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Shanghai Street Food #4 Langzhou Lāmiàn 拉面

This is Number 4 in the Shanghai Street Food series. I’m working my way through all of Shanghai’s street foods, one by one. Enjoy a taste of all of them!

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

All over Shanghai are dozens of hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving Langzhou hand-pulled noodles. These are some of the best cheap eats in Shanghai, and hugely popular. Lā means ‘to pull’ and miàn means ‘noodle’. When you see them being made you’ll understand why. The restaurants are run by ethnic Chinese Hui muslims, identifiable from afar by their crisp white cotton caps.

My favourite Langzhou lamian restaurant is on Fangbang Lu in the Old City, nearby Luxiangyuan Lu.  For 12 yuan ($2) you can watch as your noodles are made to order before your eyes. Firstly, the noodle maker kneads and stretches the dough, then rolls it into a solid length. Now he pulls it to a full span of his arms, twists it together and pulls again, over and over. As the noodles get thinner and more numerous he slaps them hard on his steel workbench to help separate them. Once finished, he slides open the window above his workbench and literally tosses them out into a bubbling pot of aromatic broth in which they will be cooked. 

These are bowls of niu rou lamian – a tasty beef broth with noodles, slices of fresh beef, coriander, and shallots.
Alternatively, try dāo xīao mìan 刀削麵, hand-cut noodles – these are made from a slab of dough wrapped round a wooden rolling pin, then deftly sliced off into the pot using a device that looks like a potato peeler. The noodles are thicker and shorter and have a fantastic texture. 

These little restaurants exemplify one of the most incredible things about Shanghai – without leaving the city you can try specialist and local foods from all over China, cooked by people from those provinces, and enjoyed by everyone.

The Ghost Market, FangBang lu

Another great treasure to explore! I had heard that 457 Fangbang Lu, previously known to me as ‘dull five-story building near Yu Gardens selling all the usual tourist tat’ is actually home to the fabulous and secret antique Ghost Market on weekend mornings. It’s called the Ghost Market because it sets up in the dark, around 4am, and then all the stallholders disappear before the clock strikes midday. Or maybe it’s called the Ghost Market because everything it sells once belonged to someone who is now deceased. Either way, it’s packed with amazing old finds.

The market occupies both the 4th and 5th floors. You will know when you’re in the right place, because you may be able to just make out the stallholders, with their wares displayed on blankets or newspapers spread on the creaky wooden floor, through a dense haze of smoke from hundreds of cheap ChungHwa cigarettes. There will also be a lot of loitering buyers in the stairwells, sucking back a few last dhurries before deciding what to offer the seller for that precious cicada-shaped redwood box. For sale are small antiques of all kinds – jade, porcelain, ceramics, wood carvings, prints, paintings, jewellery, and the odd fossil. 

If you know your stuff, you can really pick up some bargains. If you don’t, it’s a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t, and how much you might have to pay for it. I for one, have no interest in the small jade carvings that Shanghai men spend hours poring over. And no, they’re not that kind of carving either. But I do love all the  simple and elegant shapes of celadon porcelain in their various pale and subtle shades.