A Packed-Like-Sardines List of Shanghai's Best Sardine Dishes

By Sophie Steiner, August 20, 2021

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The oily pilchard that hails from the herring family, colloquially known as the sardine, seems to be having its heyday in Shanghai. One that – not-so-mysteriously – coincides with the popup of a number of French wine bars over the last year.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

This forage fish, that takes its name from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, is easily accepted compared to similar fish, like the anchovy; its flaky flesh is less pungent and salty, yet still packs a rich, briny flavor that pairs well with fresh herbs and spice. 

Shanghai's favorite way to eat this mineral and protein-rich sea dweller is on toast, a popular snack in many Mediterranean cultures, but we've also found it grilled, fried, sautéed with olives and even mixed into potato salad. Here's a few of our favorite Shanghai venues to snack on the humble sardine. 


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In true izakaya fashion, the Charred Sardines (RMB48) at 404 are butterflied and grilled to a crisp over an open flame, with seared skin that tears away to reveal the rich, oily flesh below. A spritz of fresh calamansi, coupled with a crunchy side slaw, add a mix of tart and acidic brightness that match up against the bolder pilchard flavor.  

See a listing for 404

Bistro 321 Villa Le Bec

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All good things come in jars when it comes to French food – you've got pâté, rillettes, terrine and – at Villa Le Bec  Baby Sardines (RMB145). The generous portion of delicately tender sardines are swimming in a bath of virgin olive oil, lemon and an aromatic blend of spices spanning fennel seed, juniper berries and peppercorns. Best enjoyed atop the homemade-fresh-daily bread served with each meal, diners can opt for a DIY-style sardines on 'toast' of sorts, or just munch them as is, directly from jar to mouth. 

See a listing for Bistro 321 Villa Le Bec


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Imported from Spain, Bonica's buttery Sardines (RMB68) melt on the tongue in waves – first a hit of aromatic oil rolling back into a deep ocean-like finish. Enveloped in a thick layer of olive oil after marinating in garlic, thyme and juniper, the sardines are then cured in salt. A velvety pil pil sauce acts as a resting ground for the filets, made from confit fish bones.

See a listing for Bonica 

Cellar to Table 

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A crisp cracker crust acts as the base for Cellar to Table's Sardines (RMB90), layered with a light escabeche tomato sauce, fresh herbs, tart pickled shallots and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The modest accompaniments allow the fish's oily brine to come through, encouraging diners to place another order; we know firsthand you won't want to share. 

See a listing for Cellar to Table


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A seafood-forward rendition of Middle America Potato Salad (RMB58) at Forage is studded with flecks of tuna meat, slabs of sardine and soy-marinated, springy abalone. While the potato salad on its own lacks seasoning, when mixed together, the ocean salinity brings balance. But not necessarily enough to make us cry out for another helping. 

See a listing for Forage


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While Hundo focuses primarily on grilled yakitori, steaks and sashimi, on the kushiage front, they do offer guests a variety of battered and deep-fried skewers, like the Sardine and Perilla (RMB18). The herbaceous and ocean-like flavors bursting from within are slightly muted by the crispy breading exterior, yet are still recognizable enough for what they are, especially when compared with other fried options. 

See a listing for Hundo


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A favorite from SOiF, the Sardines on Spicy Tomato Toast (RMB68) at Ottimo are an exact replica, also duplicated downstairs at co-owner Li Ze's other venture, theWarehouse. Torched on one side, each piece of bread is dipped in spicy tomato sauce, leaving a dribble of ombré red that culminates in a bruléed, meaty sardine on top. 

See a listing for Ottimo


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Packed in a can like, well, just like sardines, the Warm Sardines (RMB95) at Pirata arrive in a bath of Spanish olive oil. Topped humbly with thinly sliced raw onions, salt, pepper and scallions, the tender meat and the fish's natural savoriness really shine. Crispy bagel chips are served on the side if you feel the urge for carbs.

See a listing for Pirata


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One of the many reasons why we love Polux is because seemingly mundane dishes, such as Sardines on Toast (RMB50), become greater than the sum of their parts when the unctuous fish is balanced on toasted soldiers, flecked simply with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Polux excels at taking homey, comforting dishes and elevating them to perfection. 

See a listing for Polux by Paul Pairet


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An alternative to sardines on toast, at RAC II you can crush sardines with other forms of carbs, like a gallete. While less exciting than some of the other options on the menu, the Sardine Galette (RMB90) sees a smoked sardine cream sauce stuffed inside a buckwheat crepe, with a sprinkling of shallots, lemon and dabs of seaweed butter on top. Each umami-rich bite is enhanced by the crispy-textured savory crepe's crust. 

See a listing for RAC II


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One of the first places to kick off the 'Sardines on Toast' trend, SOiF's Sardines (RMB68) can now be found at other venues associated with the partners, like Ottimo and theWarehouse. The thick cut bread is only toasted on one side, while the other softer side is dunked in a seasoned tomato sauce, then adorned with a fleshy, flaky slab of charred sardine and fresh herbs. 

See a listing for SOiF

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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