This is one of a series of posts about the Street Vendors on Wulumuqi Lu, in the French Concession. It’s one of Shanghai’s many great food streets, packed from beginning to end with restaurants and fresh food shops, and some of the best and worst smells all in one place. You might also like:
Today we meet The Breakfast Vendors at Number 296 Wulumuqi Lu. This tiny street front restaurant dishes out hundreds and hundreds of breakfasts every single day of the year. Eat-in, take-away, their stock in trade is yóu tiáo
, deep-fried bread sticks, although they also do deep-fried slabs of tofu, deep fried sesame balls, and char-grilled flatbreads. If you’re eating in, just pick up your bread of choice on the way in, put it in a plastic basket, grab a bowl and spoon and get filled up.
The two choices to fill your bowl are hot sweet soy milk (just dunk your yóu tiáo in, tear off a piece, dunk again) or savory soy milk. To the savory version add chopped scallions, chopped pickled greens, chopped bread chunks, and optional chili. Something like a breakfast soup. Sit elbow-to-elbow with the locals, facing out towards the street, and watch the passing parade of morning traffic as you slurp away.
This is the second in a series of posts about the diverse and fascinating food vendors lining Wulumuqi Lu in the French Concession. You can read the first one here.
Back in Shanghai after a lovely few days in Anji I found my cupboards bare. So, off I trotted to the lovely greengrocer at 274 Wulumuqi Lu. This lady has achieved cult status amongst foreigners in the city. A year ago, she began selling avocados (a rare and expensive delicacy here) at a reasonable price. Word spread, and she became known as The Avocado Lady. Realising the number of her foreign customers was growing, she began offering cheaply priced blueberries for sale. This may not seem strange, but technically she was a vegetable seller, not a fruit seller, and these two food streams never mix. So selling blueberries in a vegetable shop was nothing short of revolutionary. People heard about the cheap blueberries, word spread, and soon enough The Avocado Lady became The Blueberry Lady.
Nowadays, The Blueberry Lady sells basil, sage, parsley, rocket, pine nuts, walnuts, olive oil, mozarella cheese, aged cheddar, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and other hard-to-find commodities. Her status as a finder of whatever fresh food you need is unparallelled, and she is now known simply as The Lady. Famous amongst foreigners, enterprising and hard-working, long may she prosper.
Wulumuqi Lu in the French Concession is one of the best food streets in Shanghai, not for restaurants so much as for fresh food supplies. Walking along Wulumuqi Lu is a feast for the senses (although the feast may have a few courses you’re not so keen on). In the space of one block you can walk through wafts of slow-cooked pork, freshly gutted fish, stinky tofu, ripe mangoes and sweet lychees. Followed by fresh ginger, steamed pork buns, rotting garbage and lillies. It’s the street of a hundred smells!
I have a few favourite shops and shopkeepers I’ll write about and photograph over the coming weeks. The first is the smoky pork shop. Smoked meat, pork in particular, is a staple of Chinese cooking, and a way of preserving the meat and enhancing its flavour. Smoky pork sits somewhere between bacon and prosciutto in taste, quite intense, and only small amounts sliced very finely are needed to give a lot of flavour to stir-fried vegetables. I wonder if I will ever be able to find these things when I get back to Australia, so for now I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.
The guy who runs the smoky pork shop is always very friendly and waves every time I walk past or go in to buy something, but he had an acute attack of shyness when I tried to take his photo. So here are his cleavers instead. I’m so jealous! Look at how those blades gleam and the worn wooden handles shine, as they sit stacked side by side on his heavy wooden chopping block.