5 Things: Shanghai's Best Breakfast Street Foods from Life on Nanchang Lu Food Blog

By Emily Wetzki, January 7, 2015

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That's weekly series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us 5 Things specific to his or her life. Street food is a 24-hour affair, but if you wait until after dark you’re missing out on some of the best local tastes in Shanghai. Breakfast is when street food always beckons Fiona Reilly a food writer, photographer and curator of the Life on Nanchang Lu food blog. Her site is the go-to for the lowdown on what's on offer street-food wise in Shanghai. Beautiful pictures, descriptions and location details will leave you inspired and fully equipped to go trying and tasting. Here are Fiona's favorite Shanghai breakfast street foods.

The early morning life of the streets is just beginning but already the street food vendors have lifted their awnings and are doing a brisk trade in hot soy milk, steaming baozi and crispy you tiao. The early morning life of the streets is just beginning but already the street food vendors have lifted their awnings and are doing a brisk trade in hot soy milk, steaming baozi and crispy you tiao. So many Shanghai locals buy breakfast on the street, we wonder if anyone actually eats at home. Fiona's top breakfast hotspot is, not surprisingly, on the corner of Nanchang Lu where it meets Xiangyang Lu, but there’s another great place to try two blocks north at Xinagyang Lu/Changle Lu. You don’t need an address though – every neighborhood has dozens of breakfast vendors clustered together, most open from dawn until mid-morning.

1. Da Bing 

In Shanghai da bing, huge rounds of flaky leavened or unleavened bread, is one of the 'Four Kings of Breakfast', the other being deep fried dough sticks (you tiao油条); sticky rice balls filled with salted egg, pork, and pickles (cifan tuan糍饭团); and fresh soy milk (dou jiang豆浆).

Dabing is cooked in a contraption that looks like a giant waffle maker, leaving it oil-crisp on the outside and flaky, chewy and soft within. Dabingis always savoury - topped with white sesame seeds and green scallions; or brushed with a red, spicy, garlicky sauce made from pixian soy bean paste.

To buy dabing, simply nominate a monetary amount - one yuan, two yuan, and so on, and the vendor will cut up a triangular slice for you of the correct weight.

2. Cifan Tuan 饭团

Imagine one whole, long you tiao fried bread stick. Add a tea-cooked egg. Some pickles. Pork floss. Special secret sauce. Now somehow push all of that inside a ball of fragrant sticky rice the size of an orange.

The making of cifantuan, a Shanghai specialty, is a true art and the undeniable master is ShenAyi in Jing’an, who has served up her weighty breakfast balls to anyone who’s anyone. Be prepared to queue. You can also find them in most breakfast street food spots – keep your eye out for vendors wearing white cotton gloves: it helps roll the sticky rice.

ShenAyi: 100 Nanyang Lu, Jing’an

Also: Corner Xiangyang Lu and Nanchang Lu, Xuhui

3. CifanGao 饭糕

A handy way of using day-old rice,cifangaois compressed and cut unto rectangles then deep fried. It tastes like pure starch in a crunchy, oily envelope, but then, you don’t really buy cifan for the taste. It’s a great textural contrast to all those soft, smooth breakfast foods like congee (zhou粥 ), or soy milk custard (douhua豆花)

This ubiquitous breakfast street food can be found at every fry shop in Shanghai.

4. Jidan Bing 

Jidanbing, like da bing, isjust one of many kinds of bing - meaning it's flat and round. You're probably already familiar with jian bing煎饼(rolled savory breakfast pancakes) and cong you bing葱油饼(scallion oil pancakes).

This one's a little different - it's made of the same yeast dough as you tiao crispy fried dough sticks, so as soon as it hits the oil on the griddle the dough puffs up with big bubbles of air that are trapped as it cooks, giving it a texture like fried sourdough bread.

On top of this an egg is cracked, scallions added and the egg yolk broken. Then the whole thing is flipped so both sides get a crisp finish.To serve, the vendor will add some hoisin sauce and fold the bing in half to make it easier to eat. Eggy, chewy, light and puffy.

5. Dou Hua 豆花

I consider this the tofu connoisseur’s breakfast. It’s a set-in-the-pan soy milk custard, warm and savory, as soft as a cloud, surrounded by a clear broth flavored with the soy milk whey as it sets. You might have previously tried the sweet version with ginger and brown sugar syrup.

Choose toppings like finely trimmed scallions, la jiao, or tiny dried white shrimp for a texture contrast. 

// To read more about Shanghai street food see Life on Nanchang Lu, to see more from our 5 things series, click here.

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