Ragù: Real Italian Flavors in Street Food Form

By Sophie Steiner, April 7, 2024

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The Place

Situated on Jing'an's Jiaozhou Lu, Ragù is Shanghai’s first Italian street food concept, backed by co-owners and married couple Filippo and Yan Murari.

First thing first – when we say “street food,” we certainly don't mean fast food; most of the stews that grace the menu simmer for anywhere between four to seven hours.

It's down to the handheld, on-the-go presentation – the entire lineup of dishes is served in disposable packaging, akin to how one would consume carryout fare, yet the quality is anything but pre-packaged convenience food. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

That’s because while this may be Murari’s first foray into owning a restaurant, with 30 years in the industry already under his belt, Filippo very much knows his way around the kitchen.

His first 20 years were spent in fine dining in his hometown of Verona, followed by a stint at Gemma and Bar Centrale in Shanghai, beginning in 2016.

He then worked for five years as executive chef at Parkyard Hotel, and a year as F&B Director there, before finally setting out on his own with the opening of Ragù less than a month ago. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And while ragù in Italian most commonly refers to the classic minced meat sauce hailing from Bologna – also known as Bolognese – the traditional meaning of ragù that Murari employs across the menu is that of any slow-cooked stew ladled over bread, pasta, pizza, between two buns, or even on its own. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

“Good food is simple food,” states Murari. “It doesn’t need to have 20 ingredients, parmesan foam, courgette air, and a tomato reduction to be tasty.”

After two decades of fine dining experience, Murari is instead focusing on honoring the actual flavors of genuine, high-quality products that don’t need to be 'molecular gastronomified' to be enjoyed. 

And you can taste chef Filippo’s passion in his cooking – a labor of love that results in nothing but real food with real flavor. 

The Food

Ragù's menu is a culinary trip around Italy, zig-zagging the finger food scene from Veronese donkey meat stew to Genovese trofie pesto, from Roman stewed tripe to Neapolitan pizza, and everything in between.

“I want diners to learn more about the prolific street food scene of my country, one whose history dates back to the Romans more than 2,000 years ago,” remarks Murari, while nonchalantly tossing a disc of pizza dough a good meter in the air.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Originating on the street corners of the Roman Empire, Italian cuisine evolved over the centuries from takeaway fare to fine dining, spreading from Italy to the rest of the world.

Recently, a number global cuisines have gone through a stage of reversal, returning to their roots and a more informal style of convenient consumption.

It's a trend Ragù embraces, with easy-going dining that still boasts restaurant quality recipes. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The menu’s most wanghong dish (it has already swept Chinese social media platforms) is the Polpette Cono (RMB48), or Italian meatball cone.

Not unlike a gelato cone found on every Italian backstreet, the ice cream is swapped for meatballs in tomato sauce, a piped cream cheese mimicking a whipped cream topper. 

The meatballs pull inspiration from Filippo’s grandmother’s recipe, and include a bit of milk-soaked bread thrown into the ground pork and beef mix, lending a more supple texture.

Soaked overnight in a conventional Italian red sauce, the pan-fried meatballs sop up all the aromatics and herbs. 

“Scooped to order,” the meatballs are placed inside a homemade cone – one with a more skewed balance of salty to sweet – inviting diners to 'lick' their way through this handheld savory treat. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Affectionately known as a “little bag” in Italian, Ragù’s Fagottino (RMB52) is one scrumptious sack, chock-full of Italian sausage, radicchio and a trio of cheeses – scamorza, mozzarella and parmesan. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Pinched at the corners in the shape of a four-pleated star, this on-the-go-pouch is packed with all that is good and right in this world. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A variation of trippa a la Romana can be found as the Polenta Cremosa con Trippa (RMB69), showcasing a key component of modern Roman cuisine – quinto quarto, meaning 'fifth quarter,' that’s all about offal, tripe and various innards. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The braised tripe is pleasantly springy, simmered with vegetables and fresh herbs for four hours before being ladled atop a provolone cheese-sheathed dollop of Italian-imported polenta, cooked in the simple Verona style – just water, salt, polenta flour and time.

The polenta cremosa can also be smothered in diner’s choice of ragù, meatballs, donkey meat stew or beef cheek. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Less of a burger and more of an Italian take on a sloppy joe (a saucy ground meat sandwich), the Beef Cheek Burger (RMB68) sees seven-hour slow-cooked beef stewed in a sofrito (carrots, onions and celery – the holy trinity base of all Italian cooking), plus the addition of cinnamon sticks, cloves, juniper berries and other aromatics that date back to medieval Italian recipes. 

Spooned over a plush brioche bun lined with melted provolone, that first omni-textured bite is like sinking your teeth into a cloud – a meaty, meaty cloud that oozes and drips, juicy licks of beef coating your hands and living up to the tagline “finger-lickin’ good.”

Polpette Burger (RMB68), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

These burger-sandwich hybrids are also available packed with ragù, meatballs, braised tripe, or donkey meat stew with radicchio – a humble classic hailing from chef Filippo’s hometown of Verona that demonstrates the culinary history of the region on a plate (or, in this case, in a disposable, bio-degradable box).

DSC07235.jpgTrofie al Pesto (RMB48), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As for slurpable pastas, there’s homemade Tagliatelle al Ragù (RMB62)Gnocchi al Musso (RMB68) – pillowy pasta puffs topped with donkey meat stew; and Gnocchi al Gorgonzola (RMB52) – a dish that requires no further introductions beyond carbs and cheese.

Enough said.

Summer Pizza (RMB108), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The holy grail of Italian street food, the most commonly found foldable, handheld snack is undeniably pizza.

So of course Ragù is serving up 10 pizza options, ranging from classics like Margherita (RMB88) and Italian Sausage (RMB108) to creatives like the Summer Pizza (RMB108) – a pre-folded pizza stuffed with mozzarella and pistachio-studded mortadella – and the Burrata Ham Wallet (RMB140).

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

We opted for the restaurant’s namesake pie, the Ragù Zucchini Pizza (RMB108), inspired by Filippo’s mamma’s ragù recipe of four-hour stewed minced beef and pork, with additional bits and pieces added in that he’s picked up along the way from a career’s worth of kitchen time.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Large dollops of ragù are strewn across the pie, also studded with big gobs of buffalo mozzarella and thin shavings of zucchini.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Baked at 500 degrees for just 90 seconds in an Italian designed, custom-built oven, the resulting 24-36 hour fermented dough is gorgeously toasted with a crisp exterior, elastic chew, and airy center – the ideal crust descriptor for any ‘za. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A smaller version of an Apulian fried calzone, the Panzerroto Nutella (RMB48) is what Italian dessert dreams are made of.

A pillowy crescent-shaped pocket of dough is stuffed to the brim with Nutella and chopped hazelnuts, before being flash-fried and presented piping hot. 

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When torn open, an unstaunchable hemorrhage of molten lava Nutella cascades down the crispy exterior, leaving diners equally sticky and satisfied.

If getting a mid-day sugar high isn’t in the cards for you, the panzerotto are also available filled with ragù or mozzarella and tomato.

And all this is just the beginning – Murari plans to launch a slew of new bites throughout the season, striving to provide an ever more robust view of Italy’s vibrant street food culture. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On the drinks front, there's Peroni (RMB29), Wine by the Glass (RMB50), Aperol Spritz (RMB58), Wine by the Bottle (RMB168-288), Coffee (RMB38) and Soft Drinks (RMB18).

The Vibe 

The warm-hued interior, designed by Italian decorator Grazia Longo of Qiu53 Studio, is meant to mirror the spectrum of colors of the Maillard reaction – from golden blond to burnt orange to rich brown.

This is a chemical reaction that occurs when cooking meat at high temperatures, resulting in that crispy sear that seals in all of the meat’s juicy flavor – a process that takes place in creating the restaurant’s signature dish, ragù

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Accented by contemporary elements – geometric shapes, modern Italian art, minimalistic elm wood tables, and a large open window that beckons Jiaozhou Lu passers-by in with the whimsical quip “You look curious” written across the top – the cozy space is equal parts unpretentious and welcoming. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

With seating for 14 inside plus a bench outside for an additional five, the restaurant is intimate, to say the least.

This is why every detail counts in creating an inviting setting that fosters a sense of communal consumption – an important aspect that bridges both Italian and Chinese dining – exemplified by bringing people together through food and a shared experience. 

Price: RMB68-140
Who’s Going: Italian food-a-holics, the Jing’an foodie contingency, lovers of all things stewed meats 
Good For: Casual Italian cravings, friendly catchups that won’t break the bank, pizza consumption

Ragù, 176 Jiaozhou Lu, by Xinzha Lu, 胶州路176号近新闸路.

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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