SHANGHAI (AFP) - The storied Michelin food guide launched its first edition in mainland China on Wednesday, awarding stars to elegant luxury establishments as well as to a humble haunt serving up Cantonese staples.
The inaugural edition covers the commercial hub of Shanghai and gives stars to 26 restaurants, including the world's least expensive two-star establishment, Canton 8, a popular lunchtime spot catering to local families.
"Canton 8 is a reflection of what can be found in Shanghai - masterful, delicious and very good quality cooking," said Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin guides.
Another restaurant awarded two stars is the upmarket Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine located at Yi Feng Gallery near The Bund. It is one of five restaurants in Shanghai opened by Singapore's Imperial Treasure Group.
The publication of the inaugural mainland China edition follows its first guide to Singapore in July, when Michelin inspectors also gave out stars to the city-state's famous street food stalls.
The guides, first published in France more than a century ago to promote automobile travel, now cover 28 countries and spotlight diverse cuisines including Brazilian, Burmese, Cajun, Peruvian, and Tibetan.
But they are not without their critics, who question whether the quality of street fare in places like Hong Kong and Singapore can compare to the French haute cuisine on which its reputation was made.
"We have to adapt to the country," Claire Dorland-Clauzel, executive vice-president at Michelin, told AFP.
"Our role is to promote quality food everywhere, not (only) French food."
The China guide awarded its highest three-star rating to T'ang Court, a cosy six-table Cantonese restaurant in The Langham hotel, famous for dishes that include braised sea cucumber and Wagyu beef.
"The talented and creative chef Justin Tan offers cuisine in which traditional Cantonese dishes rub shoulders with some very modern dishes," Ellis said.
The restaurants earn their rating following repeat visits by different inspectors, who pay for everything they consume and make the decision jointly.
Restaurants that have won a star from the culinary bible in the past have built huge businesses after being recognised, with Hong Kong's Tim Ho Wan and Taiwan's Din Tai Fung turning into international franchises.
Canton 8 can likely expect to see a similar surge in customers, although on Tuesday night, before the release of the guide, the inexpensive two-storey restaurant was filled with only around 20 diners feasting on crystal prawn dumplings and lobster porridge.
A cosmopolitan city with a sprawling, tree-lined French Quarter, Shanghai is the latest Asian city to feature in the guide, following the launch of editions focusing on Hong Kong, Taipei, and Singapore.
"What makes Shanghai particularly exciting is it's been an economic and cultural crossroads for decades and the gastronomy of Shanghai really reflects that rich history," Ellis told AFP.