A guide to Shanghai’s street food
Shanghai, China- Dev Lewis
No matter where you go in shanghai, one thing you will find in abundance is food. Shanghai is a global city, and you can find just about any cuisine that you may desire. But for me, what sets this city apart is its street food. Tasty, flavorful, unending and so cheap you cannot get enough of it. You can find “street food” all over the city, but my favorite spot has been the street right behind my University. Chinese food is quite popular in the U.S, and over the years has developed into its own cuisine. The food there bares very little resemblance to authentic Chinese food, hence I thought i’d introduce it to those who have not been to China.
One requirement to enjoy the food is an open mind ( expect the unexpected). Oh and my fellow Indian and American friends, do not expect to see Manchurian chicken & General Tsao’s.
First on the Menu-
Zi shushao kao 子树烧烤 or self-service roast
If you’ve travelled around South-East Asia you will be no stranger to the guy with his make shift griller, BBQing an assortment of meats. This is pretty much staple to this side of the continent, and the smell of the cooking meats draws you in like a shark to blood. The choice of meat at this vendor ranges from your usual chicken, pork, beef to Cow heart (personal favorite), lamb, frog legs (actually delicious) eel, octopus, sting ray, a wide range of fish. In terms veggies you have mushrooms( a wide variety), corn, been sprouts. It’s a perfect evening , or post-night out snack, because you can usually find them grilling till the wee hours of the morning as the Shao khao culture is built around eating as a group, especially after some drinks or KTV. I’ve seen people rack up bills of 300 or 400 kuay at these places.
Each one usually costs about 2 kuay ( $0.3), chicken wings or large ones are around 4-6. Place the ones you fancy in a metal tray or plastic one like you see above and then let the chef do the rest. You have the option of adding a spicy seasoning to it, & trust me you want it on there. Eating this is like a trip down memory lane to our ancestors who caught and cooked their meat over a fire.
Chao Mian 炒面 Fried Noodles
This is the staple street diet. Fried noodles ( or rice), soy sauce, spices, lots of oil cooked on a make shift flame. You usually choose how much “la” or spice you want. I’ve tried them all. After getting burns from trying Fechang la(extremely spicy) I think medium (zhong) la is the best, the perfect balance. Its weird but every chao mian stall i’ve eaten at, across the city, it seems like 6 kuay ($1) is the given price, the free market at its best.
Lao bing 老兵 or Breakfast Burrito
This is something i came across by accident when I was starving, and its probably the best discovery i’ve made(yet!). A very simple, tasty street snack. Its mad by frying a naan like bread on a “tawa” with egg added as batter and then you could eat it plain or add ham, bacon with a choice of a spicy sauce and mayo. On cooking it looks like a wrap and its soooo good. The Mayo and Spicy sauce are perfectly contrasting, and the ham and egg gives you that breakfast feeling. This one if from a lady who makes a really good one about 8 minute walk from my place.
This one cost me about 2.5 kuay ($.4), some can be about 4 or 5 kuay based on where you buy it and how much meat you put on. Perfect street breakfast, or just about anytime you get hungry. Stalls like this are fairly common.
Bao Zi or stuffed bread buns
So this is staple shanghai on-the go food, think hot dog or a sandwich. Its quite simple really. Soft bread buns stuffed with either pork, beef, chicken on veggies. You can pick them up at almost any street corner where they hand it out fresh from the steamers, or visit you local family mart( 7/11) found every 5 and a half steps. My advice- the street places usually sell them for about 1 to 2 kuay (30 cents) and they are much better and tastier than their more expensive family mart (5 kuay) counter parts.
Whenever i’m on the walk to class or work, its a nice breakfast, otherwise if i’m feeling a bit hungry with no patience for a full meal, a Bao zi will always do.
Gei wo yi ping Tsingdao. Repeat that and someone will hand you a bottle of Tsingdao beer, which goes perfectly with all of the above, any time of the day or night. The beer is of the light kind, as most Chinese beers are, and at 3% they won’t leave you with much after, but with your meal its perfect complement to the spicy noodles.
3.5 Kuay (50 cents). Not bad eh?
This is the best shanghai stable street food menu, inexpensive and tasty. After living in Shanghai for 4 months I can confidently say, the street behind my University is probably the best spot on the City. If you come to Shanghai just tell the taxi driver, Huashida de Houmen- back gate of ECNU.
During my travels across China i’ve discovered that many cities have their own street food Te Se ( speciality) quite different from Shanghai. Below are some of my favorites.
平遥面条 Pingyao Miantiao
These noodles are a speciality of an ancient town of Ping Yao in Shanxi province. I found these while biking through the ancient town and they are hands town the best noodles i’ve had in China. Cooked in Soy and vinegar, with sesame some greens thrown in. The noodles themselves are of the flat kind with a cylindrical shape, that seemed to be the perfect base for the taste of the cooking to really reveal itself. One of the reasons I really want to go back to the wonderful ancient town of Pingyao.
肉夹馍 Rou Jia Mo
A Xian Delicacy, this is a must have if you go to this city, the capital of Shaanxi province. Rou Jia Mo, which means meat sandwich is a product of Xian’s amazing history. Capital of the Tang dynasty, Xian was the Eastern end of the silk route that connected China to places as distant as Rome, Turkey and some parts of Northern India. Therefore, the city of Xian was one of the most international cities in the world at the time with large populations of muslims living in the city. The Rou Jia Mo itself is a bi-product of this fusion of culture, as apparently the Han Chinese claim credit to creating the sandwich but the muslim population duly switched the pork with lamb, which is what Rou Jia Mo is today. If you make it to Xian, home to the famous Terracotta Warriors, then after your days excersions head to the Muslim Quarter and feast on this for 6 kuay.
On the left is something I found while wandering the muslim quarter in Shanghai.The eggs cook in a mould as your can see in the picture on the left and then coated in a little batter. You eat it on a stick. Tasty.
On the right i found in Nanjing. This resembled a hash brown except on the inside you found egg instead. Again, another tasty snack I havnt found outside Nanjing.
These are my favorite finds on the the streets of China. Just like India, areas of China not only have their own cuisine but a distinct street cuisine as well. Click on the hyperlinks above to read the story behind the places. You have not visited China if you havnt tried the street food.