I’ve been cycling past Shāxiàn Xiăo Chī (Shaxian Snacks) twice a day every day since I started university, and its always packed with people sitting on orange plastic stools on the pavement, eating and looking very happy. It’s packed at 8am with the breakfast trade, and packed again at 12.30pm for the lunch rush, usually a good sign of excellent food within.
I’m always on the lookout for new places to eat (who knew?) and a busy spot almost always equals good food here in Shanghai. I don’t need a rating in a book, I just needs the ‘bums on seats’ score. By that measure, Shāxiàn Xiăo Chī should rate highly. It’s the first in a series of posts about the food vendors along Yongkang Lu I’ll be bringing you over the coming weeks.
I took a seat outside, and was handed this well worn laminated sheet of which I could read nothing except the word ‘noodles’. So I did what I usually do, which is to say, I took a wander around all the other tables, pointed out dishes, then had a look in the tiny cramped kitchen to see what was looking good.
There was a huge pot of gently simmering dark tea coloured broth smelling enticingly of star anise, filled to the brim with tea eggs and duck legs balanced in a row along the edge, and skeins of white and cream uncooked noodles, alongside tin steamers lined with woven grass mats on which neat little jiaozi (dumplings) were waiting to find a home.
For three of us I ordered a selection and waited to see what arrived. The table we had taken outside on the pavement was directly under the kitchen’s window facing onto the street, and every minute or so the cook leaned out and, through the roar of the wok burner, yelled a question, then popped his head back in to continue cooking. Would I like rice noodles or wheat noodles? Did I want both kinds of dumpling? Would I be needing extra rice?
The first dish arrived and bowled me over – deep-fried jiaozi, filled with pork and seasoned vegetables, sizzling straight from the wok via the kitchen window to our table. I burnt my lips on the first one, but went ahead and ate it anyway, crispy and savoury little parcel that it was. I’ve never seen regular jiaozi cooked like this, and it’s a genius idea. Deep-fried dumplings – fabulous. We dipped them in the dark brown vinegar provided in an old sprite bottle.
Cold beer came next, and this was seriously, seriously bīng de, the ice-cold state of beer that is so hard to achieve in Shanghai even in the depths of winter, when really just leaving the stuff outside for five minutes is al that’s necessary. The bottle was so frosty little wafts of icy smoke were pouring from the sides, like one of those scientific TV shows where they pull a test tube out of liquid nitrogen. Seriouly cold.
Then the duck tàocān fàn, the ‘set meal’ consisting of a quarter roast duck, tender and moist, a slice of marinated beancurd, a tea egg, some stir-fried sprouts and bok choy, and a mound of rice, also served directly through the kitchen window to our table.
Lastly, a tin tray of steamed jiaozi, all gone in a second before I even got my lens cap off to take a photo, and these wide soft rice noodles fried with egg and scallions. Even though we were pretty close to full at this point, we ate every morsel of this last dish. It was smooth and soft and salty and slippery. Delicious.
Our bill for three people, for your interest:
Steamed jiaozi 10 pieces
Deep-fried jiaozi 10 pieces
Stir-fried noodles with egg and scallions
Roast duck with stir-fried greens, tea egg and rice
Large icy cold bottle of TsingTao
TOTAL = 38 yuan ($6)
Hope you can grab a seat there one day and try it for yourself.
Shāxiàn Xiăo Chī (Shaxian Snacks)
Yongkang Lu, at the intersection of Taiyuan Lu
Open 7 days