Welcome back to the Shanghai Street Food series! Honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice – guì huā lián’ǒu 桂花莲藕 (literally osmanthus flower lotus root) is one of the most refined and aesthetically beautiful of all street foods once you slice it open and see the wonderful pattern the rice makes against the honeyed lotus root.
In its unsliced state though, it’s rather unattractive – if you’ve walked Shanghai’s streets you may have noticed tubs full of what look like giant brown slugs with toothpick tentacles floating in non-descript syrupy liquid. These are whole lotus roots, the interior root chambers filled with sticky rice then slowly cooked so that the lotus root’s starchy sweetness fully develops, and turns from pale white to deep red-brown (much like a quince) and the rice grains plump up to fill the long tubular spaces within the lotus root, giving it that characteristic appearance when sliced.
Vendors selling the stuffed lotus roots are usually found just near the entrance to larger wet markets (9.8 yuan ($1.50) per 500g). After removing one from its syrupy bath the vendor will remove the toothpicks holding the end of the lotus root closed, then slice it for you into centimetre-thick slices. Then he’ll separately pour some syrup in a tightly knotted plastic bag for you to take home. You could, of course, eat it as a true street food as you walk but things might get pretty sticky. I usually prefer to take the lotus root home whole and slice it myself, adding the syrup just before eating. Despite its sweetness this dish can be eaten cold as an entree at the start of a meal, as well as a dessert.
The stuffed lotus roots are apparently easy to make it home, although I’m yet to give it a try because it’s just so easy to buy one on the street. Simply soak some glutinous rice in water for two hours, then slice the end of a short, plump lotus root and fill the holes wth the rice, using a chopstick to help the grains into the holes, tapping the tuber’s outside with a rolling pin or stick to help the rice get all the way to the bottom. Reattach the lid with toothpicks, then cook at a slow boil for 2 hours in a light sugar syrup. Once cooled, slice and drizzle with osmanthus syrup or osmanthus honey.
The Shanghai Street Food Series
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes