The Humble Baozi is a Must Eat in Shanghai

On this recent trip to China, I was happy to still be able to find street food in Shanghai.  Even in more affluent areas, I could wander down an alley and find delicious, cheap food of questionable cleanliness.

One type of place that’s easy to spot is the baozi (bun) stand, thanks to the stacks of giant steamers.  The good ones have people crowded around them in the morning like this one across the street from where we were staying.

Unless it’s a fancier type place, don’t bother queueing since an older Chinese person is just going to elbow their way in front of you anyway.  Just figure out 1.) what filling you want, 2.) how many you want, and 3.) how much money to hand the vendor before wrangling your way to the front of the steamers.

It’s hard to find good savory baozi in the US because they’re often pre-made or frozen and realistically, nothing will taste as good as a bun that’s still steaming straight from the bamboo steamer.  The buns I got in China were still white and fluffy, but the bread part was less sweet and the filling was more textured.  My favorite is the mei cai rou bao, which is a baozi filled with dried pickled cabbage and ground pork — I ate plenty of those.

I also ate a couple of baozi with a pickled green bean and pork filling. The green beans tasted like chopped up versions of the spicy and sour green beans that often show up as cold appetizers in Chinese restaurants in the US. There was only a sprinkling of pork for flavor, but that was enough. The combination of hot and tangy in the morning may be too much for some, but I’d imagine it’s a great hangover cure.

For the vegans, there’s the ubiquitous xiangu baozi which is filled with usually filled with chopped shiitake, baked tofu, and lightly pickled green vegetables.  Usually, other than a sweet filling, this is the only vegan option.

On one morning, I decided to branch out from my usual stand to a different one across the street that was attached to a larger, more formal restaurant.  It had the same amount of people lining up in front of it, so I thought it would be safe, but it turned out to be a disappointment. The baozi didn’t taste as good and the filling was cold.  This just cements my bias that the smaller baozi stands are more delicious.