Back to blog index

Shanghai Street Food #9 Shao Mai

Are these the ugliest snack in the world? They taste fantastic though! Shāo mài  are little steamed dumplings filled with savoury sticky rice. The literal meaning of shāomài is ‘cook and sell’ and in Shanghai you can buy these on every street from a steamed dumpling shop for one kuai each (16 cents). Cooked and sold on the spot.

You might be more familiar with the Cantonese version, siu mai, filled with a mixture of prawn, pork and black mushroom and topped with a piece of carrot. The Shanghai version, Jiangnan shao mai, are similar only in their shape. The outside wrapper is a flat wheat dough dumpling skin, and the filling is made from a combination of sticky rice, soy sauce, sugar marinated pork pieces and rice wine, with ginger and garlic. The wrapper is folded around the filling then gently squeezed at the top to make the typical pear shape.

The filling is very similar to that used in making zongzi, the parcels wrapped in bamboo leaves and eaten at the time of the Dragon Boat Festival.

And the taste? Salty, savoury, with occasional flavour hits of garlic pieces or little nuggets of sweet pork. I like them!


Because I love street food so much, and because it is an integral part of a food-loving life in China, I’m working my way through all of Shanghai’s street foods, one by one. This is Number 9 in the Shanghai Street Food series. Enjoy tasting them all!

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup