All posts by foodie

Burger Babes: Infiltrating Shanghai’s Underground Economy

After a month of living in Shanghai as a study abroad student and experiencing what can only be understood as a place burgeoning with opportunity with little regulations, a friend and I took hold of the chance to establish a street food stand in the midst of Shanghai’s thumping nightlife. We infiltrated Shanghai’s underground economy, immersed ourselves in the local street food culture by using food as our entryway, just as Chinese peasants did when they adapted to life in an urbanizing landscape.

In between classes one day, we made a trip to the Hotel Supply & Equipment store, a four story building that was fully stocked to supply a luxury hotel restaurant. We bought two stoves, a metal fold-up stand, two flat-top skillets, a spatula, a few containers, and some butane tanks–spending a total of about 650 yuan. After this investment, there was no going back.

Finding a board to use as our table was simple enough as walking past one of the many tricycles stacked with wooden scraps on the street. We initially sourced our ingredients such as produce and meats from a two story wet market nearby the kitchen we worked out of.

On our first night out, we tentatively made our way out to Huaihai Lu. It was, as we soon realized, a road too clean, too capitalized by glitzy clubs and lavish malls to be occupied by street food vendors. We decided to head to our second location, The Shelter, located in a more residential area and on the same street as a smaller bar and lounge. There was a crowd in front of the club and flashing cop lights across the street, reminding me of the risk that we were putting ourselves in–it wasn’t just the fact that we were setting up an illegal business in China, it was the fact that we were a foreign street vendor. We had previously discussed the legal and moral implications of being a foreign street food stand among poor hawkers trying to make enough money to get by. We understood the risk we were putting ourselves into; but to us, the thrill of starting a business, let alone one set up on the street alongside local chefs and entrepreneurs of the informal economy, motivated us to confront whatever negative or positive incidences that came our way.

Indeed there were times we struggled–like our first night out when our stand had been stolen within the five minutes we had gotten to the club. A police officer walked up to us and informed us a foreigner had grabbed it and walked away in the few moments it left our gaze while we scoped out the crowd in front of Shelter. We quickly realized how little it took to become a business in China, looking past our misfortune and creating a makeshift table by balancing the wooden board on top of our suitcase. We sold all of our ten burgers that night, painfully squatting the entire time. We somehow even befriended the police officer, who frequently hung around our stand the next few times we set up in front of shelter urging others to buy our burger. Other vendors seemed even more curious and fascinated that two Chinese girls our age were up at this hour selling hamburgers.

It was clear that our stand had an advantage. Although we both appeared Chinese at glance, we knew how to make American food well, and how to defend the safety and taste of our food in both Chinese and English. The idea of representing ourselves as a “pop-up restaurant,” quickly caught on. It was a term that would work towards progressively legitimizing ourselves as a food business, and it was a term that was familiar to our target demographic–the expats. We remained in a “safe” place from governmental intervention because our stand only existed in a time and space that tended to turn a cold shoulder to social disruptions and questionable legalities.

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One night, we set up our stand at the end of an expat bar street, Yong Kang Lu, under the steady mist of rain that shed a seemingly permanent overcast over that entire day. No one was buying burgers inside The Rooster, an American bar that we began to pop-up at since they added a kitchen that could accommodate us, or outside on the street. The longest interaction we had was with a few traffic police guards who got us a giant umbrella and began taking pictures with us. Despite the gloomy weather, we ended up getting approached to participate in a “spring fling” fundraiser event hosted by a photography studio in Shanghai. We had to raise our production from an average of 30 burgers to about 250.

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In preparation for the event, we tagged along with the owner of The Rooster to source cheaper cookware and equipment for our stand. He took us to a place that his ayi told him about, a kitchen and hardware market called the Jiu Xing Market in Minhang District that spanned 9 city blocks. We soon realized that this was the place that all local street vendors and hole-in-the-wall business owners went to get everything from mini plastic bags to customizable steel woks. We sat down with a steel shop to see how much it would cost to design our own flat-top griddle, experiencing the firsthand processes of becoming a true Chinese street food stand.

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Our business grew from embracing the urban form of a street food stand to becoming a hip and unique pop-up street food stand/restaurant that has been approached by the artists, event-planners, photographers, DJs, and bloggers of Shanghai’s creative class. Over the past three months, we’ve traversed the informal economy into the formal one that legitimizes our business as one that is a part of a trending culinary movement that is now occurring across the globe. City weekend describes Shanghai as the perfect location, “with its high rents, strong competition, and curious diners, it’s the perfect breeding place for the kind of culinary experimentation that is the lifeblood of pop-up restaurants.”

 

Street Peddler Beaten and Paralyzed By Shanghai Chengguan

A street food vendor in Sanya, Hainan was beaten by a chengguan after an argument broke out over the position of her cart and its obstruction of traffic.

It is controversial videos and photos like this that inform netizens of the underlying issues and rising tensions between the authoritative forces and street vendors.They are forced to defend themselves against officials while trying to survive in an environment that no longer sustains them.

http://www.chinasmack.com/2009/stories/street-peddler-beaten-paralyzed-by-shanghai-chengguan.html

 

French Students Sell Crepes In Shanghai, Flee From Chengguan

Two French study abroad students of Tongji University  set up a cart selling crepes near their campus in 2011. Their stand gained attention from both bloggers and chengguan authorities, and quickly got banned from conducting any business in China. After their story went viral, the French students became a lasting example for future expat street stands.

http://www.chinasmack.com/2011/pictures/shanghai-french-students-sell-crepes-flee-chengguan.html

Discarded Food Waste Slop Recycled Into Cheap Cooking Oil

China Smack posted repulsive images of gutter oil that had been ‘refined’ to be reused and resold as cheap cooking oil for restaurants that were trying to cut costs. Street food vendors have been notoriously known to use this oil, posing a danger especially because the majority of street food is deep-fried.

http://www.chinasmack.com/2009/pictures/recycled-slop-swill-cooking-oil.html

Juǎn Bǐng – Chinese-style Burrito – 卷饼

Originally from Taiwan, Juǎn bǐng (Chinese: 卷饼) is served as a portable street food snack or meal throughout the day. It comes with a thin pancake smeared with sweet and spicy sauce and wrapped around a variety of fillings that are garnished with lettuce, scallions and cucumbers before being rolled up and served. Their prices range from 9 to 15 yuan depending on the protein and add-ons chosen.

Ingredients:
The pancake dough is usually pre-made or pre-bought and made of flour, water, salt and oil. Hoisin and chili sauce are spread inside the pancake. Fillings can be anything from roasted duck, braised pork, char siew, or a poached egg. Proteins are garnished with lettuce, julienned cucumbers and scallions, cilantro, and chili oil.

Cooking Method:
Juan bing uses a pre-made dough that is first flash-fried in oil to be heated. Hoisin and chili sauce are smeared evenly over the pancake’s surface before the protein and add-ons are placed in the center. Add-ons can be anything from roasted duck, braised pork, char siew, or a deep fried egg. The fillings are then garnished with lettuce, julienned cucumbers and scallions, cilantro, and chili oil. The pancake is rolled and served in wax paper.

History:
Legends tell a story of a talented boy named Duan Lin Xue who lived during the Qing Dynasty in the period of Emperor Guangxu’s reign. At the age of 10, he could write poems; and he was able to pass the imperial examination at the country level by the time he was 13 years old even though most people couldn’t achieve that feat until they were 30. Because his family was very poor, his mother made him an over-sized gown so that he could wear it for many years. When he wore this gown to see his professor to give thanks, the professor stated the first line of a couplet, pointing out that his clothes didn’t fit and it was dragging on the floor. Duan Lin Xue cleverly responded with a second line of a couplet, complementing the red pearls on his hat. The professor was highly impressed, praising him for his intelligence and wit.

Because the boy’s family was so poor, he couldn’t afford to go to college, so his mother Hu Shi taught him on her own. He didn’t know much about the city because he didn’t venture out far from his home, but one day during the Lantern Festival he walked around the streets. He came upon a delicious smell wafting from a juan bing stand, and returned to his home to ask his mother what it was because he couldn’t afford to buy it. His mother became very sad that she could never buy her son good food, so she brought a few pancakes home. She added pickles and scallions to attempt to replicate the food he saw on the street. He thought it was very tasty, and asked his mother what it was, and she called it “Shou Pa Zi Bao La Za” or “handkerchief with a lot of random things inside.”

Possible Variations:
jianbing 煎饼– Chinese-style crepe
cong you bing 葱油饼– scallion pancakes
shou zhua bing 手煎饼– hand-grabbed pancake
jidan bing 鸡蛋饼– egg pancake

Related Cuisine:
Taiwanese Cuisine

 

Málà tāng – Hot and Spicy Soup – 麻辣汤

Málà, which translates to mouth-numbing, refers to the saliva-inducing, buzzing sensation that the Sichuan pepper creates the moment it hits your tongue. It is the essential ingredient to málà tāng (Chinese: 麻辣汤), a type of “DIY hot pot” experience that can be found around the city in various hole-in-the-walls. Typically served from late afternoon to dinnertime, this warming dish might range in ingredients and level of spice–a detail that disproves its misleading name.

A stack of basket sits alongside a large, glass slide-door refrigerator that displays stacks upon stacks of skewered vegetables, fishballs, meats, poultries, eggs, and seafood. There are also various types of noodles, tofu, and bean curd products that can be added to your personal selection. Customers are typically given a baseline price of 8 kuai to be added onto if more ingredients are chosen. Each additional ingredient can range from 0.5-1 kuai for vegetables, carbs and tofu and 2-3 kuai for meats, poultry and seafood.

Ingredients:
The variety of ingredients for the soup can range, but mala tang vendors typically provide everything from poultry, beef and pork meat/innards, a variety of cellophane, rice, and egg noodles, different flavors of fishballs, various forms of tofu/bean curd, octopus, squid, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, bok choy, various leafy greens, bean sprouts, cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower, and potato. The broth is boiled from pork belly, chicken bones, ginger, Sichuan peppers, and  possibly MSG.

Cooking Method:
After ingredients are chosen and handed to the cook, the ingredients are placed into a wired sieve spoon that is immersed into a boiling pot of broth that becomes infused with more and more flavor as ingredients are added in from various customers’ orders. Once the ingredients are cooked, they are dumped into a bowl and a sprinkle of garlic, chili pepper, chili oil, minced scallions, sesame oil, black vinegar, and crushed Sichuan pepper can go in before the broth is poured in to complete the dish.

History:
Before becoming a popular street food specialty, mala tang was a popular meal eaten among poor travelers and laborers in Sichuan province. It was said to have been a culinary innovation of the fishermen along the Yangtze River. For meals, they would collect stones to make a fire, get water from the river to put inside a crock pot for boiling water, gather wild vegetables for the broth, and create their own sauce to season their soups.

Another tale recounts the story of six old women who made food for the stonemasons as they were building the Leshan Giant Buddha in the Sichuan Province. The women prepared meat and vegetables on a stick and immersed them into the seasoned broth to cook before serving.

Related Cuisine:
Sichuan Cuisine

 

Shāokǎo / Chuàn’r – Barbecued Skewers/Kebabs – 烧烤 / 串儿

Easily found by the billowing smoke and strong smells that trail its coal burners, shāokǎo/chuàn’r  (Chinese: 烧烤 / 串儿) street stands corner nearly every street as soon as the sun begins setting until the early hours the next morning. Whether they’re found inside a hole-in-the-wall or pitched on a wooden tricycle, their stands are always easily spotted for the colorful array of skewers that lay side by side on display. Everything from skewered vegetables, sliced baozis, different types of tofu, chicken gizzards, whole fish or mutton pierced onto bamboo sticks sit in open air or under plastic-wrapped for customers to customize their selection. Skewers are heavily seasoned with a brush of oil and chili sauce and a sprinkle of a variety of spices such as spices like cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried chili pepper, paprika, pepper, and MSG. Locals typically pile on order of shao kao to accompany a beer while playing games of Chinese dice. Prices range per skewer, with vegetables, baozis, and tofu for 1 kuai, meats and poultry from 2-3 kuai, and seafood for up to 8 kuai.

Ingredients:
The variety of skewers/kebabs can range from vendor to vendor. It typically includes poultry (gizzards, kidney, hearts, skins, seasoned white and dark meat, and wings), beef chunks (each varying with amount of fat chunks and tendon), pork (seasoned meat, intestine, fat chunks), fish, scallops, octopus, squid, different types of bean curd or tofu, eggplant, sliced potato, broccoli, squash, cauliflower, scallions, chives, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, quail eggs, baozi, and korean rice cakes. The skewers are brushed with sesame oil, chili sauce, and sprinkled with a variety of spices such as spices like cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried chili pepper, paprika, pepper, and MSG.

You can usually differentiate shao kao stands to chuanr stands because the latter is usually sold alongside round flatbreads or xiànr bǐng 馅饼 that serve as a mechanism for the kebabs to rest on or placed inside. These breads are also placed onto the grill and seasoned before being served.

Cooking Method:
The skewers/kebabs are lined up over long, narrow charcoal grills, brushed with oil and chili sauce, and seasoned with a variety of spices. They are constantly churned and fanned until cooked and ready to be served.

History:
According to the Chinese classical text, San Zi Jing (Three Character Classic), early ancestors would hunt animals by spearing them. As a means to help his people, emperor Fuxi made a net and taught civilians how to fish and hunt birds and animals. Another issue arose when people were forced to eat their game and catch raw, which not only tasted terrible but also caused people to become sick. To save the day, Fuxi stole fire from the heavens and taught people how to barbecue shaokao so that people could become healthier.

The term chuanr is derived from the Xinjiang province of China, classified as a type of kebab traditionally made from lamb meat. It is a product of the Chinese Islamic cuisine of the Chinese Muslim population, specifically Uyghurs. They are just one of the many different types of food that reflect a deviation from chinese cuisine and a closer resemblance to that of Middle Eastern cuisine, such as halal food, that migrated over to China by the arrival of Islamic heritage.

Related Cuisine:
Xinjiang cuisine

Shǒu Zhuā Bìng – Hand-grabbed Pancake – 手抓并

Shǒu zhuā bìng (Chinese: 手抓并) originated in Taiwan, and became capitalized by various chains, such as Liang Quan Qi Mei, that specialize in making this street food. Its stands can be found throughout the city, and are available at any time throughout the day. The pancakes are typically made from pre-made dough that is frozen or refrigerated, and then cooked on a flat top where the dough is grabbed at until crisp layers of dough form. Toppings such as pork floss (rouxuong), a fried egg, hot dog, tomatoes, or lettuce can be added along with a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce.

Ingredients:
The batter of shou zhua bing is made from flour, water, oil, salt, and baking powder. Fillings may include pork floss (rouxuong), a fried egg, hot dog, tomatoes or lettuce. Sweet and sour sauce is also drizzled onto the pancake before serving.

Cooking Method:
For pre-made doughs that are typically sold in markets and used at street food stands, a flat top grill is heated and greased with oil. The pancake is then cooked on each side until a golden color starts to form. A spatula or tongs are typically used to begin rotating the pancake while simultaneously grabbing at it in order for crispy layers to form. Fillings are then added before the pancake is wrapped and served in a small paper pocket lined with foil.

History:
Shou zhua bing was officially brought to the mainland by the Taiwanese food chain, Liang Quan Qi Mei, in 2004. The stand has increasingly gained popularity among locals, expanding its presence to become one of Shanghai’s common street food snacks.

Possible Variations:
jianbing 煎饼– Chinese-style crepe
cong you bing 葱油饼– scallion pancakes
jidan bing 鸡蛋饼– egg pancake
qian ceng bing 千层饼– flaky pancake
qiang bing 羌饼– puffy pancake

Related Cuisine:
Taiwanese cuisine

Qiāng Bǐng – Puffy pancake – 羌饼

Commonly sold in wet markets or on the street throughout the day, qiāng bǐng (Chinese: 羌饼) is a thick, savory bread that is fried in a shallow, round pan. Its dough is chewy and slightly crisp on the outside with fragrant and nutty flavors from the minced scallions and sesame seeds. The thickness of the qiang bing can also vary from stand to stand. It is typically served by slice for about 1.5 yuan.

Ingredients:
The dough is made with flour, yeast, water, and salt. It is fried in oil and sprinkled with minced scallions and sesame seeds. A heated, shallow round pan is filled with oil and the dough is cooked on one side. The dough is pushed down to be immersed into the oil and slightly pierced to cook evenly, then flipped. Once the crust is golden on both sides, the bread is removed from the pan, sprinkled with minced scallions then left to cool before served.

Cooking Method:
A mixture of flour, yeast, warm water, and salt are combined and then set aside under a damp towel to rest and rise. After the dough has expanded, flour is sprinkled onto a flat surface and the dough is rolled out and shaped into a large circle. The dough is brushed with oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds. A heated, shallow round pan is filled with oil and the dough is cooked on one side. The dough is pushed down to be immersed into the oil and slightly pierced to cook evenly, then flipped. Once the crust is golden on both sides, the bread is removed from the pan, sprinkled with minced scallions then left to cool before served.

History:
The word “Qiang” from qiang bing comes from the Chinese minority, Qiang’zu, from the Tibetan and Sichuan Provinces. Their existence is slowly declining due to its lack of popularity among locals, which can most likely be explained by people’s preference to thinner crepe-like bings that are made fresh.

Possible Variations:
jiu cai hezi – stuffed with chinese chives
nuo mi hezi  – stuffed with glutinous rice
jianbing 煎饼– Chinese-style crepe
cong you bing 葱油饼– scallion pancakes
shou zhua bing 手煎饼– hand-grabbed pancake
jidan bing 鸡蛋饼– egg pancake
qian ceng bing 千层饼– flaky pancake

Related Cuisine:
Sichuan Cuisine

Cōng Yóu Bǐng – Scallion pancakes – 葱油饼

Cōng yóubǐng (Chinese: 葱油饼) is a savory, non-leavened flatbread that can be found in wet markets or on the street side in small glass-box stands. Scallions are dispersed throughout the dough, and it can be topped with various flavors including spicy and spicy sauce, plain, or with eggs coated on one side. The pancakes are served by weight, ranging in price depending on amount desired.

Ingredients:
Flour is combined with minced scallions, lard, and salt. The dough is rolled out thinly and fried in oil. It can then be left plain or topped with hoisin, sweet chili sauce, or cooked with egg.

Cooking Method:
A combination of flour, salt, oil, and water are combined in order to make the dough. The pancake is formed on a floured surface after the dough is rolled out into a thin layer. It is then brushed with sesame oil, sprinkled with scallions, rolled into a coil, and flattened out again to create flaky layers. The dough is fried in a shallow pan until golden brown. For different flavors, the dough is smeared with spicy sauce, hoisin sauce, or cooked again with egg on one side.

History :
Origins of cong you bing are unclear, but a Chinese folk story that relates to the evolution of pizza and its relation to the scallion pancake which believes that Marco Polo had brought it back to Italy upon his return. A humorous newspaper article describes the invention of pizza stating that Marco Polo had missed scallion pancakes so much that he tried to find chefs willing to make it for him. After convincing a chef from Naples to recreate the dish and finding that he was unable to, Marco Polo suggested that the filling be placed on top of the dough rather than inside. Everyone at that dinner party praised the dish, and the chef returned to Naples to improvise with his creation by adding cheese and other ingredients to form today’s pizza.

Possible Variations:
Jianbing 煎饼– Chinese-style crepe
jidan guangbing 鸡蛋光饼– Chinese-style burrito
shou zhua bing 手煎饼– hand-grabbed pancake
jidan bing 鸡蛋饼– egg pancake
qiang bing 炝饼– puffy pancake
qian ceng bing 千层饼– flaky pancake
shao bing – Sesame breakfast pastries

Related Cuisine:
Fujian, Shandong Cuisine

 

Jiānbing – Chinese-style crepes – 煎饼

Jiānbing  (Chinese: 煎饼), a traditional Chinese snack commonly served in the early hours for breakfast, closely resembles a cross between a crepe and a dosa. The crepe is made with a beaten egg, garnished with fresh herbs, pickles, and dried chili, and smeared with various sweet and spicy sauces. Its fillings are customizable, but the most common and popular version is made with a flat, crispy fried cracker in the center. It is typically sold for 3.5 yuan from 6am to 10am.

Over time, the popular street food has become identified with the term “jianbing ren煎饼人” which is used to describe people who are not capable of focusing on one thing at a time and truly deepen their thoughts. Their distracted mannerisms reflect the cooking style of jianbing, where the batter spreads in many directions across a large, round pan to generate a thin layer of pancake. Jianbing ren also live their lives in a “thin layer” that covers a lot of space without ever becoming “thick.” This can be explained by the change in value for social relationships, where nowadays people must create many superficial friendships in order to find job opportunities unlike their predecessors who had the stability of a work-unit (danwei单位) during Communist and early reform years. Much of the criticism comes from the older generations who lament upon younger generation’s lazy and impulsive characteristics due to the internet-craze and creatively suppressed education system. Many Chinese regard the term as a local characteristic rather than an extension of a global modernity. It is linked to the privatization of market, growing divide between generations, and changing values.

Ingredients:
The batter is traditionally made of mung bean flour, but different variations of its recipe might include other coarse grains like millet (xiaomi小米), purple rice (zimi紫米), green bean (lüdou绿豆), corn flour, soybean, or wheat flour. Oil is sometimes used to grease the pan before the batter is spread into a thin layer on the griddle. The pancake is sprinkled with minced scallions, cilantro, pickled mustard tuber. After an egg is broken up and spread on the entire surface, the crepe is smeared with fermented bean curd sauce (hongdou furu 红豆腐乳 or nanru南乳), a hoisin sauce (tianmianjiang甜面酱), and sprinkled with either chili flakes or a chili sauce (lajiang辣酱). Inside, a pre-fried wonton, youtiao, hot dog sausage, or chicken can be wrapped in the center of the crepe.

Cooking Method:
A round, cast iron griddle is heated at a medium-low temperature, and a bit of oil is used to grease its surface. The thickness of the crepe batter varies in consistency, but is always spread evenly across the surface of the griddle in a swift circular motion. An egg is cracked on top and the yolk is evenly broken and evenly spread over the crepe. Sliced scallions, cilantro (xiang cai香菜), and pickled mustard tuber (zha cai榨菜) are sprinkled. The crepe is then folded in half, and smeared with a sweet fermented bean curd sauce (hong doufuru or nanru), a hoisin sauce (tianmianjiang), and sprinkled with either chili flakes or a chili sauce (lajiang). Baocui, a crispy fried cracker, is then added in the center and the crepe is folded and sliced in the center to be eaten as a handheld snack.

History:
According to legends, jianbing originated during the Three Kingdoms period more than 2,000 years ago. Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei’s chancellor in Shandong Province, was encountered with the problem of feeding his army who had lost their woks. Zhuge ordered the cooks to mix water with wheat flour and spread the dough onto flat, copper griddles suspended over a fire. This innovative cooking technique lifted his soldiers’ morale and strength, allowing them to win the battle thereafter. Since then, people from the Shandong province have passed down this dish through generations.

The myth of origin comes from Zhuge Liang during the Chinese Three Kingdoms period more than 2,000 years ago. This man was a chancellor in the province of Shandong for the general Liu Bei, and he had a problem of feeding everyone in the army without the traditional Chinese cooking ware woks. Thus, Zhuge decided to use flat griddle-like pans and mix water with flour to cook this mixture evenly on the bottom of these flat pans. This was so well liked by soldiers that it made them stronger and they were able to win a battle after this. Ever after, people of Shandong province have passed this dish down generation to generation.

Colder temperatures in the northern part of China made it difficult for Chinese to grow rice, which explains use of coarse grains like wheat and millet to make various forms of pancake. Before electricity reached the countryside, every household had a water-powered stone mill (shuimo) that would be used to grind course grains into flour. Peasants would mill a day in advance and pan-fry their jianbing on a metal griddle over hot coals the next morning. The variety of nutrients in the grains allow for the comestible to be easily preserved in high-temperatures.

Possible Variations:
Jianbingguozi 煎饼果子– jianbing filled with a fried cruller (youtiao) instead of a crispy fried cracker (baocui)
jia xiangchang 加香菜– add coriander
jia shengcai 加生菜– add lettuce
cong you bing 葱油饼– scallion pancakes
shou zhua bing 手煎饼– hand-grabbed pancake
dan bing 蛋饼– egg pancake
qian ceng bing 千层饼– flaky pancake
qiang bing 炝饼– puffy pancake

Related Cuisine:
Shandong Cuisine

Shao bing – Sesame seed cake – 烧饼

Shao bing is a flaky, round baked bread topped with sesame seeds, usually eaten as a breakfast or snack accompanied with soymilk or tea. It comes with a variety of sweet and savory fillings including red bean paste, black sesame paste, mung bean paste, meat or plain. Different types of shao bing are often associated with certain cities and towns.

Liu Ji, a famous scholar from the Ming Dynasty, wrote a song titled “Shaobing Song” or the “Pancake Poem” (燒餅歌) to the Hongwu Emperor. Because it is written in cryptic form, its meaning is hard to decipher, but it is believed that certain lines contain references to the future of China. Because most of the predictions since 1911 have been vague and inaccurate, some experts believe the work to be a hoax of recent production, designed to reassure people of the political climate after the Japanese invasion and rise of Communism.

Ingredients:
The dough is made from flour, water, yeast, and either sugar or salt. It can be filled with various sweet or salty fillings and then topped with sesame seeds before being baked.

Cooking Method:
Yeast and warm water are mixed together before being combined with flour and salt/sugar. The dough is left to rise in a warm area before being transferred onto a floured surface where it is rolled out. Fillings are spread out on its surface and the dough is rolled and divided into smaller pieces. The dough is twisted standing up to form layers of dough and then balled up. Sesame seeds top each ball of filled dough to cover its top surface before being baked.

History:
During the Tang Dynasty, Arab traders would travel between China and the West, spreading their Islamic culture including religion and cuisine. Chinese converts thus became known as the Hui people (Huízú), who are associated with this street food for their historical Islamic influences. The earliest record of shao bing was seen in a Chinese historical text, Zīzhì Tōngjiàn (“Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government”), a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography in the form of a chronicle. The book mentioned several emperors during the Tang Dynasty, including one named Tang Xuan Zhong. He held the throne for the longest reign of the Tang Dynasty; however, he was better known for his love for his imperial concubine Yang Gui Fei 楊貴妃. The story goes that he was so lovestruck by his queen that he neglected his country, which caused people to want to murder her in order to gain back his attention. When the emperor found out, he took the queen to his palace to run away; but on the way there, they both got hungry. Tang Xuan Zhong’s prime minister, Yang Guo Zhong, who was also the elder brother of Yang Gui Fei, bought shao bing for the king. The street food gained popularity among locals once they found out about the emperor’s tasting of their cuisine.

Possible Variations:
dou sha xian bing – red bean pastry
niu rou xian bing – pan-fried beef pastry
liu dou xian bing – mung-bean pastry
hei zhi ma xian bing – black sesame filled pastry
hei zhi ma shao bing – black sesame on pastry

Related Cuisine:
Shandong Cuisine

Dàntà – Egg Tarts – 蛋挞

Founded upon multicultural origins, dàntà (Chinese: 蛋挞) are small, round pastries filled with a rich and silky center. The tart’s crust can either come in Hong Kong style crumbly, biscuit-like crust or Macau style thousand-layer form. In Shanghai, the latter version is commonly sold out of heated glass boxes for 3.5 yuan each. Their custard has a buttery center with a bruleed top, and its crust is light, crispy and flaky.

Ingredients:
To make the dough, mix lard, butter, eggs, and flour. The egg custard filling consists of egg, evaporated milk, sugar, and water.

Cooking Method:
First, combine the lard, butter, eggs, and flour and allow it to sit in the refrigerator.

History :
The first record of dan ta appeared in a banquet for Emperor Kangxi during the “Manchu-Han Imperial Feast,” one of the most lavish meals documented in Chinese culinary history. Dan ta was featured as one of the “Thirty-two Delicacies.”

The Portuguese-style egg tarts are called pasteis de nata. They were introduced to China after gaining popularity in Macau when the Special Administrative Region was under the Portuguese government. Since the 1990s, Fast food chains like KFC and Dominoes have adopted dan ta along with other Asian food items to their western menus.

Possible Variations:
Hong Kong danta – Hong Kong egg tarts
Portuguese danta – Portuguese egg tarts

 

Shāomai – Shanghai glutinous rice dumpling – 烧麦

Typically sold alongside baozi inside stacks of steaming bamboo baskets, shāomai (Chinese: 烧麦) are wonton-skins wrapped around savory glutinous rice with its skin gathered at the top. The street food is typically eaten as a hand-held breakfast staple and sold for 1.5 yuan.

It is a popular street food snack that has been gradually introduced to provinces throughout China, where it has adapted to different regional tastes that have changed its ingredients and forms in various ways. In the southern provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Jiansu, the radical “mai” in shaomai means to sell, while in Northern provinces of Beijing and Inner Mongolia, the radical “mai” in shaomai means wheat. Regardless of the region’s form of Chinese character, Chinese people know shaomai as a type of dumpling made with flour that is made with baking powder and with a skin that gathers at the top to resemble a pomegranate.

Ingredients:
Shaomai consists of glutinous rice balls seasoned with scallions, minced pork, mushrooms, soy sauce, and salt. They are wrapped around thin wonton skins.

Cooking Method:
Ground pork is seasoned with salt and minced scallions and pan-fried. Shiitake mushrooms are minced and slightly cooked. Glutinous rice (nuomi) is first steamed and then combined with the ground pork, mushrooms, and soy sauce until the rice is dyed a light brown color. The seasoned rice is wrapped around a thin wonton skin and cooked in a bamboo steamer for 5 minutes. They are left in the steamer to stay warm, and served directly from it.

History :
The earliest historical record of shaomai dates back to the 14th century during the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty in a Korean-Chinese textbook called “Pu Tong Yan Jie”, which mentions the street food. It is said that the name comes from having a similar appearanceto taohua, which means peach blossom. During the Qian Long periodof the Qing Dynasty, it also appeared in a line of a poem that stated, “Shao mai huntun lie man pan,” which describes how people ate shaomai alongside dumplings on a plate. Several different fillings are described in the Qingping Shangtang, including vegetable, lamb, chicken, pheasant, sesame, plum, and lamb.

While there are various textual recordings of the street food’s existence, its geographical origins are traced to the Inner Mongolia province, where Qing Dynasty merchants would visit tea houses where they were served and bring them along with them as they traveled throughout the surrounding areas.

Possible Variations:
Siumai – Cantonese pork and mushroom dumpling
Huhhot shaomai – sheep dumpling
Hunan shaomai– chrysanthemum dumpling
Jiangnan shaomai – Jiangnan dumpling
Yifeng shaomai – Jiangxi dumpling

Related Cuisine:
Shanghai cuisine

 

Kǎo Dì Guā – Roasted Sweet Potato – 烤地瓜

For local Shanghainese, kǎo dì guā (Chinese: 烤地瓜) is a favorite street snack during colder months of the year. Vendors usually grow the potatoes themselves, and wheel around a modified barrel oven filled with coal to slowly roast them inside. Once the potatoes are done roasting, they are showcased on top of the heated iron bin usually alongside roasted corn on the cobs. Patrons can choose which potato they want before it is weighed and priced.

Traditional Chinese medicine encourages the consumption of kao di gua during winter because it helps the body remove the season’s dryness. They also are high in nutritional value, considering their fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamin A and C, iron, and calcium.

When choosing the best sweet potato, those that have a wrinkly skin that gives in when poked with a finger are usually sweeter and more moist. The soft texture comes from the potato’s high sugar content.

Ingredients:
Sweet potatoes are roasted without any additives for its natural sweetness forms during the roasting process.

Cooking Method:
Sweet potatoes are placed inside an iron barrel heated with coal at the bottom. After they are done roasting, they are showcased on the barrel’s heated lid.

History:
In Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province in Eastern china, a story was told about the emperor Qianlong, and kao di gua. He lived to be 80 years old, making him the oldest emperor to live. Due to his old age, he began to suffer from constipation. His doctors tried many ways to cure his misery, but none succeeded. One day, he was lured into the royal dining room by the sweet aroma of sweet potato. He saw the eunuch roasting them, so he tried one and enjoyed it so much that he wanted to eat it everyday. Gradually, his constipation was cured. Today, this story is told as a solution to people’s constipation.

Related Cuisine:
Shandong Cuisine

 

Guō tiē – Potsticker dumplings – 鍋貼

Typically pan-fried and served alongside sheng jian bao, guō tiē (Chinese: 鍋貼) are a common Shanghai street food snack sold throughout the day. These Northern Chinese style dumplings are larger in size, with thicker, chewier skins and a juicy pork filling. They are typically sold in small bags of four for 3 kuai.

Ingredients:
The dough of the dumpling is made from water and flour. Though the fillings can range from vegetables to chicken or beef, the most common street food guo tie are filled with juicy ground pork. The minced pork filling is seasoned with salt, pepper, and minced chives.

Cooking Method:
The Chinese method of preparing dough first pours boiling water onto the flour and allows it to stand for a few minutes before adding a small quantity of cold water. This allows for the gluten to activate in the dough. After the dough of the guo tie is made, smaller balls are individually formed to be rolled out into circles with thinner edges. The ground pork mixture is placed in the center of the dough and folded inside. Once the dumplings are prepared, a shallow, round pan is filled with a bit of water. The dumplings are placed, fold-side up, into the pan usually alongside sheng jian baos. A wooden top is used to cover and steam the dumplings and buns before oil is added in order for one side of the skin to crisp up. The pan is given a shake in order to prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom and the pan is rotated a few times before being opened up again in order to be sprinkled with minced scallions. The dumplings are left in the pan for their bottoms to become a crisp, golden brown and their tops to be steamed and slightly chewy.

History :
The broader term for guotie is jiaozi, which means dumpling. Legends say that during the later years of the Eastern Han Period, one of the most well-known Chinese physicians, Zhang Zhongjing, invented a food to help peasants stay warm during the cold winter. He filled the dumpling with hot pepper and medicinal material as fillings.

Possible Variations:
shuǐjiǎo – boiled dumplings
zhēngjiǎo – steamed dumplings
dànjiǎo – egg wrapped dumplings

 

Shēng Jiān Bāo – Pan-fried buns – 生煎包

Shēng jiān bāo (Chinese: 生煎包) is one of the most popular street foods found in Shanghai. It is made from semi-leavened dough, wrapped around a ball of seasoned ground pork and a gelatinized soup filling. Minced scallions and sesame seeds are sprinkled onto the buns during the cooking process. The name of the bun comes from its method of cooking, during which the balls of stuffed dough are lined up in a round, shallow pan filled with oil. When the fillings are added, the bottom of the buns form a “knot,” which is the side that faces downwards in direct contact with the oiled pan. This side of the bun becomes golden and crispy during the cooking process, creating a tasty contrast in texture.

After the buns are done cooking, the buns become fluffy and bready on one side and crispy on the other. The proper way to eat the bun is to take a small bite out of the soft side in order to prevent the melted soup from bursting out and to allow the inside to cool down before consuming the entire bun. The buns are sold in groups of four, usually eaten during breakfast time. Traditionally, the buns are eaten alongside a bowl of beef brisket soup and a side of black vinegar to cut the oil. The buns are typically served to-go in a small paper bag for portability. Although they are more commonly sold during early hours of the day, some shops sell them at all hours as a snack.

Ingredients:
The flour is made from flour, water, yeast, and salt. Inside, soup gelatin is made from pork skin, garlic, scallions, ginger, water, salt, and pork bone. The minced pork meat filling is seasoned with rice win, finger, scallion, salt, sugar, soy sauce, white pepper, and sesame oil.

Cooking Method:
Flour, water, yeast, and salt are combined together to form a dough. The mixture is left to rise in a warm, humid area. The ingredients for the soup gelatin are all combined in a stock pot and cooked for hours until the pig’s skin dissolves. The meat mixture is combined well before being formed into smaller portions to be filled inside the pieces of dough along with a chunk of jelly. The dough is ticked in tightly with a top knot and the pieces are closely packed into a large shallow griddle, often side by side to guo tie because they’re cooked in the same way. The buns are sprinkled with minced scallions and either white or black sesame seeds. A bit of oil is poured over the top as the skillet is moved around so to prevent the bottoms of the bun from sticking. After a crust has formed on one side, water is added to the pan and a heavy wooden lid is placed over the griddle to steam the soft tops of the buns.

History:
Over a century ago, shengjianbao were served as snacks to accompany tea as something to enjoy before or after dinner. It soon grew in popularity as a street food because it was both quick and portable. Those who were too impatient to eat were said to be easily “fried” in the hot soup if they took a bite too soon.

Possible Variations:
Niu rou bao – Pan-fried beef buns

Related Cuisine:
Shanghai cuisine

 

Chá Yè Dàn – Tea Eggs – 茶葉蛋

A common street food snack among locals, chá yè dàn (Chinese: 茶葉蛋) are pre-boiled eggs which have been re-boiled in tea, sauce, or spices. It is also known as the marble egg because cracks in the eggshell create marble-like patterns on the egg white. The yolk should have a thin, greyish edge with a yellow core. The use of five-spice for the brine adds a savory, slightly salty flavor to the egg white, and the tea brings out the yolk’s flavor. The eggs are served sitting in a bath of dark brine in order to continue to steep for increasing flavor.

Cha ye dan has recently become an Internet phenomenon after being used as a mechanism of belittlement between Taiwanese media and Chinese mainlanders. During a well-known Taiwanese variety talk show, a woman claimed that she had visited China and noticed that locals were so poor that they couldn’t even afford tea eggs. Since then, many Chinese netizens have turned the criticism into an online joke that hyperbolizes the value in this street food. Pictures will of the tea egg will commonly be framed in a luxurious or fancy way, captioned with a mocking tone that jokes about the large amount of money it costed that individual to purchase such a small treat.

Ingredients:
Traditional preparation uses Chinese five-spice, which contains cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns. They can be cooked in this spice-seasoned broth alone, or sitting in a brine that is also seasoned with soy sauce and black tea leaves.

Cooking Method:
Eggs are first hard-boiled and removed from the water. The shell of each egg is gently cracked all around in order to create a marbling effect while brining. The cracked eggs are placed back into a spiced-tea broth made of Chinese five-spice, soy sauce, and black tea. The eggs simmer inside this mixture for some time and then transferred into the refrigerator to allow for further steeping. The longer the tea remains in the mixture, the more flavorful and colored it will be.

History:
Essentially of Chinese origin, the details of cha ye dan’s origins are unclear, but the street food gained popularity within a short time span. The dish was introduced to countries where Chinese population migrated in large numbers.

Related Cuisine:
Sichuan Cuisine

 

Bāozi – Steamed buns – 包子

Bāozi (Chinese: 包子) is a pillowy-soft, steamed bun that is filled with savory or sweet centers. Although locals prefer to eat them for breakfast, they are sold from the early hours of the morning until late afternoon. Each one is typically 1.5 kuai out of stacks of bamboo steamers alongside shao mai.

Ingredients:
The bun’s dough consists of water, dry yeast, sugar, bread flour, baking powder, salt and sesame oil.

Cooking Method:
The yeast and sugar are combined in warm water and allowed to sit. After the flour and sugar are combined, the yeast water is added to the mixing bowl until a ball of dough is formed. The dough is kneaded and allowed to rest in a humid environment. After the dough has risen, baking powder is kneaded into the dough before it is divided into two long rolls and cut into pieces. Each piece of dough is formed into a ball that is rolled into a disk so that the filling can be encased in the center. Each ball of dough is allowed to rise before being placed into bamboo steamers.

History :
During the Three Kingdoms period, Zhuge Liang, a military strategist of the time, was on an expedition to Southern China when he and his army found themselves unable to cross a river because the storm was too violent. He asked Meng Hua why they couldn’t cross, and he stated that the war had caused so many deaths that angry spirits were trapped there, unable to return to their families. The spirits claimed that they needed 49 people to sacrifice themselves in order for Zhuge Liang and his soldiers to cross the river. Zhuge Liang wasn’t willing to allow even more people to die, so he asked his cook to make him 49 buns with dough that resembled skin with beef or mutton fillings so that he could trick the spirits into believing that they were real people.

The street food was originally called mantou, which means “flour head,” but as it gained popularity in the north, people began calling it baozi because bao meant “to wrap.”

Possible Variations:
gancai bao – braised cabbage bun
qingcai bao – bok choy tofu bun
rou bao – pork bun
hua juan – scallion mantou
dabao – large bun

 

Cí Fàn Gāo – Deep-fried Glutinous Rice Cake – 粢饭糕

Often served alongside various deep-fried bings and youtiao, cí fàn gāo (Chinese: 粢饭糕) is a rectangular block of compressed glutinous rice that is fried until golden brown. It is often eaten as a savory breakfast snack during autumn, when the rice has just been harvested.

Ingredients:
Glutinous rice is cooked with water, seasoned with salt and deep-fried in oil.

Cooking Method:
The glutinous rice is steamed and then kneaded and seasoned with salt. The mixture is compressed into cakes and cut into rectangles before being deep-fried.

History:
During the Spring and Autumn Festival, a man named Wu Zi Xu wanted to help people who were suffering from hunger after the war. He shaped sticky rice in the form of a condensed brick and buried it in the ground so that people could eat it in case of emergency. While their city was being invaded by emperor Guo Jian, the trapped inhabitants were able to eat the bricks of glutinous rice that were previously buried into the ground in order to survive. The people dug the bricks of rice out of the ground and deep-fried it before eating it. From that time on, people continued to make this dish during the Autumn Festival in remembrance of their hero.

Possible Variations:
ci fan tuan – Chinese cruller stuffed stuffed in a glutinous rice ball

Related Cuisine:
Shanghai Cuisine

Chòu dòufu – Stinky Tofu – 臭豆腐

Chòu dòufu (Chinese: 臭豆腐 ) is a fermented tofu that is deep fried and topped with fermented bean paste sauce, cilantro and chili. Though its pungent smells may linger everywhere, those that can get past its strong scent can enjoy its soft, silky center. The street food snack is usually sold at night, served out of a small bowl and toothpicks to pierce each cube or served alongside rice congee as a breakfast meal.

Ingredients:
The tofu is left to ferment for weeks or months in a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat. Additional ingredients can be added into this brine, including dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs.

Cooking Method:
The tofu is left to ferment in a brine up to months. After the fermentation process, the tofu is cut into cubes and deep fried. Chou doufu is then topped with a fermented bean paste sauce, cilantro, and chili sauce.

History :
According to legends, chou doufu was invented by a man named Wang Zhi He during the Qing Dynasty. He studied to become a civil servant to emperor Kang Xi, but tried and failed many times. Every time he would leave his hometown to take the exam at the capital city, he would end up using all of his money for transportation and be left with nothing to purchase food. To save himself the cost and time, he decided to make a living in the capital city while he prepared for the next year’s exam. His family back home was wealthy from their tofu factory business, where he learned how to make it at a young age. He rented a few stores in the capital city and bought some simple tools to make it in order to sell it on the street. During that time, the summer heat was causing the fresh tofu that he didn’t sell to become moldy. He didn’t want to waste his food so he came up with a way to preserve it. He decided to cut the tofu into smaller pieces, sun-cure them, then pickle them with salt. They were left storing in a jar until autumn came and he remembered that he had left his pickling tofu. The moment he opened the jar, he was hit with the sharp stench of fermented tofu that had become grey and cinereous. He tried one and didn’t think its taste was terrible, so he sent them to the neighborhood who found that they, too, enjoyed the dish.

Related Cuisine: 
Zhejiang, Hunan cuisine

Chǎo Lìzi – Sugar chestnuts – 炒栗子

Chǎo lìzi (Chinese: 炒栗子) can be found churning in large cauldrons on the street emitting sweet, nutty flavors into the air. Chestnuts are roasted and seasoned with coarse sand, syrup and osmanthus essence. Once they’ve been evenly roasted, the sugary chestnuts appear glossy. The shells should fall away easily–an indication of the quality of the chestnuts–revealing the “meat” which should be golden, soft and tasty. They are best eaten immediately after they have been taken from the wok. Once cooled, they are no longer as sweet or fragrant.

Sugar-roasted chestnuts from the Xin Chang Fa Food Store chain are regarded as the best in Shanghai. This street food treat is popularly eaten among locals during the colder months of the year, usually selling for 16 yuan to 32 yuan per kilo.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, chestnuts are regarded as “fruit for the kitney and patients with renal diseases.” It is a warming food that is said to nourish the qi of the gastrointestinal system, spleen and kidneys. Chestnuts are also used to improve circulation, and are eaten daily by elderly Chinese people to prevent and treat high blood pressure, heart disease, hardening of the arteries and osteoporosis. They are especially eaten during the autumn and winter because their high carbohydrate content provides a warming quality that is good for suppressing and combating colds.

Ingredients:
Chestnuts are soaked in rock sugar, molasses, and water. They are then fried in oil until golden.

Cooking Method:
Chestnuts are first boiled until tender. Sugar and molasses are boiled before the chestnuts are added and cooked at a simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed. The chestnuts are drained and then added to an oiled cauldron. They are churned by a rotating shovel inside the heated cauldron filled with coarse sand. The purpose of the sand is to heat them evenly and retain their inherent sweetness.

History:
Chestnuts have been apart of Chinese cuisine since neolithic times. Remains of a chestnut species named Castanea vulgaris, have been found earlier than the Han Dynasty. Chestnuts were one of the many food items found in tombs in Hubei. Chestnut trees were indigenous in the Hubei Province as well as other northern, western, and some southern areas too. Traces of its existence in such an exceptionally early part of China’s food culture proves that it is one of the earliest nuts used in antiquity. They were given to emperors as tribute, using them as gifts for his noble lords. Their trees were considered a good omen, so they were often planted near court mansions or alters at temples dedicated to earthly spirits. In ancient times, chestnuts were stored sun-dried and sand-covered under a pottery dome.

Chestnuts have also been prevalent in ancient texts such as early writings from the Zhou Dynasty through the Han Dynasty. They have been recorded in the Shih Ching “Book of Odes” and in the Li Chi “Book of Rites.”

Related Cuisine:
Hunan, Zhejiang cuisine

Liángpí – Cold Jelly Noodles – 凉皮

Liángpí (Chinese: 凉皮) is a cold noodle dish tossed with peanut sauce, chili oil, and vinegar and garnished with refreshing garnishes such as julienned cucumbers, cilantro and bean sprouts. When the weather gets warmer, liang pi vendors can be found making this dish out of a glass box perched on top of a tricycle. Customers are given the option of rice or wheat flour or a combination of both to be tossed in with other components of the dish. Liangpi is typically sold for 6 to 7 kuai.

Ingredients:
Different types of liangpi can range in ingredients. Its noodles are either made from rice or wheat flour. The sauce combinations consist of salt, vinegar, chili oil, black sesame paste and garlic. Garnishes can include wheat gluten, julienned cucumbers, bean sprouts, cilantro and scallions.

Cooking Method:
To make the noodles, the wheat or rice flour is turned into a soft dough by adding a bit of water and salt. The dough is “rinsed” until the water is saturated with starch from the dough. The remainder of the dough is then removed and the bowl is left to rest overnight in order to allow the dissolved starch to precipitate. The following day, a residue of starchy paste that sits at the bottom of the bowl is drained of the liquid that sits above it. A small amount of that paste is then spread out into a thin layer and steamed in order to make a “pancake” that is cut into long pieces resembling noodles. These noodles are placed into a bowl and tossed with various sauces and garnishes before being served.

History:
A folk story is told that takes place during the Qing Dynasty where ten acres of rice fields spanned Nanzheng County beside the Feng River. One year, the river had dried up due to the drought and the rice was poor in quality. People became distraught because they didn’t know how to pay their annual tribute to the emperor Qing Shi Huan. A man named Li Shi Er decided to grain the rice into a paste, steam it and cut it into strips. He then added some spicy sauce and vinegar to create Da Mi Mian Pi Zi, the original form of Liangpi. The people all made this dish for the emperor, expecting that he wouldn’t enjoy it. Everyone was pleasantly surprised when the emperor stated that everyone was exempt from the tax that year because he loved the dish so much. The preparation of liangpi became an annual tradition in that town since then.

Possible Variations:
Hanzhong Liangpi – with steamed garlic and hot chili oil
Majiang Liangpi – with julienned cucumber and a sauce made from salt, vinegar, chili oil, and black sesame paste
Shan Xin Gan Mianpi – with wheat gluten, vinegar, chili oil, salt, mashed garlic, and bean sprouts

Related Cuisine:
Shaanxi Cuisine

 

Dòu Huā – Tofu Soup – 豆花

Dòu Huā (Chinese: 豆花) is a street food commonly eaten as breakfast or a late night treat alongside a crispy youtiao. In Shanghai, it is usually served with savory flavors and garnishes such as soy sauce, salt, cilantro, chili oil, pickled mustard tuber, and sliced pieces of youtiao.

Ingredients:
The tofu curd is made from dried soybeans, water, gypsum powder and cornflour. The dessert version adds a dark syrup infused with ginger. The salty version adds a dash of soy sauce, chili oil, and salt and garnishes with cilantro and minced pieces of pickled mustard tuber.

Cooking Method:
The soy milk is first made by soaking pulverized soybeans with water and straining it, repeating this process multiple times. Once the soy milk is made, it is left to simmer as a mixture of gypsum powder, corn flour and water are slowly added in. After the curd has set, it can be spooned into a bowl and topped with whatever sweet or salty dressings desired.

History:
According to legends, tofu originated in China over 2,000 years ago. It is believed that its production began during the Han Dynasty when a cook decided to experiment by flavoring a batch of cooked soybeans with the compound nagari. Instead of getting flavored soybeans, he ended up with bean curd.

Possible Variations:
dòufurǔ – fermented tofu
chòudòufu – stinky tofu
dòupào – fried tofu
dòngdòufu – thousand layer tofu

Related Cuisine:
Sichuan, Hubei cuisine

 

Yóu Tiáo – Chinese Cruller – 油条

Yóu Tiáo (Chinese: 油条), also known as Chinese cruller, oil stick, doughnut, and breadstick, is a trip of fried dough that is typically eaten for breakfast. It usually is served as an accompaniment with rice congee, soy milk, or tofu soup where they are either served whole to be dipped into the liquid or cut into smaller pieces to be sprinkled on top. They are lightly salted and fried in pairs with the center attached so that the dough becomes puffy and crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. You tiao is best eaten immediately after it is fried because of its tendency to become tough or elastic-y if left out for too long. At breakfast, you tiao, can be stuffed inside various carbohydrates such as roasted flatbread (shaobing), rice noodle (zhaliang), or glutinous rice (cifan). Its sweet version is named tang gao, which is similar in appearance to youtiao but shorter in length.

Ingredients:
You tiao contains flour, water, sugar, salt, baking soda and vegetable oil. Street vendors usually add alum, potassium aluminum sulfate crystals, to recipes in order to increase the puffy, crispy exterior of their bread.

Cooking Method:
All ingredients are combined to form a soft dough, which is kneaded and left to rest two to three times. The dough is brushed with oil and folded then cut into smaller pieces to be stretched out and twisted together into pairs. A wok of oil is heated before the strips of dough are deep-fried till golden.

History:
You tiao is nicknamed you zha gui, or deep fried ghost, which stems from a story told long ago during about a public protest that took place during a rather heavy and serious part of Chinese history. The protest involved a famous and well-respected General, Yue Fei, who was appraised by the people for his loyalty towards the Song Dynasty and his Emperor during his time at war defending the kingdom from outer invasions, particularly the Jin Dynasty.

At that time, the Prime Minister, Qin Kuai, and his wife, Wang, grew jealous of him and formed a secret liaison with the invading northern tribe of the Jin Dynasty to frame Yue Fei under accusations of a crime and get him executed. Public civilians were frustrated by their inability to defend their General; so in reaction, a shao bing vendor and ci fan tuan vendor decided that they should devise a way to express their opinions. The pancake vendor decidedly sculpted two miniature people out of dough, representing Qin Kuai and Madam Wang. He then began slashing at their figures with his dough cutter. The other vendor brought his deep-fry wok, twisted the two figures together into one piece of dough with their backs to each other, and threw them into the wok full of searing oil.

While they were frying, the vendors called out for people to see. As a crowd of passer-byers formed to see the two ugly figures sizzling in the hot oil, they immediately called out, “Fried Kuai!” At the same time, Qin Kuai happened to pass this spectacle on his way from the imperial palace and was enraged with disbelief by the mutiny of his edible figure.

In the vendors’ defense, two men stepped up and scooped the fried dough out of the oil to eat it. They exclaimed how delicious and crispy it was, which further infuriated Qin Kuai. The two food vendors combined businesses to continue making the fried Kuai. Soon, their business was so busy that they had to design a simpler version of fried Kuai that was made of two strips of dough twisted together in order to represent Qin Kuai and his wife. The street food sensation quickly spread to other cities of China and eventually given the name, “you tiao.”

During the Cultural Revolution in China, educated youths used food-related propaganda as a way of symbolically addressing issues aimed at the laobaixing. A well-known street food youtiao, a deep-fried cruller that literally translates to “oily strip,” appeared as a political emblem as the cheapest and lowliest form of Shanghai street food. It came to represent the poor economic realities of students receiving government scholarships who could only afford to eat, at most, three youtiao a day. These student activists wanted to motivate the government to fund schools and provide living stipends for intellectuals.

Possible Variations:
ci fan tuan – Chinese cruller stuffed stuffed in a glutinous rice ball
shaobing youtiao – Chinese cruller inside roasted flatbread
zha liang – Chinese cruller inside rice noodle roll
tang gao – Sugar doughnut

 

Niú Ròu Xiān Bǐng – Pan-fried Beef Pastry – 牛肉餡餅

Niú Ròu Xiān Bǐng (Chinese: 牛肉餡餅) are savory snacks served throughout the day. They have golden, crisp crusts and a juicy, fragrant beef filling.

Ingredients:
First, the dough is made from flour, water and salt. The meat filling consists of ground beef, scallions, egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper and white pepper.

Cooking Method:
The ground beef is marinated with all of the spices, soy sauce, and onions and allowed to sit for the flavors to meld together. The flour, salt, and water are mixed together to form a dough. On a floured surface, the dough is kneaded, rolled out, and divided into circles. The seasoned ground beef is placed in the center of the dough and pinched shut. The pastry is then flattened and fried in a heated and oiled shallow pan on medium-low heat. Once both sides are golden brown, it is ready to be served.

History:
According to legends, niu rou bing originated from the Tang Dynasty during  Xuan Zhong’s reign. The story relates to his discovery of shao bing when he was fleeing with his imperial concubine Yang Gui Fei  and tried one on the street. One day he disguised himself and went to the streets of Xi’an. He saw a small shop lined with hundreds of people waiting with cake in their hands. The emperor was lured into line by the delicious smells, and found out that everyone was waiting in line for niu rou bing. After waiting in line and ordering two, he ate the first one so fast that he didn’t even know what it looked like. He saw the second one and realized that it looked like the moon. After, he couldn’t forget the store or the memory of the food, so he often went back to buy and eat it.

A famous poet named Bai Juyi of the Tang Dynasty also wrote a poem about niu rou bing called “Send the Pancake to Yang Wan Zhou.” In it, he appraises how delicious the pancake tastes when it is freshly made, and sends it to his friend.

Possible Variations:
shao bing – Sesame breakfast pastries
dou sha xian bing – red bean pastry
liu dou xian bing – mung-bean pastry
hei zhi ma xian bing – black sesame filled pastry
hei zhi ma shao bing – black sesame on pastry
sheng jian bao – pan-fried bun
niu rou bao – fried beef buns

Related Cuisine:
Shaanxi Cuisine