttery, with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds on top. Worth the chill in this cooler weather.

READ MORE: 25 Asian Fruits Ranked From Delicious to Disgusting: The Top 10

Shanghai Brew House (RMB50 for 500ml)  

Image courtesy of Chris Foste

Pumpkin beers have come a long way since the trend caught on about 10 years ago. Cloyingly sweet, overly carbonated beverages have been replaced by actually drinkable brews, spiced with ingredients like Saigon cinnamon and habanero peppers for that extra spike of flavor, balanced by a malty backbone. This year Shanghai Brew House has released its very own Pumpkin Pie Ale. Clocking in at 5.25% ABV, this slightly hazy beer is spice and malt forward with low bitterness. The beer launches today and is only available at the Jing’an location until all 150 liters are gone. Get it while it’s hot – or cold, rather. 

Ballin’ (RMB 56+)

Diner (RMB58) 

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You don’t have to wait for Fall to enjoy Diner’s Roast Pumpkin Salad – it’s available year-round. Featuring velvety smooth chunks of pumpkin as the base, the salad is topped with a generous portion of arugula, crispy candied chilis and nuts, and then drizzled with yogurt, sesame and yukari – a savory, slightly sour and fragrant Japanese condiment made from purple shiso leaves. While the dish is balanced in textures, we were hoping for a bit more of the ‘roast’ flavor, advertised in the name of the dish, to come out. A little bit of char can go a long way. 

Egg (RMB60) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Egg’s Pumpkin Pie Porridge is what you want to curl up on the couch with while wearing fuzzy socks and a sweatshirt. From a base of roasted pumpkin, coconut milk, puffed quinoa and buckwheat to toppings like holiday spices, apple slices , miso-maple granola, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut and maple syrup, this is a bowl of porridge Goldilocks would be all over. 

Commune Social (RMB65, as part of a set of 3 lunch dishes for RMB198)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Commune Social just launched their new Fall menu last week, and we couldn't have been more blown away. One dish that cannot be skipped is the Roasted Pumpkin. The Sichuan pepper vinaigrette lends citrus notes with a hint of that signature tingling spice that pairs so well with the creamy burrata and the pumpkin's natural sweetness. A blend of mixed seeds and crispy pistachios tie all those earthy fall flavors together. The expert level balance of textures and tastes that runs through every plate at Commune Social finds no exception here. 

Oha (RMB68) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Oha’s latest menu is wacky and whimsical, pretty fitting for chef mastermind Blake Thornley – the Smashing Pumpkins dish included. The dense, chewy pumpkin ‘chunks’ are topped with a nutty parmesan cream reduction – that should come with a straw – earthy wild mushrooms, a hit of citrus, and fresh herbs – a playful interpretation of flavors and textures that would satisfy even the late 80s alternative rock band that lends this dish its name. 

La Baracca (RMB 68 for 8-inch, RMB128 for 12-inch)

Image courtesy of Rachel Gouk

La Baracca is a new Italian osteria busting out on the Yongkang Lu scene. Aside from a stellar spritz lineup (can we get a Pumpkin Spritz for fall?) their pizzas are where it’s at. The Roasted Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Pizza is made with a Napoli flour base. The crisp and slightly charred outside hugs a pillowy soft, bready inside, making you momentarily forget about the actual toppings. Just momentarily. And then…cheeeeese. All that tangy, funky goodness of goat cheese, mellowed out by roasted nuggets of pumpkin, sweet caramelized onions, pine nuts and fresh arugula. Good thing this pizza isn’t just a seasonal special. 

Cooperland Pumpkin Patch (RMB79-89)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Get ready for this one – Shanghai’s got a Pumpkin Patch. And not just on the outskirts, I’ve-got-to-take-a-day-off-work-to-get-there kind of way. No, it’s right on Fuxing Lu and Shanxi Lu in the heart of the French Concession. Now, before you get your knickers in a bundle, hold on. It’s by reservation only, in two hour time slots, and more of a staged photo shoot pumpkin patch, fully equipped with bushels of hay, perfectly round pumpkins, pergolas and candles – essentially, a contrived pumpkin patch experience with a shiny wanghong veneer. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

For all the KOL wannabes building up that Douyin and Kuaishou base, this is your spot. Or, if you’re in it for the people watching, we found that to be equally worth it and more than entertaining. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Entrance comes with a cake and beverage, choose from options like matcha cake, fig tart or grapefruit cake (how is that a thing?) and coffee and tea beverages – most are average at best, and like the venue, more to be photographed. Book by following the Cooperland Official WeChat (search WeChat ID cooperland2020). 

J. Boroski Pumpkin Spice Cocktail (RMB120)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Pumpkin candy for adults comes in the form of J. Boroski's Pumpkin Spice Cocktail. Fresh pumpkin is mixed with melted beeswax, then fatwashed through bourbon and garnished with a pumpkin spice jelly. Sneakily strong and fall spiced, this play on an Old Fashioned will get that necessary buzz going, warm you up from the inside and give you the pumpkin hit you’re looking for all in one – a jack of all lanterns if you will.  

Click here for more Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’ 

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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