April 23, 2009

Shanghai Street Food

In the US, most Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese style cuisine, as a result, Shanghai cooking is one of the lesser known styles of Chinese cooking. It is much heavier and meat-centric than Cantonese-style food; in fact with over 20 million residents, you can find any style of Chinese cooking, or any type of international cuisine, for that matter! One of the best known examples of Shanghainese foods are its street foods. As you walk down the crowded streets, you can find street food at almost every corner. Soup dumplings are one of everyone's favorites. And three days into the trip I have definitely had my share of soup dumplings. They can be made with just pork or with pork and crab roe. The key to the soup dumplings is congealed soup stock which they mix into the dumpling filling and melts when steamed. Another major difference between the dumplings I've had in the US and those here (besides the fact that they are made to order!) is the thin dumpling skin here which never seems to break when you eat them. One "long" (笼) or one bamboo steamer with about 8 - 12 dumplings cost from 5 RMB to 50 RMB with an exchange rate of roughly 7 RMB to US Dollars! So one "long" is 70 cents at the street stand! Always be careful when eating hot soup dumplings because the juiciness may come squirting out. Usually they are served with Chinese vinegar and ginger slices.

Another common version of a dumpling is a lightly fried bun (sheng jian bao 生煎包) which are also filled with pork, cabbage and a touch of soup stock. The difference is that these buns are slightly larger, and have a little yeast. They are made on a huge round very hot frying pan, covered with a bamboo or wooden lid. The pan is constantly turned so it is fried on the bottom, but steamed on the top. It's finished with sesame seeds and green onion. Be careful, they look so good, but they are really hot because when they are cooked, the fat from the pork melts and keeps the stock really hot. According to my brother, he hasn't met anyone who hasn't burned their mouth or squirted hot oil all over their shirt the first time eating them!

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