I was lucky to have found a friend to drag along for an impromptu trip to Shanghai this November – we booked tickets a grand total of 2 weeks in advance, and I managed to pull together a rough itinerary and book a decent accommodation for the 6D5N we spent there. Phew!
Our flight (China Eastern) got delayed for about an hour at take off, so we were starved by the time we arrived. The day turned dark at 5ish as Shanghai was starting to fade into winter, and we decided to just explore the streets near our hotel for refuelling and landed up at Shouning Street, a short 150m street selling nothing by crustatians. Most of the stalls had barbeque stands outside where they displayed their crayfish, oysters and the likes that they were cooking. I guess it also serves to bait you in by wafting its aroma to passers-by.
Anyway we picked one of the stalls and ended up ordering a bunch of stuff (they go by weight or per item), and had an experience eating with plastic gloves and aprons. No pictures as I was too hungry – but I didn’t love the food nor experience anyway so no loss. It was either really oily or overpoweringly garlicy. The poor scallops and oysters were drowned by a a whole teaspoon of garlic, so much so that I almost couldn’t find its original flavour. But that said, I wouldn’t discount the unique experience. You could go there for kicks and just order to taste.
We slated Jia Jia Tang Bao for breakfast on the second day, obviously eager to strike off one of the ‘iconic’ foods to have in Shanghai. The outlet we were locating was along Huanghe Road (but we completely missed it at first as we spotted Xiao Yang’s Shen Jian across the street in it’s striking pink signboard and got distracted).
Jia Jia Tang Bao was a modest place, with a capacity of around 20 people. The menu was straightforward, with just Tang Baos (or as we know it better here, Xiao Long Baos), soups and beverages. We zoomed straight to what they’re most loved for – the Crab Meat Tang Bao. For comparison, we also ordered the original Tang Bao, and a Blood Cube Soup to warm our tummies.
The Tang Baos came in cute, dozen bite-sizes, only of course, you couldn’t just pop them in your mouth whole. My trick was to use the saucer given (fits just right!), and do the usual biting off the top to allow some steam to escape before devouring the morsel of goodness. The original Tang Bao’s soup was rich, clear and full of fat, which can be a bit too much for those whose stomachs are not accustomed to such heavy flavours early in the day, but I rather like it for its unadulterated flavours. It was a tad too porky, but this is completely not when it came to the Crab meat Tang Bao. The ratio of crab meat to pork was almost 1:1, and the freshness of the crab meat came through well with and complemented the overall flavours. It also added a little sweetness to the soup in the bao, more balance, less jerlat. My friend preferred the original though.
The soup was clear and comparatively bland. I hesitated to try the blood cubes swirling about, but when I did, found that it was almost like tofu just that it was dark coloured and tasted a little like pork liver. Great if you need something to cleanse your palate.
I was quite stuffed after all the Tang Baos, but having Xiao Yang’s Shen Jian just across the road proved to be too much temptation. Ordered a serving of Shen Jian Bao (4 for RMB6) to go. Those little fried balls were about double the size of the Tang Baos. I could only tahan two streets before caving and tucking in to the cripsy, juicy goodness at the corner of the road. ProTip: you want to bite down into the bao and dig in further away from your shoes – they have a huge tendency to spill all over. I was a mess, with everything dripping all over, but boy it was good. The skin was thin, and despite being trapped in a box for a few minutes, the skin was still crispy instead of soggy, and judging from my state, still locked full of juices. These little babies are thrown straight to a flat, frying pan after they are wrapped and are lovingly tended to as the pan is constantly rotated to ensure that the heat is even and none gets burnt. The result is a succulent fried bao that is especially crispy on one side, and with insides stuffed generously with pork and juices. Please get extra serviettes if you’re dabao-ing this!