Shanghai's must-have street food breakfasts

UnTour Shanghai on the city's street food breakfast highlights

Jamie Barys is the chief eating officer of UnTour Shanghai, one of the city’s leading food tour operators. UnTour’s breakfast tour is available every Tuesday and Sunday and offers a guide to the delights of early morning street food. Here, Jamie shares some of her Shanghai breakfast highlights

The first stop on UnTour’s Street Eats – Breakfast tour is Xiangyang Lu, just north of Changle Lu. This half block is the densest concentration of morning street food in the area. I love that street food is the ultimate open kitchen, and our guests enjoy watching everything being made right in front of them, from the dough being kneaded for danbing (a yeasty pancake crowned with fried egg and a slather of sweet chili sauce) to the spinning wok technique of guotie (potstickers). I cannot resist a good jianbing (Chinese crepe), and the husband-wife team here whip up a delicious one with a fiery chili sauce that will wake up more than your tastebuds. If you order the guotie or shengjianbao (Shanghai’s famous fried pork buns), you can pull up a stool at the dumpling shop’s tiny dining room and rub elbows with the locals slurping congee. There’s more than a half dozen other stalls selling youtiao (oil sticks), baozi (steamed buns), zhima qiu (sesame balls) and doujiang (soy milk) – just to name a few of the dishes.

While the Xiangyang Lu stalls also offer cifantuan (stuffed rice balls), I recommend heading to Jingan for the best version of this delicious snack. From the storefront of Bowbow Sushi, a gaggle of ayis squeeze fistfuls of plum-coloured rice around a variety of sweet and savoury fillings at the Nanyang Lu zifantuan stand. I find it hard to choose between the sugar or salt, so I often have one of both: stuffing the latter with crispy day-old splinters of youtiao, ludan (marinated egg) and thick roujiang (soybean paste with minced pork), and the former with granulated sugar. If you’re going to try pork floss, this is the place to do it. Squashed into the rice with the gooey sauce, the texture of the dehydrated meat fibres is lost, leaving just the sweet flavour.

Mr Wu of A Da Congyoubing is hands-down my favourite street food vendor in Shanghai, and his congyoubing (scallion oil pancakes) are second to none – as evidenced by the hungry queue that lines up here every morning. While congyoubing can be found shallow-fried all over the city, Mr Wu’s secret is a post-fry crisp in the oil drum that houses the kerosene fire heating his griddle. Be prepared to wait though; often people buy an entire batch of 20 and it takes more than 10 minutes to cook them. He wakes up every morning at 5am to prep, and closes when he sells out or by 3pm – whichever comes first.

Late-night breakfast is one of my favourite guilty pleasures, which is one of the many reasons I love Lao Shaoxing. This ramshackle stand is just south of Xintiandi, and serves up typical breakfast treats like doujiang (hot soy milk) and youtiao starting at 10pm until almost dawn. A popular street food spot with the locals, this stall gets customers from all walks of life. On my first visit there, I shared a table with an elevator repairman and a fu er dai kid who rocked up in a blinged out Mercedes SUV. But nothing gets people on the same level like pulling up to rickety tables on plastic chairs outdoors and slurping down bowls of spicy soy milk laced with pickled vegetables. The grumpy owner is the son of the legendary 90-year-old granny who ran the joint until just a few years ago and he treats everyone the same – usually with a scowl and a grunt before thrusting your order into your hands. The sweet version of the soymilk is also great. Smoothed out with a spoonful of sugar, this soup is perfect for dipping your fresh youtiao in.

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