One large, boisterous open room, one notch above fast food. From the section captioned "Northeastern Folk's Coarse Grains," corn porridge (Y3) was coarse indeed; I would have preferred a smooth blend rather than whole kernels. Stir-fried pot-herb mustard (Y15) did little but provide my daily quota of greens.
Dongbeiren 1 Shaanxi Nanlu, Shanghai (one of several locations)
Three pastries? No, just one: Those scallion-laden oblongs, doughy little buns, and griddled disks are in fact the same snack at three stages of its "life cycle," under the loving upbringing of a husband-and-wife team. The fourth stage, after it's completed a metamorphasis into a crispy scallion pastry (Y0.5 each), is, inevitably, to fall prey to one of the many pastry predators lurking about.
Freshwater crabmeat dumplings (12 for Y48) — which I expected to be the "soup dumplings" I've enjoyed in New York — were thick-skinned, stiff, and not as juicy as I hoped. The "famous Yangzhou 'soup-in-dumpling' " with crabmeat (Y20) was so large and soupy, by contrast, that it flattened under its own weight. Indeed, I was presented one straw with my glass of gooseberry juice (Y16) and another with the soup dumpling! That said, the broth inside was good, not transcendent. The juiciest, best-filled dumplings I've found in Shanghai remain the four-for-Y3 items at Yang's Fry-Dumpling.
Shanghai Uncle 211 Tianyueqiao Lu, Shanghai (one of several locations)
A misspelling of "hardly." Shared a sampling of disappointing Shanghai snacks (Y38) with my friend Glenn, on our visit to the Pudong side of the river. In addition to the basement food court, we found more than two dozen sit-down restaurants on the fifth floor, but none that would inspire a trip to the mall.
After spending five minutes trying to decipher the Chinese-only menu on the alley wall outside, I was bailed out by another diner who spoke just enough English to gather that I liked seafood, and who recommended one of that evening's specials, shrimp and crabmeat noodles (Y28). He seemed concerned I understand that I'd be ordering one of the most expensive items at this tranquil little hideaway; I assured him, though not in so many words, that I could stomach the four bucks.
Wuyue Renjia 10 Lane 706 Huaihai Zhonglu, Shanghai (one of several locations)
"Soy milk is good, and good for you" is the message, you'd think; most patrons at this bare-bones snack spot grab one (250 ml.; Y2) to wash down various fried and steamed offerings. (I had my eye out for xiao long bao, but those "soup dumplings" were one of the few items not available at the moment.) My takeaway on the soy milk: It didn't do me any harm. Perhaps a fresh-pressed version, if I can find a street vendor who offers it, will be another story.
Call it a savory upside-down cake. At the single large griddle in the display window by the entrance, the cook pressed handfuls of rice onto what seemed to be a thin eggy layer; she followed it with sliced mushrooms, peas, and small scatterings of tiny shrimp and spring onions. After slicing her creation widthwise into hefty but still manageable slabs, she gently flipped them one at a time; a few moments more, and she divvied them into single-serving slices (Y5). Pleasant comfort food, if just a bit dry.
Though he spoke no English beyond "Hello," the fellow outside who sized me up sizing up Bao Luo signaled that yes, this was the place. Since I was dining on my own, the hostess steered me away from the boisterous large tables on the ground floor and directed me up the spiral staircase to the cozy upstairs room, where I received a menu translated into reasonably useful English. I expected a corn cake baked with bee honey (Y18) to be the size if not the texture of an arepa; I received a crisp, lacy, Frisbee-sized disk that was otherwise underwhelming.
Instead, keep your eye on the balls, in the guise of pot-stewed clam meat and minced pork (shown; Y18) in a thick, sweet sauce. You wouldn't go wrong ordering the greens on their own, either, though I opted for fried kale with "olive vegetable" (Y18), sliced into oily irregular pyramids that delivered a firm, almost crisp bite whenever they didn't slip from my chopsticks. Many interesting menu choices; beware of overordering.
No, unfortunately, not the celebrated Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, which was closed for renovations. The Y38 set menu at the joint next door included a quartet of pork xiao long bao that were passable at best, and nothing else of note.
Steamed Bun Restaurant Near Yuyuan Garden, Old City, Shanghai
Near what my map calls the "flower, bird, fish, and insect market," I came upon what appeared to be a husband-and-wife team carefully preparing their fine version of the pancakes called bings (Y1 each). Nice thin skin; note how the chives show through that griddle-spotted surface. Fresh and hot, too, as you can tell by their do-it-yourself "insulation."
Bing vendors Just inside the alley at 439 Xizang Nanlu (a.k.a. Tibet Rd.), Shanghai
Zhapu Lu itself is more a restaurant row than what I'd call a "food street," as it's labeled on many maps, but the several streets to the west are packed with vendors of all stripes, especially at lunchtime: hand-sliced noodles, corn on the cob, pomegranates, tofu fritters, sugar-dipped haws, eggs, and kebabs like this squid liberally sprinkled with red pepper (Y1).
It seemed a warm September in Shanghai for chestnuts, but the ladies working both sides of the Henan Zhonglu bridge knew their market. I picked away happily at my bagful (Y10, about $1.25 at the time) for nearly an hour. Also shown: a view from the bridge.
Roasted-chestnut cart On the Henan Zhonglu bridge over Suzhou Creek, Shanghai