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December 16, 2010

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The pan-fried pork bun that squirts diners

ONE of Shanghai's famous dumplings or buns is pan-fried, pork-stuffed shengjian mantou known for its crunchy bottom and piping hot soup that can squirt diners if they're not careful.

Shengjian mantou, meaning pan-fried bun, with a knot on the top and sprinkling of chopped scallions and sesame, are among the best-known treats.

And in addition to pork, there are other types of stuffing, including chicken, pork mixed with prawns and pork mixed with crab meat.

The buns are called shengjian mantou in Shanghai dialect and shengjianbao in Mandarin.

In northern China, a filled bun is usually called bao or baozi and an unfilled plain bun is usually called mantou. But in the south, mantou refers to both kinds of buns. So shengjian mantou is its common name in Shanghai, despite being a filled bun.

Shengjian mantou has been a popular breakfast served in many local teahouses and breakfast stalls.

The small buns are usually filled with pork and gelatin that turns to soup when cooked. It usually costs 5-6 yuan (75-90 US cents) for four buns.

Shengjian mantou restaurants usually provide other dishes, such as tofu soup, fish egg rolls and other items.

Buns can be dipped in vinegar.

It's very hot and the soup inside can burn the mouth, so diners should let it a little by flipping it over on the top knot.

Some people first make a hole with chopsticks to let out the steam.

Specialized shengjian mantou stalls started appearing in the 1940s and Da Hu Chun is one of the oldest.

"Our shengjian mantou is excellent in taste and freshness, and it's the right size, though the handmade buns are irregular in shape," says Master Wang, chef in Da Hu Chun on Yunnan Road S. He has been working there for more than 20 years.

The buns of semi-leavened dough are arranged in a shallow, oiled pan more than a meter in diameter.

Water is sprayed on the buns during cooking to ensure the top is properly cooked.

"The knot on the top and the hard bottom are the mark of shengjian mantou, which is unlike other filled buns," says Wang.

Chopped green scallions and sesame are sprinkled on the buns during cooking, which makes for good aroma and rich taste.

Though older Shanghainese still patronize Da Hu Chun, fewer young people go there, partly because of the out-of-date decor and less-than-prompt service.

For young people, the new brand Yang's Fried-Dumpling is more attractive. Yang's Fried-Dumpling, which started several years ago, has 10 outlets around the city.

It's popular for its super-size dumplings with rich pork fillings and fast, efficient service.

One of the most crowded Yang's Fried-Dumpling outlets is on Wujiang Road.

People usually queue outside, even at 3pm after the lunch hour.

Da He is one of the newest brands in Shanghai with a third branch opened this summer. This outlet on Xujiahui Road, which is only for takeout, is always crowded.

"Compared with others, the bottom of the bun in Da He is not so hard, but the texture makes it special," says diner Wu.

The combination of the semi-hard bottom crust and the thin bun itself makes Da He shengjian mantou unique.

"Good and efficient service is another big plus," says Wu.

Where to eat

Da Hu Chun

Address: 1) 71 Yunnan Rd S.

2) 11 Sichuan Rd S.

3) 117 Zhejiang Rd M.

Yang's Fried-Dumpling

Address: 1) 97 Huanghe Rd

2) 269 Wujiang Rd

3) F2, Brilliance West Shopping Mall, 88 Xianxia Rd W.

Da He

Address: 1) B2 , SML Central Plaza, 618 Xujiahui Rd

2) 1200 Changqing Rd

3) F5, Brilliance South Shopping Mall, 7388 Humin Rd


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