Shēngjiānbāo 生煎包 though less globally famous than their dainty, prettier sister the xiaolongbao 小笼包, is probably more popular with Shanghainese judging by how ubiquitous it is on the streets of the bustling city. (Locals call it 生煎馒头)
Don't let that chunky, frumpy, distended look fool you, like I was.
I didn't take to 生煎包 when I first saw it - for one it is oil fried and it's coarse, blotchy browned skin is thick like a slice of bread - ok, I exaggerate. But, it's definitely not love at first sight. Blame it on the smooth, snowy skin, and "healthier" look of it's steamed xialongbao sister.
But, as they say, the test of the
It's love at first bite, even if it wasn't love at first sight.
The brown skin was thick and bready but has an interesting crisp and spongy texture. The pan fried flat bottom is subtly crackly and the pinched top is pillowy like a steamed bao.
The tasty minced pork filling is tender like a good porcine meat ball and it is suspended in scalding hot savoury sweet broth much like that in a good xiaolongbao. The pork filling has a slight bounce to the bite as it is blended with gelatin 肉皮冻 from boiling pork skin and bones. Evilly delicious.
Don't let the 生煎包's unglamorous look fool you - you ought to regret it, if you leave Shanghai without trying the Shanghai people's favourite street food.
If you like more flavour, you can dip your 生煎包 in a sweetish tangy watery vinegar dip like the locals do.
What makes 生煎包 so tasty is their rather elaborate making process.
The meaty dumplings (bao) are laid on a flat, shallow cast iron griddle and ladled with a splash of oil. The griddle is placed at a slight angle on top of a stove, so the hot oil pools at one side. The chef regularly rotates the hot griddle, spreading the sizzling oil until the bottoms are seared to a browned crisp.
The whole sizzling pan of fried bao with burnt bottoms is then doused with water and covered with a heavy, tight fitting wooden lid until the tops of the bao are steam-cooked.
So, this brilliant technique gives us 生煎包 with the best of both crisp and spongy worlds.
^ 生煎包 at Yuyuan
生煎包 is found all over Shanghai, so it is easy to sample a taste of this ubiquitous street food.
If you have the time, I recommend you check out 大壶春 Da Hu Chun at #71 Yunnan South Road (not far from the iconic Bund). This is reputedly the oldest 生煎包 shop in the city opened in the 1930s during old Shanghai's wild swinging heydays.
I like the ambiance in the little old shop, knocking elbows with other customers in the tight space. 大壶春's savoury sweet 生煎包 are the best that I have tasted so far (though I have not tasted many different shops or stalls. Yes, I have tasted Yang's 小杨生煎馆 franchise).
Welcoming a lady who joined us at our table. Sharing table with strangers is a norm in Shanghai. It's a good way to know the locals too and understand from them about their food.
^ Yang's 小杨生煎馆
👆A nice video introduction on the 大壶春 Da Hu Chun 生煎包 story.
^ click for details on Johor's best street food
Return to Johor Kaki homepage.