Shanghai is mainland China’s most cosmopolitan city, brimming with culinary diversity. Shanghai rests like a hungry baby, at mouth of the Yangtze River, waiting to be fed. Its culinary traditions shaped by the meeting of south and north China, Jiangsu and Zhejiang province, and the 19th century Western concessions that occupied the port city. Today, most popular Shanghai street foods are flatbreads, ‘bing’, and dumplings, ‘bao’.
1. Cong You Bing – Scallion Pancakes
These savoury scallion pancakes are found on street corners across Shanghai. A crunchy first bite and fresh green onion bite keep them simple and delicious. Unlike Western pancakes, Shanghai scallion pancakes are made from a dough wrapped around scallions, pounded flat, then fried.
2. Jian Bing – Breakfast Crepes
Showing off the influence of the French concession, Jian Bing are popular Shanghai crepes. Served at breakfast, street vendors skillfully spread the thin batter atop a hot, circular griddle, crack open an egg, then wrap up a combination of cilantro, chilis, hoisin sauce, and a crunchy deep-fried wonton cracker to add texture to each bite. These are a personal fave, the Shanghai equivalent of a California burrito.
3. Sheng Jian Bao – Pan-fried Pork Dumplings
Less well known than Shanghai ‘xiao long bao’ soup dumplings, the heartier sheng jian bao, have all the juicy gelatinous burst of Shanghai’s most famous soup dumplings, plus an incredible caramelized bottom created by pan frying their breadier dough. They used to be served in the mornings outside factories, and workers bought these hearty dumplings because they would last until lunch. Today, they are ubiquitous on Shanghai’s streets, and you’ll see people chomping into sheng jian bao from Shanghai’s street food vendors, fast food chains and Michelin recommended restaurants.
4. Da Bing – Big Flatbread
Da bing, literally big flatbread, is one of the big four traditional breakfasts in Shanghai, Suzhou and Jiangsu province, along with warm soy milk and fried pastries. Da bing is perhaps the simplest Shanghai street food; it’s a large flatbread topped with sesame, seasoned with sugar, scallion of spices to produce sweet and savoury variations. It is cut to order, and often weighed on a scale. Simply tell the vendor how much you want to pay and your slice is portioned accordingly.
5. Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai Soup Dumplings
The golden child of Shanghai street food xiao long bao soup dumplings are world famous for the thin skin and explosively juicy filling. You’re just as likely to find them in a chain restaurant, or at home in Los Angeles or Toronto, as you are on a street corner in Shanghai. But no street food tour of Shanghai would be complete without a taste of the native xiao long bao. If you can, try the subtle crab version dipped in vinegar at Jia Jia Tang Bao. The mom and pop joint only does one thing, xiao long bao, but their tender rendition of the Shanghai soup dumplings are as close to perfection as I can bare.