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June 30, 2011

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Street treats - crayfish to kebabs

Shanghai is famous for its street food stalls and on warm summer nights they're crowded. Chen Ye takes a tour of top sidewalk eateries for crayfish, kebabs and other treats.

A glass of icy beer in one hand and skewers of lamb in the other, Ryan Wang eats, drinks and jokes with his friends on the street, totally ignoring the heat and what some consider questionable food safety. But all those happy, return customers must know what's good.

It's 11pm and Wang and his work mates sit outdoors on Xianxia Road in Changning District. Nearby food stall owners are busy stewing, steaming, grilling or stir-frying various snacks, from noodles and potstickers to squid and oysters, and kebabs.

"I love the casual atmosphere," says Wang, 27, a marketing specialist. "Although the food might not be as safe and good-looking as those in the fancy restaurants, at least I can have a variety of options at one time - Xinjiang-style shashlik, Sichuan hot pot, Cantonese soup, and lots of other things - it's like a hodgepodge."

It's not fine dining, but it's fun to check out the night market offerings. Some people suggest taking your own chopsticks.

China enjoys a long history of culinary culture, and various regional cuisines are recognized worldwide.

But one form of eating out - munching on street food and ye xiao (midnight snacks) - brings it all together in one place, sometimes under one roof.

Midnight snacks are favored by construction workers getting off shift, taxi drivers, professionals working late, and anybody who wants a snack after a movie or a hard night of clubbing.

At a time of food safety concerns, experts warn snack-seekers to be careful.

"Night snack stalls fill a need, but most have no license, so people should choose carefully and go to stalls that are attached to restaurants serving guests outdoors," says Xia Xiangqing, a food expert with the Shanghai Restaurants Association.

Though snacks are delicious, most are high in fat, far higher than ordinary food, says Yang Kefeng, a noted nutritionist. People who don't want to gain weight should not make it a habit to eat these night treats, he says.

In addition to taking in more fat-calories than usual, night snack eaters tend to gain weight because they often go to sleep after eating, he says, adding that metabolism usually decreases by around 10 percent during sleep.

But many people aren't too worried, and expats go where the locals eat.

"I don't need to dress up - shorts, slippers and even vests are fine; manners don't mean much," says Wang. "I love it."

Some foreigners are also making and selling their own midnight snacks, such as crepes. At the South Gate of Tongji University, two French students sell their hand-made French pancakes and one overseas student makes "British fried rice" near the Southwest Gate.

Generally, barbecue, crayfish and stir-fried dishes are the most popular ye xiao.

Here are some of the city's popular ye xiao sites.

Varieties of snacks

Every night starting from 7pm, people flock to Qishan Road, one of Shanghai's best known places for street food and midnight snacks in the Pudong New Area. There's a long line of stalls for several hundred meters, and plenty of tables and chairs.

It is near the Shanghai Maritime University and students are the major customers.

Crayfish, pancakes, barbecue, stir-fried dishes and shashlik are popular.

The most famous stall is Erzi Crayfish. It's popular not only for the delicious taste, but also because all the crustaceans are thoroughly cleaned, purged, and their intestine removed.

Get there early, as early as 5pm because there are queues until midnight.

Cost: About 50 yuan (US$8) per person


Xianxia Road has many stalls selling barbecue and fresh seafood dishes, and the most famous is 750 Xianxia Road.

Oyster, mackerel pike, shellfish, ling fish and sleeve fish are all fresh and juicy at reasonable prices.

There's lots of barbecue and people can add their own sauces and seasonings.

Those who want snacks that are less oily can try the rice soup stall on the road, noted for many types of rice soup.

Cost: 30-45 yuan per person

Stir-fried dishes

Near M50 artists' hub and Zhongtan Road Station (Metro Lines 3 and 4) there's a collection of stalls and tables in front of Lane 100. The spot is known for stir-fry and barbecue.

This area around Brilliant City residential quarters has many foreign residents.

The place is a famous gathering place where people can enjoy midnight snacks and appreciate walls of graffiti at M50.

Delivery is available within Brilliant City.

Cost: 25-40 yuan per person

Crayfish is king

Food lovers have mixed feelings about Shouning Road - it doesn't look too clean but the crayfish is so tasty.

Along the street diners can also find barbecue, braised food, baked sweet potato, fried noodle and fried rice.

There's also fresh seafood, such as oysters, mussel, and other shellfish and seafood.

But crayfish is king and Shouning Road is nicknamed "the street of crayfish" because it well may be the only street dedicated to that crustacean.

No. 23 Shouning Road is the stand-out and there's always a long queue. It's famous for slightly sweet ginger-vinegar sauce for dipping.

Cost: Around 70 yuan per person

Street barbecue

You'll find barbecue of all kinds in Putuo District along Caoyang No. 8 residential area, where roast chicken wings and steamed bread are very popular.

The steamed bread is baked in barbecue sauce, then sliced in pieces and topped with white sugar. It's both salty and sweet.

Chicken wings taste just like those at popular fast-food restaurants.

In addition to standard meat and chicken barbecue, there are various mushrooms and chicken gristle.

Free parking and outdoor seating is available.

Cost: 30-40 yuan per person


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