Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Shanghai Food Post: 10 Foods I Loved in Shanghai (and Anhui, too)

It took some effort to get up at 7 a.m. If there was one thing I loved about winter, it was staying warm and comfortable in bed. But today was a special day. It was someone's birthday. Mine. I didn't have anything planned, but this was Shanghai and that morning, I hear the city buzzing into life. More importantly though, my stomach was grumbling and delicious Shanghai food was calling.

So here are the top 10 delicious Shanghai foods I loved while traveling in the city. Alright, some of them I had in the adjacent province of Anhui, but still. Let's go.

1. Cōng Yóu Bǐng (Scallion Pancakes)

Cōng Yóu Bǐng, Shanghai, China
Street stalls selling cong you bing open very early in the morning. Very popular breakfast food this.

A few steps from Captain Hostel close to the Bund were a row of restaurants and street food vendors. They came alive every morning serving hungry Shanghainese rushing off to work or school. One stall had a queue longer than the others. Thus, following my Singapore hawker center food rule (the stall with the longest queue will always have the most delicious food), I queued, too.

The stall was serving cong you bing, or scallion pancakes. It's basically unleavened dough lightly kneaded and flattened on the spot and fried on an iron skillet with a shallow pool of oil. Scallion bits are mixed in. As this was breakfast, egg is often cracked on top. That morning, I was feeling a bit indulgent, so I had a hotdog rolled in, too. Oily, heavy, but suffices the need for fuel on a cold Shanghai winter morning. One pancake will set you back 1.5 to 3 CNY depending on what you want to go with it.

Cōng Yóu Bǐng, Shanghai, China
Extra indulgent with egg and hotdog inside. What? It was my birthday!


2. Xiǎo Lóng Bāo (Soup Dumplings)

Xiao Long Bao, Shanghai, China
Xiao long bao in Shanghai. How can we not?

To not have xiao long bao in the city where it was invented would be outrageous. It would be visiting Champagne in France without having a sip of champagne, or going to Puebla in Mexico without eating mole poblano. Having reunited with my travel companions, fellow Filipino travel bloggers, we headed straight to a local no-English canteen also close to Captain Hostel and pointed to the food being cooked in the kitchen behind the glass dividers.

Xiao long bao is a dumpling with soup and meat inside. Before steaming, the stuffing takes on a chunky aspic form. Once heated, the aspic melts, so you get this steaming meat-flavored soup locked within the dumpling. Best with light Chinese vinegar. It will set you back 1 CNY per dumpling. (I know! So cheap.)


3. Shēng Jiān Bāo (Fried Buns)

Shengjian Bao, Shanghai, China
Doughy, soupy, and hearty. What more do you want?

Here is another breakfast favorite. At the same local canteen, we ordered sheng jian bao. This is yet another specialty of Shanghai which we actually have here in Manila Chinatown Binondo. We call it Shanghai fried siopao. It is somewhat similar to xiao long bao, but the dough is heavier and the cooking method involves (1) frying the buns in a thin layer of oil; and, (2) pouring water over them and letting them steam. Scallions and sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. Verdict: very heavy indeed and quite meaty and soupy inside.


4. Tang Bāo (Soup Buns)

Tang Bao, Shanghai, China
Weird-looking soup buns with the straw and all, but delicious all the same.

It is easy to spot tang bao. Just look for bao zi (white buns) with a long straw sticking out on top. This Shanghai food staple is much like its brother the xiao long bao. It's a soup dumpling. Only you don't eat the dough, just the soup inside. Hence, the straw. It was definitely a weird feeling sucking out hot soup through straw. Like I was going to scald my tongue at any point. The soup was thicker and chunkier than I expected, and definitely had delicious meat flavor in it. It was hard to think of it as a meal. Then again, it isn't a beverage, is it? So what is it, China? What?


5. Guō Tiē (Fried Dumplings)

Guōtiē (Fried Dumplings), Anhui, China
Crispy on the outside, soft in the inside, and oily all over. Guo tie, ladies and gentlemen.

If you're a fan of jiaozi (steamed dumplings), but want a heartier, tougher, and oilier version, then you'll love guo tie. The name literally means "pot-sticker" because, well, this dumpling is fried on a skillet with a thin layer of oil. It is very absorbent so a lot of oil is sucked in. The filling is usually meat-based with cabbage and scallions. Think of it as the Chinese answer to the Japanese gyoza. In winter, eat it as soon as it's served, unless you like lard, then good luck to you. We had some guo tie in a hole-in-the-wall canteen right next to the bus terminal in Tunxi in Anhui province, but these are very easy to find in Shanghai, too.

Street Kitchen, Anhui, China
Small canteen right outside Tunxi bus terminal. Lots of goodies available here.


6. Dumpling Soup

Jiaozi Soup, Anhui, China
Perfect for a freezing cold winter day

What can be a better lunch in a freezing winter midday than this bowl of dumpling soup. It's jiaozi but immersed in bowl of piping hot broth with various wet and dry spices, basically peppers and chili oils. Chopped Chinese parsley (cilantro) and scallions are added, too. Interestingly, this was the very first thing I ate in Shanghai when I first visited the city in 2011, also in winter. This one I had in the same small canteen outside Tunxi bus terminal. The jiaozi usually still needs Chinese vinegar and chili to bring out its delicious taste. It is very satisfying and comforting, especially during a freezing day.


7. Suzhou Shì Yuè Bǐng (Suzhou Mooncakes)

Suzhou Shì Yuè Bĭng, Shanghai, China
Bakeries all around Shanghai usually have these Suzhou-style mooncakes.

Moving on from the dumplings debauchery above, we have Suzhou shi yue bing. As the name suggests, this food was invented in Suzhou, located in the neighboring province of Jiangsu. Suzhou is also tourist attraction with its old Chinese water village. Unlike many popular versions of mooncake, the coating of the Suzhou shi yue bing is not soft and chewy, but crispy and flaky (which I love). There are sweet versions (with black sesame paste), but the ones I got were savory, which meant pork filling inside.


8. Shāo Bǐng (Baked Pastry)

Shao Bing, Shanghai, China
The shao bing I like. Small, flaky, and pork filling inside.

I noticed that in Shanghai, they love pastry. That I have no complaints about. I do love me some bread. Another pastry dish I tried and loved here in Shanghai is shao bing. The term is all-encompassing and can range from big flatbreads (available in many street stalls) to sandwich-style types with meat and veggies (which KFC in China has). There's even a shao bing sandwich with deep-fried donut, or you tiao, as filling. (I kid you not. Here it is. Carb on carb. What's with that, China?) I liked these though: baked with a lot of sesame seeds on top, just the right kind of crispy and flaky, and a thin filling of meat inside.


9. Zongzi (Rice Dumpling)

Binondo, Manila's Chinatown, Philippines
A zongzi I bought in Manila Chinatown. The ones in Shanghai and Anhui pretty much look the same. It's the taste that sets each one apart.

Many say zongzi is a summer food, but I visited China in winter and they were available everywhere. What is it then? It is glutinous rice filled with a variety of things: pork, pork sausage, chicken, mushroom, beans, etc. The rice is wrapped in bamboo leaves and then, steamed. Perhaps, you know this as bachang or machang. One and the same. The best one I had, oddly enough, was in a truck stop on our way to the scenic mountains of Huangshan in Anhui. The zongzi here wasn't steamed, rather boiled. Also, it had thick chicken pieces inside. I have a feeling it was because of that.


10. Braised Pork Belly with Bamboo Shoots

Pork Belly with Bamboo Shoots, Hongcun, Anhui, China
Hit the right spot with us Pinoys. We do love pork and soy sauce.

Traveling with fellow Pinoy travel bloggers meant I got to eat in mid-range restaurants and try a host of dishes without having to spend too much (because we shared costs obviously). One dish that we absolutely ordered every time we ate was braised pork belly with bamboo shoots. It hit the right spot for us Filipinos who love anything with pork and soy sauce. The bamboo shoots were a welcome palette cleanser from the salty, fatty pork meat. If you're Filipino or are familiar with Filipino cuisine, think of this as adobo but with bamboo shoots.


Bonus: Ice Cream Toast Birthday Cake

Birthday Toast, Shanghai, China
Birthday toast as I toast another year! (Get it?)

As a bonus, for dinner on my birthday, I was treated to the closest thing to a birthday cake that was available in the restaurant where we ate. Sweet and crunchy butter toast with ice cream on top. Heart-string was definitely pulled, heart itself definitely warmed. Xiè xie, guys!


* For those interested in more delicious Shanghai foods, feel free to click on the following:
Shanghai Street Food at Life in Nanchang Lu
35 Shanghai Street Foods We Can’t Resist at CNN Travel



Which in this list of delicious Shanghai foods made you salivate the most? What other delicious Shanghai food would you recommend?


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