In just a few decades, Shenzhen has grown from a small market town to a booming metropolis within southern China’s Greater Bay Area. Almost 13 million people from all over China now call this city home. With them, they’ve brought their regional cuisines, and created new ones. It’s become one of the most exciting – and easily accessible – getaways for a food lover, with frequent rail, ferry and bus connections from nearby Hong Kong. Here’s our guide to eating your way through Shenzhen.
Shenzhen falls within Guangdong province, the home of dim sum, and Sense House brings the experience into the 21st century with well-spaced tables and meticulously handmade, subtly modernised dim sum. Take, for instance, rice paper rolls, a Cantonese breakfast favourite, made by milling soaked rice to create a milky liquid poured into a steamer and rolled as soon as the rice paper is set. At Sense House, chefs use red rice instead of the usual white – rolling it around fresh shrimp, which delicately cooks inside the sheath of rice paper – and add crisp vermicelli for textural contrast. Well-executed classics include har gao (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu mai (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings) and custard buns.
Baishe Second Street, Citic Mangrove Bay (next to the Club House), Nanshan, Shenzhen; +86 755 86527616
Ba He Li Hai Ji
Beef isn’t a big part of southern Chinese cuisine, so it may seem surprising that Chaozhou, the eastern part of Guangdong province, is famous for hotpot featuring fresh beef. It is said to have originated from the Hakka people who migrated from the north of China, where rolling pastures for cattle are more common. Through generations of refinement, Chaozhou locals have made it their own, with butchers who artfully carve the meat – fresh, never frozen – into dozens of different cuts, from nose to tail. These are then hand-cut into paper-thin slices that diners cook in beef consommé in a matter of seconds. Ba He Li Hai Ji, a Chaozhou chain, has brought this experience to Shenzhen. The boren cut (chuck eye log) is perfect for those who love marbled meat, while those in search of a more intense flavour and more texture should go for the hind shank, or wuhuazhi.
Shop B110, B1/F, Excellence Century InTown Plaza, Fuhua Third Road, Futian, Shenzhen; +86 755 82783823
Farm-to-table eating isn’t uncommon in China, as there are plenty of rustic restaurants attached to family farms in the countryside. The food at Voisin Organique, however, takes a more elevated approach that reflects the many talents of chef Rosetta Lam, who’s also a floral artist and jazz vocalist. In an airy dining room that’s part modern teahouse, part vintage chic, Lam serves artistically presented dishes inspired by the classic Cantonese food she grew up with. Consider stewed aubergine with salted fish, which, in her hands, is transformed into an elegant bite of aubergine with cheese and beluga caviar. She uses carefully sourced, mostly organic and Chinese-grown ingredients, with most of her vegetables coming from a certified organic farm in nearby Huidong county.
117, Futian Creative Culture Park, Qiaobei First Street, Nanshan, Shenzhen; +86 133 2298 7869
While craft beer is hardly new to mainland China, it’s mostly been developed further north in the likes of Shanghai and Beijing. Hong Kong’s Young Master brewery has crossed the border to boost the craft brew scene in southern China with Goon Goon, a bright, fresh take on a taproom in the hip Upper Hills development just north of Futian, Shenzhen’s CBD. You’ll find Young Master signatures, as well as special seasonal beers and tap takeovers by other brewers. There’s a full menu of bar eats, with plenty of Chinese-inspired dishes such as ribs marinated with bean sauce by Hong Kong sauce maker Koon Chun, dandan pasta (spaghetti with Chinese-style spicy pork mince) and brussels sprouts with Chinese ham. They also offer a cheeseburger – and, thankfully, they know better than to tamper with that…
T3055, L3, Upper Hills, Futian, Shenzhen; +86 755 83252703
Gan guo, meaning ‘dry pot’, is a Sichuan dish known for its generous use of dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns, which are fried together with ingredients of your choice. At Tan She, each table gets its own pot and charcoal stove, and you’re encouraged to stir and toss the ingredients around. The restaurant is best known for bullfrog and the tender meat acts as a good foil for the intense flavours and heat. Strips of waxy potato are also a great choice, as they become a bit like super spicy French fries. If you’re feeling the heat, order suanmeitang, a sour plum drink, which has a subtle tang that soothes the palate, so you can dive back into that mountain of chillies.
L3C-017A, 3/F, COCO Park, Fuhua Third Road, Futian, Shenzhen; +86 755 25316537
Lao Ji Shi
Foodies from China and beyond are known to book months in advance to squeeze into the shoebox-sized Shanghai original of Lao Ji Shi, also affectionately referred to as Old Jesse. Luckily, the traditional benbangcai (local Shanghainese) recipes are replicated in the Shenzhen branch. Highlights include the indulgent head of flatfish covered in a blanket of intensely fragrant deep-fried spring onion; the humble Shanghainese take on sweet and sour pork ribs made with dark Zhenjiang vinegar; as well as crowd-pleasing favourites like xiaolongbao, the delicate soup-filled pork dumplings. Look out for seasonal specials, too, such as hairy crab roe in autumn and winter, and bamboo shoots in the spring.
L401, MixC Shenzhen Bay, 2888 Keyuan Nan Lu, Nanshan, Shenzhen; +86 755 26600402
Hainan is known as ‘China’s Hawaii’, where southern Chinese traditions meet tropical climes. Season is a perfect encapsulation, with cheery staff dressed in Hawaiian shirts and a signature dish of whole chicken poached in coconut water, which is in abundance on the island. Similar to hotpot, the dish is served in the centre of the table for sharing. Once you’ve lapped up all the chicken, you can add other ingredients such as vegetables and dumplings. But save room for the classic Cantonese claypot rice, with its sought-after crispy bottom and diced laap cheung (preserved sausage) on top. It’s not exactly typical beach cuisine – but you’re also not expected to slip into a bathing suit after a meal here.
KK Mall, 5016 Shennan East Road, Luohu, Shenzhen; +86 755 82688806