It feels like no one on the food scene can catch a break these days.
Beloved local hole-in-the-wall kitchen, A Da Cong You Bing, has been forced to shut for not having a license, reportedly due complaints from 'jealous neighbors' who take issue with the lines of people waiting outside from 5am on the daily.
For the past 34 years, 'the god of the scallion pancake' has been serving his fan base day in, day out. Having initially started the shop to make money (as many do), the iconic street food vendor continues to tirelessly ply his craft out of loyalty to his legions of returning customers, despite waning health and complications from his hunchback – sustained during a childhood injury.
Regulars were not unaccustomed to queuing for hours to get a taste of his delicious pancakes, which went for RMB5 each and were limited to 10 per person. Supposedly, A Da became even more popular after Rick Stein's BBC documentary on Shanghainese cuisine, which also resulted in drawing more tourists and expats to taste the the craft he "learned from a famous local pastry cook in 1982."
According to Jamie Barys, a local food expert and co-founder of UnTour Food Tours, A Da's prevailing popularity is due to roasting the conyoubing in a coal fired oven after shallow frying, for a marvellously crispy finish – a step all but a handful of vendors bother with anymore.
The shop's closure is part of a worrying trend of a government crackdown on unlicensed street food vendors.
The slow death of street food culture, seen by many as one of the city’s unique tourist selling points, is beginning to disappear; Wu being just one of hundreds who have been forced to shut down.
Yet there is hope for Wu and his following – local authorities said they would try to help find him and his scallion pancakes a new home in the district.
Wu, 59, says he welcomes a moment's respite after being hunched over a hot stove for hours every day, and will seek out an apprentice in order to keep his craft alive; someone who is a “reliable apprentice willing to stick to the traditional way to cook the scallion pancake, rather than [try to] make a fortune”. Could that be you?
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