Tag Archives: shanghai

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.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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