Street food is an integral part of Chinese culture and Shanghai is no exception. While the city continues to get more and more westernized by the day, the traditional street food culture here is definitely still alive and kicking. Every night the wafts of sesame oil, fried dumplings and steaming hot pork broth fill the streets and you shouldn’t need to walk far to find a collection of street food stands to get your fix. Not sure what to try? Here are five of the best.
1. Fried pork buns (sheng jian bao)
Sheng jian bao is a type of pan-fried baozi (Chinese bun) which is filled with pork and a thick soup. It is a specialty street food in Shanghai and isn’t hard to find; look for the Chinese ladies packing the buns at rapid speed and one or two chefs (probably sweating profusely) frying them in an enormous flat plan over flames. The bun’s crunchy bottom, soft top and hot soupy pork filling will surely send your tastebuds wild. They are sold in bags of four and are traditionally eaten for breakfast, but these days they can be found at any time of day. I personally think they go down best as a late afternoon snack.
2. Chinese pork sandwich (rou jia mo)
Rou jia mo roughly translates to “meat burger” and is probably my favourite Chinese street food. The rou, or meat, is a slow-stewed fatty pork, which is then chopped up as finely as possible and mixed with some chili and coriander. It’s then stuffed in the mo, or bread, which is a small piece of flatbread usually no bigger than your palm. Think of it as a pulled pork panini, Chinese style. While rou jia mo didn’t originate in Shanghai, it’s hugely popular there, and you should find at least one rou jia mo stand at any large street food area. The line can be long, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
3. Chinese pancakes (jian bing)
There are various types of Chinese pancakes, but the most popular is probably jian bing, a savoury crepe that is a favourite street breakfast for students (and everyone else!) in Shanghai. Cooked on a large hot plate, the crepe is filled with green onions, egg, coriander, Chinese crackers, chili and a sweet sauce, folded up and stuffed in a paper bag for you to munch on while you walk to school/work. Also popular is cong you bing, a thicker, doughier pancake filled with egg and green onions and topped with chili and sweet sauce. I prefer the latter, but both are delicious and you will find countless stands scattered around the busy areas of the city every morning, often as early as 5am.
4. Chinese Skewers (shao kao)
To really get into the street food culture in China you have to indulge in a night of eating shao kao. Extremely popular throughout China, shao kao stands offer skewers of various meats and vegetables, including anything from mushrooms to fish to sausages to beef balls. Simply grab a little basket, select three or four (or ten or twenty) sticks from the mini buffet, and hand them to the grill master. He’ll lather it with oil, chili and his magic combination of spices and char them over open coals while you sit on a stool and enjoy a beer with your friends. When you’re done, repeat! Eating shao kao is a great way to kick off a night out and is equally great for winding the night down, so you’ll usually find these stands open from the early evening until the wee hours of the morning.
5. Shanghai Dumplings (xiao long bao)
Xiao long bao are an iconic street food throughout Shanghai, so much so that around the world they are often simply referred to as “Shanghainese dumplings”. They are still popular as a street food in Shanghai, but are also commonly sold as dim sum in Chinese restaurants throughout the city and the rest of the world. What makes them unique is the soft skin and the soup filling, which, once dipped in the vinegar and ginger on the side, offers an amazing contrast of flavours and textures once popped in your mouth. Traditionally they are pork dumplings, but nowadays many variations are available. They aren’t hard to find in Shanghai, so the only challenge will be seeing how many you can put down!
Want to try some of these fantastic street foods yourself? G Adventures runs a number of departures in China encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.