It’s a cultural norm in China to wear your pajamas outside in public. It’s the ultimate too-hungover-to-care perk of living here because I can literally wake up, throw on a coat and be outside to pay a few cents for breakfast and be on my way back to bed. Of course, my appetite gets the best of me as usual and I end up walking along the street to each vendor sampling an amuse-bouche of shanghai breakfast street food.
If you’re lucky enough to make it out of bed before 10a.m., one of the most heavenly breakfast experiences has to be a niu rou bao from the hole-in-the-wall window front restaurant on the corner of Anhua and Dingxi Lu. The first time I bit into the bun’s flaky exterior into the fluffy dough, it burst with porky broth from its succulent, tender meatball.
I watched as the man behind the window’s ledge poured a glistening coat of oil to the bottom of a shallow, cast-iron pan and throw down balls of dough sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions. He was making another version of sheng jian bao, which comes in a smaller size and is only fried crispy on one side. In my opinion, the one pictured above and below has a more flavorfully seasoned filling.
Another quintessential streetfood breakfast item is jian bing, a Chinese-style crepe that resembles something similar to a dosa with a light rice batter that steams from fluffiness in the center and flakes along its edges. The best part about it is that it’s basically just carbs wrapped around in more carbs–a prevalent characteristic among many Chinese snacks that does no justice to my body but makes me happy all the while.
Crepe batter made from mung bean flour is poured onto a steaming heavy griddle and spread into a thin layer. An egg is broken up on top and the pancake is usually flipped; but at this particular stand on Dingxi Lu, the man leaves the outer skin to crisp and adds a smear of hoisin and chili satay sauce inside. A dash of scallions and cilantro are sprinkled and a bubbly-fried cracker is added inside before the crepe is folded into a portable, hand held wrap.
Another version of jian bing comes soft, fluffy and steaming with aromas of scallion and chili sauce. The batter is poured onto the hot griddle, an egg is beaten on top and the entire crepe is flipped. It’s then folded, smeared with sweet sauce and chili oil, sprinkled with scallions and folded into a wrap. By flipping the egg-coated side onto the griddle, the crepe’s batter melds with the binding ingredients to form a chewier, fluffy dough.