My first impression of Shanghai had left me in a state of fear. Fear of dirty holes in the ground in place of toilets, fear of fake alcohol, fear of gutter oil in my food, fear of bacterial growth slowly eating my insides. So maybe those fears still subconsciously exist, but I many of them have increasingly subsided as I’ve been introduced to more incredible gastronomic experiences during my stay here.
There are two elements of street food that drive the majority of patrons away: bad sanitation and a dirty environment. For the first two weeks in Shanghai, I avoided a dingy hole-in-the-wall on An’hua Lu and Ding Xi Lu. Like many others, I feared for my health, but everyone also knows that a place flooded with locals must serve some good street food. One night, I was lured in by wafting aromas coming from a woman facing a boiling pot of soup rimmed with many ladles and a man alongside her churning skewers on a portable coal burner.
The small space inside accommodated four tables and one side of the wall had a table beside a refrigerator that shelved a variety of vegetables, noodles, tofu, and fishballs. A numbered, rectangular basket and tongs were provided for customers to create a customizable soup.
On the other side by the window, there were two tables displaying skewers upon skewers of seafood, poultry, pork and beef, vegetables, and bread.
The skewers were brushed with Sichuan oil and seasons with salt, cayenne and cumin.
The personalized ingredients are placed into a netted ladle to cook in a large, boiling broth that had aromas of ginger, pork, and Sichuan. After they were placed into a bowl, black vinegar, sesame oil, chili oil, chili flakes, minced garlic and chopped scallions were added before having the broth poured into the bowl.