Yu Garden Shanghai is part of the TPOL in Shanghai Trip Report.
Yu Garden is a bad version of the Medina in Marrakech (see Medina, Marrakech: Lost in the Labyrinth). It is a compound built to look like what tourists expect China to look like. The ruse would be difficult to spot but for the presence of every conceivable American franchise.
Avoid the finger-licking good temptation, other Western junk foods, and the few English speakers who hound you to buy bags or watches. There’s a higher purpose for your journey to Yu Garden.
KFC and Haagen Daz do serve one important purpose. They are landmarks next to a dumpling joint in Shanghai. While Yang’s and random street spots (see Street Food Shanghai: Morning, Day, Night, Morning Again) are my favorites for xiao long bao, this place is perfect for steamed dumplings, especially if you’re staying at the adjacent Renaissance Yu Garden.
Day or night, you will find a line. I can’t assume that the people in line are Shanghai locals just because they are Chinese, but I can say the line is not full of Western tourists. Working under the assumption that Chinese people know dumplings better than I do, the long line is an endorsement of the quality of the place.
Regardless of the patrons, the dumplings speak for themselves. They come out fresh every few minutes. Be sure to secure your place at the serving window as the hunger of the crowd can cause them to overlook their line minding manners.
Having thrown some delicate elbows, I went to the vinegar dispenser and found a place to enjoy my morning/afternoon/evening snack. The one problem with extra fresh dumplings is that they are too hot to eat. It’s torture waiting for them to cool down. Once they do, they are consumed in seconds, which is sort of sad given the amount of time and effort it takes for them to be made.
The remedy for this temporary sadness is to brave the process again and go for round two.
TPOL’s TIP: Unless you crave that fish taste, I would avoid the crab meat dumpling. If you do get it, poke a hole in it with a spoon and suck out the soup first.
Yu Garden is a tourist trap. But for the dumplings, I would advise that you stay away.