Fried dumplings or shēngjiān (生煎) are a must have in Shanghai. Actually not dumplings but little bāozi, these bundles of happiness are crispy on the bottom, sprinkled with sesame seeds on top and hot as hell in the middle! Yes, fried dumplings are devious little devils that must be eaten with the utmost caution; not only are the steaming skins filled with yummy pork and ginger but they are also chock full of “soup.”
Believe me, the best possible scenario is that, after an overeager bite, it just explodes directly into your mouth and burns the inside of your cheeks like a white-hot iron. One wrong move from an eager consumer could instead send scorching liquid screaming directly up your nose like the wrath of a spiteful kitchen god, ruining a shirt before a big business meeting or seriously inconveniencing fellow diners as much as two metres away.
All of these have happened, and worse.
However, from observing patrons, I have discovered the art to safe eating. First off, utilize your utensils. No matter how hungry you are, do not bite directly into a fresh bāozi! Instead, carefully place it in the middle of your spoon or hold it gingerly between your chopsticks, take a tiny nibble to make a hole in the top and blow through the aperture. Then, as loudly as possible, take a slurp of the juice inside. Really slurp that juice up. Shake the foundations of the restaurant with volume of your slurping. It adds to the flavor, we promise.
Suck until most of the liquid is gone. Afterwards, the rest of the shēngjiān is yours for the taking! Dunk it in vinegar, douse it with chilli oil, or just tear it down au natural.
Fried dumplings, as in all Chinese snacks, should only be bought if fresh. I only eat them when there is a bit of a crowd still left, generally around 1 PM; right after the lunch crowd has died down but is not completely gone.
A good choice is Dōng Tài Xiáng (东泰祥) on the corner of Dàgū Road and Chóngqìng North Road. But keep your eyes peeled; there are opportunities for them in just about every nook of the city.