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.