The price for eating fine, free foods is the hours I cannot stand up after. Three days of searching and munching led to my 100 percent findings on norm-defying, palette-reviving, 5 Must-Try Creative Meals in Shanghai.
Stuffed “Soft” Bagel Breads @ Boom Boom Bagels
Consider what makes an excellent PB&J — it’s the stuffing and the bread. The latter has to be fluffy enough to not only surround the butter and jam but also soak up some of its flavors. And in the case of an excellent bagel-wich, Boom Boom’s burger-Esque, definitely-not-New-York circles of joy do just that — ideal vehicles for the juicy ingredients galore, extra soft and moist on the inside, charred crispy on the outside.
Take the “Hindquarter” (58rmb). That is a tall slab of pulled pork literally dripping with grease, so oily the smoked paprika doesn’t come to you until the very last bite. It is definitely a two-handed sandwich, which you might even need a third jaw for. But if you’re looking for gourmet, Sailors’ Legs” (68rmb) is your babe— smoked and reasonably fresh salmon like a mouthful of the Atlantic Ocean. Especially great if you appreciate the creativity in substituting the usual capers with fewer saline olives, which I do.
People Really Like: Chunky Monkey (40rmb), Sailor’s Legs (68rmb), Jalabeef (60rmb), Hindquarter (58rmb)
Address: 39 Ānfú Road (安福路39号)
Stuffed Open-Belly Baos @ Baoism
Mexican “carnitas” in Shanghai’s hóngshāo (红烧) sauce, stuffed in a Taiwanese steamed bun, or guà bāo (割包) — that just sounds culturally bewildering. But, when one is stuffing their pie-hole with an immodestly large heap of oh-so-tender pulled pork and full of soy sauce and crystalized sugar, and when the proteins do not drip with oil but retain the juice fully, all cynicism goes out of the window.
In a way, it is a mouthful of Shanghainese delight but made with lean, hormone-free pork shoulder instead of the traditional pork belly. Which means this hedonistic thing is actually healthy. Or at least as far as fast food choices go.
PRL: Hongshao carnitas bao, S.E.X. bao (brunch only), Xinjiang grilled fish bao
RMBs: 15rmb (Sets: 1 bao + 2 sides = 35rmb, 2 baos + 2 sides = 45rmb)
Address: 150 Húbīn Road, B2E30 (湖滨路150号湖滨道B2E30)
Stuffed Triangular Waffles @ Waffle Window
The Golden Chicken happens to be the most expensive on the waffle-wich menu, but it is still a paltry 42rmb. To outshine the Colonel’s beloved Kentucky recipe, a wholesome spread of Chinese red chili pepper peanut purée sticks onto the inner sides of triangular waffle pieces, massaging immodestly fatty-looking chicken thighs.
A mouthful of it (if you manage to fit it in) numbs the lips. And even as a stand-alone, these waffles follow the Brussels tradition, crispy on the outside and firm instead of airy within, fluffy without holes, not saving on flour. Therefore, one savory ‘which is pretty substantial, and a sweet one makes a good dessert.
PRL: Golden Chicken (42rmb), Elvis (35rmb), S’mores & Chocolate (30rmb)
Address: 549-2 Shănxī North Road (陕西北路549-2号)
Topped “Bean Curd Pudding” @ Pudding Blossom
A bean curd pudding — somewhere between silken tofu and soy milk. It bounces like Jell-O and swims in natural black sugar water, almost passing as healthy. (Note: most street vendors sell cheaper versions with granulated sugar water, but Pudding Blossom is a chain so it cannot compromise on food safety – hence the black sugar water instead. It’s signature dish is bīn fēn dòu huā (缤纷豆花), literally translated as colorful bean curds, and it is topped with mushy red and green beans, snappy barley, and tooth-sticking gluttonous rice balls, all of which counterbalance the pudding’s fragile creaminess.
PRL: Everything mocha flavored (< 30rmb)
Address: 299 Nánjīng East Road, B1 (南京东路299号宏伊广场B1楼)
Topped Alcoholic “Cheese” @ Bojoo Năilào
Năilào 奶酪 is a type of milk curd dessert for ancient Chinese royalty (not just the rich, royalty!), though it shares a name in Chinese with the Western cheese. It is undoubtedly Chinese, meaning it is not only significantly lower in cholesterol and sodium but also bearing some medicinal value. However, it does not taste a bit like TCM herbs — it is more like a fragile, spoon-able clot of milky pudding, with a hint of rice wine, and every bowlful has to be fermented for 40 days exactly. And of all the bowls available, Nailao Chai-Chai A (28rmb) is the most suitable as a meal replacement: it contains slightly sweetened red beans, freshly-sliced mango, a scoop of homemade, low-sugar rice wine ice cream, all on a bed of creamy năilào.
PRL: Năilào Chai-Chai A (28rmb), Yogurt Chai-Chai S (36rmb), Rice Wine Scone (12rmb)
Address: 3300 Zhōngshān North Road, B1-16 (中山北路3300号月星环球港B1楼016室)
by Quintana Hoyne
Do you have a favorite creative dish available in Shanghai?