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Shanghai Street Food #25 Fried Clover Pancakes: Nuòmǐ Căo Tóu 糯米草头

It’s pretty much been a back-to-back street food extravaganza here. In fact, did I cook anything over Chinese New Year? Perhaps not, but if I had actually done some cooking the recollection might have been knocked out of me by daily bouts of early morning firecrackers. Like this morning’s, literally, literally outside my door.

I can only say thanks to my kind neighbours, and go back to bed safe in the knowledge that they have inadvertently shown the Money God the door to my house and frightened all the bad spirits away. So thanks, really.

I definitely ate more than my fair share of street food over the Spring Festival break, both here in Shanghai and in Nanjing. And a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of showing hardcore street foodie Frank Kassell around Shanghai for a day of full-on street food consumption starting with deep-fried bread sticks (you tiao) and ending with Shanghai style fried rice via xiaolongbao and crispy scallion pancakes (cong you bing).

Frank is writing a street food guide to China, and while he’s on the road researching you can check out his progress at A Field Guide to Chinese Street Food.

But on to the actual street food, which I know is what you’re all here for. These crispy herbed fried cakes (nuòmǐ căo tóu  糯米草头) are a specialty of Nanxiang, home of xiaolongbao, but I’m including them here because Nanxiang is now a suburb of Shanghai (although in the olden days before elevated highways were invented it was a town in its own right).

Nuomi cao tou are made with glutinous rice flour (糯米) and very finely chopped cooked green vegetable (草头), flattened into small rounds and shallow-fried on a griddle until browned and crisp. They are justifiably famous in Nanxiang because they taste wonderful – crisp and salty on the outside, gooey and soft in the centre with a strong herb taste. And only 2 yuan (30 cents) each!

I’m a little stuck on what to call these in English, but after consulting dozens of websites and two reliable Shanghai foodie friends, I have settled on ‘fried clover pancakes’ because cao tou (literally grass head) is, according to them and google, actually a type of clover. Any further assistance from Chinese readers out there would be greatly appreciated.

The nuomi cao tou sellers cluster around the old street in Nanxiang, on both sides of a lovely canal, and also sell fried pumpkin patties and stinky tofu. After my last experience with stinky tofu I’m continuing to avoid it on the grounds that it might nauseate me. But the canal is lovely, with an old stone bridge and white-washed houses, and it’s only a hop, skip and jump from downtown Shanghai.
The Shanghai Street Food Series

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


  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/06517771659910444299 Jeannie

    Great photos! Can't say I have tried this street food before though, and I love the last photo very much:)

  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/11390453342365399230 Fiona Reilly

    Thanks Jeannie! It's a hidden gem, this street food – I double-checked with my lady at the wet-market too – she also agreed it was clover, and had a basket of it for sale.