Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wujiang Lu Food Street & Xiao Yang Shengjian

One of my (too many) New Year's Resolutions is to not eat a single hamburger over the next year. It's not that I love hamburgers, but that I can't really get into the Chinese food around Jing'an Si, the neighborhood I live in. A sub-part of the resolution is to go and check out other neighborhoods a little more. So today I took the subway, one stop away, to Nanjing Xi Lu.

To be honest, the food is probably better if I take the subway one stop in the opposite direction - I've been pretty happy with the places I've been to near Jiangsu Lu. But, there is a really cool back street near the station, that's where I was headed. This food street is a bit of a surprise - the actual Nanjing Xi Lu is one of the most tony parts of town, with lots of elite shopping and upscale apartments. So it's a weird ammalgation, with the street hawkers and small food shacks operating in the shadows of 5 star hotels.

Adjacent to the station, a little to the east of most of the food, are a number of little stalls selling odds and ends, for example there is a collection of a few booths selling genuine-looking air pistols. They look realistic enough, I can't see these without thinking about the fake guns used in Hong Kong gangster movies, like "PTU."

But they're selling all kinds of things, high-end and low, here's a collection of women's shoes that seems fairly high-end, at least compared to what you'd expect:

I've mentioned bootleg DVDs before, and this area has them, but I haven't mentioned bootleg books. They're not nearly as common, but in the more central parts of town you'll see them every few blocks. The quality is good, and they often have foreign books, both translated and in English. In this case, if you look to the bottom right corner, you can make out the Lord of the Rings, some Stephen King, Harry Potter...

On to the food! The first picture was a surprise to me. I've never had them before, and I don't even think oysters are all that popular in Shanghai. It appears they're minced, mixed in with pork and onions, and then cooked on the half-shell? I'll have to try it, but first I'll have to work past my fear of food poisoning - street food stalls aren't the most hygenic, and even on a cold day I hate to eat foods which aren't being cycled through quickly. Oh, there's also some barbequed chicken, that's probably the most commonly seen food on this street.

Coconut Milk! Looking back, I wish I had bought one of these. I've never had it in China, truth be told. You can see this is just being sold from a large cart. As crowded at the street is (just click on the picture to the right, if you don't believe me for whatever reason), she manages to push her way through the crowds, coming to a full and complete stop when making a sale.

And the infamous Stinking Tofu makes an appearance. The taste is OK and surprisingly mild, but the smell is literally something like a sewer's.

There's not only food along this stretch of road, as my pictures might be suggesting. People are still selling clothes, bootleg DVDs, and various knick-knacks. Also, to the side of the streets are small street-side restaurants. They're generally casual snack restaurants. They're either sit-down, or more often places with the option of taking the food to go. Some of them are extremely popular, and have crowds lining up outside. You can see one such place in the background:

And on the more casual side, here is a guy selling roasted sweet potato and corn, from a oil-drum barbeque. You see this around Shanghai, they're actually pretty tasty.

Anyway, that takes me to my final destination: Xiao Yang's Shengjian. It's really popular, there's actually two of them, standing right next to each other. The food is sold as quickly as it gets made, and you can see two lines: on the left is for placing the order, and on the right is waiting for the food. There's some tables, but not many, and most people get it to go.

Shengjian are something like a fried xiaolongbao, a doughy outside with a soupy-meat inside. Instead of being steamed, they're fried in a pan. You get the shengjian right off the pan, and with the soup inside, they're incredibly hot. Just plucking one in your mouth would result in serious first degree burns! The normal way to eat them is the punch a hole in the top to let the steam off, and drink the soup, first. My preferred (if unusual) method is to get them to go and then take them home. It takes 10 minutes or so, and by that time the soup is merely hot, rather than scalding.

It's fun to see them being made: the volume is seriously high, and it's somewhat of a factory line affair, with a huge quivering mass of pork-meat being stuffed into the wrappers. It seems like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, but even though everybody is in constant motion, it seems to always work out smoothly. Here's a short video of the proceedings, I think it's pretty cool! But I'm afraid the Internet link between China and the rest of the world is still seriously frayed by the Taiwanese Earthquake. If it doesn't load, check back later.

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