It's not just Shanghai, Michelin everywhere only likes Cantonese food

So by now, everybody who cares about Michelin stars in Shanghai has seen the list of winners for the second year. And everybody who cares about both Michelin stars and gourmet food in Shanghai can barely roll their eyes hard enough.

Not to say that everybody on the list didn't deserve to be recognised by what's ostensibly The World's Most Prestigious Fave Foods List, but all the complaints from last year seemed to have fallen on deaf years. Just like the 2017 guide, the 2018 is chock full of hotel restaurants, franchises in malls and, yeah, Cantonese food.

At some point in time, maybe I'll write up a Shanghai recommendations list for our poor, obviously underfunded and overmarketed-to Michelin Star reviewers (or who knows, maybe the Shanghai branch of Hong Kong-based T'ang Court really is the bestest restaurant in the city, on par with or surpassing the intense theatrics of Ultraviolet, it's 2-star-risen-to-3-star buddy this year? 😶 😶 😶 ).

In the meantime though, looking through the list, I was curious about exactly how much Michelin loved Cantonese food... in numbers.

Comparing the Shanghai 2017 & 2018 Guides

The 35 stars awarded for Shanghai restaurants in 2017 fell like this:


Note on the asterisks: some of these restaurants serve something along the lines of "Shanghai-style dim sum," which means they possibly could be "Shanghainese restaurants with Cantonese style."

But the reason why this style exists is because of the huge migration of Shanghainese families to Hong Kong in the mid 1930s, where Shanghainese foods were incorporated into the dim sum culture. So this kind of Shanghai-influenced cuisine is still about as Cantonese as egg tarts and prawn toast.

Calculating that out, Hong Kong restaurants accounted for 17 of the 35 stars, a whopping 43% of the total amount. In comparison, restaurants based around Shanghai (and the Zhejiang and Jiangsu cuisine that informs it) received six stars. Basically, a Cantonese restaurant was almost 3x more likely to get some star power than anything from this actual region.

French/"innovative contemporary European" restaurants - the kind that so clutter up the main lists in Paris, Berlin and London, got seven stars altogether. 

This is what the list looks like this year:


Yeah, it's not a lot of change. Both Shanghai and Cantonese cuisines got one extra one-star added to their lists. Meanwhile, two of the loudest complaints about the French section (that Ultraviolet was somehow NOT a three-star endeavour and that Jean Georges, the first restaurant to establish a fine dining scene in Shanghai, hadn't been recognised at all) were rectified.

Also, vegetarian restaurant Wujie on the Bund rose from Bib Gourmand status into the one-star league, which makes sense to me - I felt it was just as good, if not better, than Fu He Hui to begin with. Interesting note: this means that Shanghai may have the most fully vegetarian Michelin stars out of any city in the world. Percentage wise.

Speaking of percentages, these new additions means that the Cantonese domination of the list has dropped a little bit to 43%, but only because they added a bit more Frenchiness. 

but what about our neighbors?

Fun Global Aside:

The only Chinese restaurant in Paris with a Michelin star is Shang Palace, a Cantonese restaurant.

To be fair, the only Chinese restaurant in New York with a Michelin star is Cafe China, which bills itself as a Sichuan restaurant. BUT to be fairer than fair, the Cafe China "Sichuan menu" includes things like crystal shrimp dumplings and Shanghai springrolls.

I mean...

When last year's Michelin guide came out, I posited that Western reviewers (whom I assumed were doing most of these rankings) were just much more familiar with Cantonese flavors and so probably lacked the palate to understand any other type of Chinese food. 

Putting aside Shanghainese for a second (which is really just a sub-variant of the region), Beijing imperial cuisine (or its regional mother, Lu Cai) doesn't make its mark, and even country-wide favorites like Sichuan cuisine, of which it's nearly impossible to get authentically outside of China, isn't mentioned.

I was curious to see if this was the case in the other Chinese-inflected Asian countries on Michelin's list as well: Hong Kong and Singapore. 


Hong Kong

It's not particularly surprising that the main location for world-best Cantonese food would be dominated by Cantonese food - though it was funny how close the percentages skew towards Shanghai's.

A total of 45 out of 86 stars belonged to Cantonese-style cooking = 52%.

French food held similar esteem in Hong Kong as in Shanghai, at 21%.

While apparently no Japanese restaurants seemed "worth it" to the Michelin reviewers in Shanghai this time around, they did quite like the sushi in Hong Kong. Japanese restaurants scored 12% of the stars, which, incidentally, was more than for all the other styles of Chinese food put together.


Barramundi with leeks & bonito butter at Cheek by Jowl, one of several "Australian" restaurants to win a star.

Barramundi with leeks & bonito butter at Cheek by Jowl, one of several "Australian" restaurants to win a star.

If you were to look at Singapore's Michelin star guide, you'd think that it was basically a city in Europe with a slightly higher than average Asian population.

It almost makes me feel a little bad for making fun of the Michelin reviewers in Shanghai, because the ones in Singapore are intent on pretending they aren't in Singapore.

French cuisine - traditional, contemporary, "innovative" - made up 30% of the stars, with a mix of Italian and Australian contemporary (read: steakhouse style) hoovering up another 20%.

Japanese food by far outstripped any other Asian cuisine - also netting about 20% of the stars.

Which leads the rest to be divvied out among the people who actually make up the majority of Singapore's residents: Malaysians, Chinese and Indians. Annnndddd...

*drum roll*

Cantonese-style food comprised half of what was left! 6 stars went to restaurants like Lei Garden (another branch of the chain!) and Summer Palace, while Singaporean specialty cuisines like Peranakan were almost completely relegated to the Bib Gourmand, I guess.

In Conclusion:

Look, this isn't a knock on Cantonese food. I happen to love Cantonese food. People who DON'T love Cantonese food must be crazy, because Cantonese food is varied and deep and good. 

But goodness sake.

Going through these numbers made me realize how Shanghai actually probably got the best shake out of Michelin guides for Chinese cuisine. Their laughable amount of Hong Kong mall food at least included some true Only-In-Shanghai picks, and there were enough so that it didn't look too much like they were just throwing locals a bone (at least compared to Singapore).

While I'm not holding out hope, it would be cool if one day we could see a guide that not only mentions Shanghainese fine dining stalwarts like Maison de l'Hui or any of the Fus (1015, 1039, 1088), but also uses Shanghai as a jump-off point to explore other regional tastes that have found a home here. In the meantime, I guess all of Michelin Asia ought to be renamed "So We Hear You Like Canto."