So there I was, in downtown Shanghai for almost 24 hours, yet I still hadn't scalded my mouth. And I was getting cranky, because really, I wanted to scald my mouth.
Which sounds kinda strange, but if you want to eat Shanghai's famous soupy dumplings, xiao long bao, those silky little dumplings filled with pork and a fragrant soup, you're going to have to scald your mouth, or at least your lips, and possibly your nostrils if one squirts the wrong way.
Leo and I were on a quick six day visit to Shanghai with his work, and we had a very full schedule of activities that we needed to attend, and none of them involved much dumpling action. Sure, there were fantastic sidecar rides at sunset, an acrobatic circus, a visit to the historic water village, Zhujiajiao, rooftop cocktail parties overlooking the majestic night sky of The Bund and a pep talk by Andre Agassi, but dumplings...where were the dumplings?
I love food shopping at the best of times, so a trip to a Chinese grocery store was a must do, on our first free morning we headed to the famous shopping strip, Nanjing Road and ignoring the luxury clothing stores, went straight to Shanghai's First Food Hall. Three floors of mysteries Chinese food heaven, bursting with people and stalls selling everything from chewy sweets covered in sesame seeds, ginseng, durian fruit, and workers painstakingly peeling the pith off giant ruby fleshed pomelos. There were exquisite chocolatiers, French patisseries, mountains of unnamed dried fruits, cured pork legs and sausages, dried fish, cheap cigarettes and expensive whiskey.
We climbed to the top floor to the food court and joined the queue at Yang's Fried Dumplings for shengjian, the doughier pan fried cousin to xiao long bao. Imagine a soft steaming bun, with a crunchy fried bottom, sprinkled with sesame seeds and green onion, so good! Finally, dumplings!
With a bag full of chewy sesame treats, green tea, cookies, White Rabbit candy and burnt lips, we headed back to the hotel satisfied with full bellies.
During our visit we did manage to slurp on many nourishing bowls of broth filled with silky noodles, scoff several rounds of xiao long bao and nibble on warm flaky moon cakes, but the stand out culinary highlight was discovering Untour Shanghai.
The day we were flying out we lucked out on two spots in their Street Food Breakfast Tour. That's when I really did fall in love with Shanghai, after eating this breakfast of champions. We ditched the hotel buffet, made a run for the early morning meeting point then headed straight for the bustling strip of Xiangyang Food Stalls.
Kicking off the tour, our guide Li bought us loads of steamed buns filled with everything from garlicky greens, to spiced pork or sweet black sesame, then we scoffed Shanghai's famous crispy pancake (jianbing), savoury egg puffs (jidan bing) and washed it all down with warm freshly made soy milk, then started on pot sticker dumplings (guotie), scallion oil noodles made to order, and of course, the best round of xiao long bao from the Loushi Dumpling Shop (forget Din Tai Fung.) We had just enough room to finish off with Lillian's egg tarts. I loved every mouthful and wish I could go back and do it all again. Everyday in fact. For breakfast.
We stuffed ourselves so much that we didn't need to eat anything until we got back to Sydney. Which was a good thing because you can't really eat much anyway when you've burnt the roof of your mouth.
Oh Shanghai, so many dumplings, so little time.