Here’s hoping you weren’t all terrified by Dr Fiona’s Street Food Survival Guide to the point of swearing off street food altogether. Because it’s time to eat some great street food again!
This month’s street snack hails from Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province. According to Wuhan’s own government website, Wuhan is a magical place where…
‘…you’ll find a distinctive flavor and perceive an unimaginable feeling.’
Having never been to Wuhan I can’t imagine what that unimaginable feeling might be, but I do know you can sample the aforementioned distinctive flavor of one of Wuhan’s most famous street foods in Shanghai, while imagining the unimaginable.
三鲜豆皮 San Xian Doupi is translated as Three Delicacies Tofu Skin – a layer of sticky rice studded with small pieces of three different savoury flavoured foods, pan-fried between two sheets of tofu skin or doupi, the skin from the surface of boiled soy milk (also known by its Japanese name, yuba).
Like many street foods, there are individual variations from cook to cook. The three delicacies, for example, can be any of the following: pork, bamboo shoot, shrimp, egg, mushroom, or marinated tofu, and the tofu skin might be replaced with a fine mung bean and wheat flour pancake spread with egg, like the vendor below. Ultimately what matters most is the special method of construction:
The tofu skin or pancake is spread on the inside of a hot wok. Using a square metal frame for reference, the inside of the frame is filled with a compressed layer of cooked sticky rice.
The edges of the tofu skin are trimmed, the frame removed, and now the rice is layers with the three delicacies – here finely diced mushrooms, dried bamboo shoot, and xiang gao, a type of firm tofu flavoured with soy and five spice, braised in a gravy.
The square sheet of rice is now gently spun in the hot oiled wok to stop it sticking. When the underside tofu skin is golden and well-crisped, the entire square is flipped over to allow the rice layer to become very crispy. Some cooks add a second layer of tofu skin so that the rice cooks between two sheets.
Once cooked, the san xian doupi is cut into small squares, sprinkled with chopped scallions and served in a small bowl to eat with chopsticks.
This is one snack where texture is as important as taste – the crunch of crisp fried tofu skin, with little grains of toasted rice around the edges and chewy sticky rice inside, with a flavorful combination of the three delicacies – little nubbins of savoury taste that all together combine in one famous mouthful. After all, when tasting this very snack in 1958 Chairman Mao said “San Xian Doupi is a Hubei local delicacy that needs to be preserved. You create a name for Hubei snacks, and the people thank you.”
Where to find San Xian Dou Pi in Shanghai:
“Genuine San Xian Doupi!” reads the sign, and you can find it in many locations across Shanghai and in every Chinese city.
This particular san xian doupi vendor is located in Sipailou Lu Food Street, on the corner of Sipailou Lu and Fangbang Lu, near Yu Gardens. Open daily from mid-morning until late.
More Street Foods of Shanghai – It’s a Long List!
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 14 Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 16 Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
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 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