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A big bite of Shanghai

FOODIES will savor a variety of tasty Shanghainese dishes around the city. Everything from the "Four Great King Kongs" to tantalizingly, simple soups are on the menu. Nie Xin digs in.

Sugar and soy sauce are a must for Shanghai cuisine as is a healthy dose of oil. Typical dishes include diced chicken with chili pepper and braised pork with soy sauce. From fish to pork, almost all dishes can be cooked in the Shanghai style known as hongshao - braised with oil, soy sauce and sugar. The cuisine usually looks dark red or brown and tastes a bit sweet.

"Don't expect salty and spicy food," says Jiang Laidi, 62, a local chef. "Shanghai dishes rely heavily on soy sauce and sugar. So sweet tooth fans will love Shanghai food just like a duck to water."

Shanghai is also where all kinds of snacks flourish. There are various categories including steamed, boiled, fried and baked. The result is much different from the fresh, light Cantonese cuisine and the fiery food from Hunan and Sichuan provinces.


In traditional Shanghainese families, breakfast is usually eaten at home - rice stewed with water, paofan, and salted vegetables, xiancai, for all. Leftover rice from the previous night will be used for breakfast the next morning. The rice will be mixed with hot water to make paofan. In most families, there are usually several jars of salted vegetables and pickles in the kitchen.

Dim sum is also popular for breakfast in Shanghai. This includes dabing, large flatbread; youtiao, deep-fried twisted dough sticks; doujiang, soybean milk; and cifangao, glutinous rice cake.

They are referred to as the "Four Great King Kongs" as they are the most traditional and popular breakfast foods among Shanghainese people.

Dim sum

From south to north, people in China are good at making pastries. Among countless cakes in Shanghai, the most favorable traditional pastries should be strip cake and mint cake.

Bakers will rub up sticky rice powder and sweetened bean paste into strip cake. It's more delicious if deep fried. The cake is favored for its sticky and soft texture.

Mint cake is made with sticky rice powder mixed with mint powder. The cool and fresh flavor due to the mint is very popular in summer.

Xiekehuang pancake is a baked scallion-stuffed sesame biscuit. As it looks like a boiled crab shell, its name means crab shell in Chinese.

There are two kinds of stuffing in the cake - briny and sugary. The briny stuffing is made of green onion, fresh pork, crab powder, shrimp kernel, and the sugary stuffing is made of white sugar, rose, sweet bean paste and Chinese date mud. This pancake is crispy on the outside.

These pastries can still be found in today's traditional dim sum shops such as Qiao Jia Shan, Guang Ming Cun, Shen Da Cheng, and also at the City God's Temple, where people can find almost all typical Shanghai snacks.

However, there are some other old Shanghai dim sums that are gradually disappearing. These include haitang cake, leishayuan and quick-fried steamed bread.

Old Shanghainese may be more familiar with haitang cake, perhaps one of the oldest dim sums in Shanghai. It was first made during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.

Haitang cake gets its name because it looks like a haitang flower, the Chinese flowering crabapple. The color of the cake skin is brown and it tastes crisp. It's usually stuffed with sweetened bean paste.

Leishayuan is stuffed with fresh meat or sweetened bean paste. The rice ball is boiled and dried, then rolled with sweetened bean paste powder.

It's said that leishayuan was created in the late Qing Dynasty by an old lady surnamed Lei. Qiao Jia Shan Snack Shop is most known for its leishayuan.

Quick-fried steamed bread is also stuffed with meat and some bone soup, then quickly fried in oil. It is small and has a golden yellow color. It is crisp and fresh.

Delicious soup

Having dry food with a soup is very common in Shanghai. When Shanghainese people eat those briny dim sums like xiaolongbao, steamed buns with meat, they will also order a bowl of soup.

One of the most traditional soups is oiled bean curd and glass noodle soup. It's fresh and cheap as the soup is made of oiled bean curd and baiyebao, pork meat wrapped in bean curd skin.

Another local favorite soup is chicken and duck blood soup, which uses solidified blood as the main ingredient. The blood resembles dark red bean curd and has little taste. The intestines, heart, liver, and blood of a chicken and a duck, as well as all kinds of seasonings such as salt, shallots, ginger, wine, pepper and oil form the basic recipe. It is said the soup is healthy. It is available in places like City God's Temple and Yuyuan Garden. Most dim sum shops also offer this soup.

Many times a bowl of xiao huntun, or wonton soup, is also just the thing to warm you up on a cold winter day. There are various dumplings in Shanghai, with different stuffing such as meat and vegetable. Sanxian xiao hunhun, or literally three fresh wonton, is the most typical Shanghai-style dumpling. "Three fresh" here refers to the three ingredients in the soup, namely egg, dried shrimps and seaweed.

People in Shanghai classify da huntun (big wonton) and xiao huntun (little wonton). Big wonton is usually filled with meat and mixed vegetables, while little wonton only has meat. Three fresh wonton has extremely thin skin wraps and pure fresh meat. It's also different in shape with other dumplings.

Simple but yummy

Chicken porridge at Xiao Shao Xing restaurant is extremely popular among Shanghainese people. The first Xiao Shao Xing was established in 1947 on Yunnan Road S. and is still there today. The dish was first made in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province.

The porridge is boiled with chicken, shallot powder and ginger as well as chicken oil.

Kaiyang shallot oil-mixed noodle is also popular. In old times, when parents didn't have time to cook for lunch for their kids, they would bring a pot from home and go to the closest dim sum shop to buy kaiyang noodle.

Rice cake with spare-ribs (below) is another cheap and flavorful snack with a history of more than 50 years in Shanghai. The spare-ribs are swathed in flour, egg and other seasonings and fried in oil. In the dish, the meat is tender and crisp, the rice cake is soft and tasty, and the gravy is rich and flavorful.


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