Shanghai is a dreamland destination for street foodies. Friendly, family-run food stalls dot every neighborhood, hawking the simple, cheap eats from every corner of the country. But entire food streets are fast disappearing to make way for malls and high-rises. A few pockets are still intact and beg to be explored on an empty belly. Today the most famous and best food street is Fangbang Road near the corner of Sipailou Road in the Old City. This densely packed stretch is home to grilled barbecue (shao kao), noodles, and fried rice vendors. Any morning of the week, the intersection of Changle Road and Xiangyang Nan Road comes alive with locals lining up for breakfasts of steamed buns, dumplings, and savory pancakes. Come Friday afternoon, head north to the Muslim market, where you can go from stall to stall, making a meal of yogurt drinks, roasted lamb and rice, and gorgeous pumpkin dumplings.
A Da Cong You Bing
Cong you bing—a scallion oil pancake—is one of Shanghai’s most famous and delicious street foods. Stuffed with scallions grilled in pork fat, this pancake is roasted until crispy in a kiln to create an irresistible combo of crunchy on the outside and chew on the inside. Nobody makes them better than Mr. Wu, a hunchbacked old man whose legendary stall on Nanchang Road generates queues up to an hour long starting as early as 6 a.m.
Sheng jian Bao and Guotie
You can easily make a meal out of Shanghai’s fried dumplings. Little joints around the city typically whip up to two types of pan-fried pork dumplings in their large, shallow woks. The first is the guotie or pot sticker, a classic pork dumpling with a crunchy crust giving way to succulent, juices on the inside. The second temptation is sheng jian bao, a bigger, rounder dumpling with a bready wrapper that is crispy on bottom and pillowy on top. Yang’s Stir Fried dumpling made a successful chain out the sheng jian bao.
Liangpi literally translates as “cold skin” but don’t be deterred by the less-than-appetizing name. This cold dish is a great nosh for hot days when you can’t weigh yourself down by another basket of fried dumplings. The stars of the dish are sheets of rice starch sliced to resemble noodles and tossed with coriander, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The vendor then adds an extra jolt of flavor with sugar, vinegar, and chili.
You cannot leave Shanghai without trying a jianbing, the most delicious breakfast food in China, if not the entire planet. It’s that good. They are thin, savory Chinese crepes cooked by street vendors on a hotplate. Millet flour dough is poured and spread thin, then topped with salty soy bean paste (similar to hoisin), an egg, scallions, pickled vegetables, coriander and a slathering of chili sauce. Lastly, the vendor adds a deep fried wonton wrapper for extra crunch.
One of China’s most popular breakfast foods, baozi are steamed buns stuffed with hearty fillings. The mantou bread—however bland on its own—makes the perfect vessel for fillings like salty pork (rou bao). Vegetarians will become addicts of the minced cabbage and tofu inside the cai bao. You can spot baozi stands by steaming bamboo baskets stacked high on the sidewalk. Mom and pop vendors make the best baozi, but these corner shops are a dying breed, so it’s easier to get your fill at popular chains like Babi Mantou.