Every few days our team will scour Shanghai’s dining scene for scrumptious dishes that’ll fill your belly without emptying your savings. Not to discriminate, we’ll search everywhere from bicycle carts to chic venues with twenty-course tasting menus, knowing that any spot could have the next Dish of the Day.
Though encountering baozi (包子) or steamed buns with various fillings is unavoidable in the city, they still take a backseat to the native Xiaolongbao or Shengjian mantou in discussions on Shanghai snack foods as they’re not Shanghai specialties per se. Nevertheless, they remain an integral part of Shanghai’s street food scene and are often referred to as “mantou” (馒头) by Shanghaiers (in the north, “mantou” strictly refers to filling-less steamed bread). They’re also damn good.
For getting a baozi, many recommend the popular chain, Babi Mantou, but take it from us, if you don’t live near one there’s no reason to make a special trip over. Despite a wide selection of buns, including custard buns and spicy noodle buns, Babi’s bao are no tastier than what you’ll find on your street corner.
For us, baozi has always been more of a spontaneous experience anyway. It usually occurs during one of those weekend mornings when you wake up before the hangover sets in and go for a stroll. Perception hazy, you hit that patch of street with the cong you bing guy, the roast fowl guy, the Xiaolongbao lady, the wet market, and the other usual players and spy the steam hovering about the bao baskets like a sauna of steamed bread.
You make sure there’s a line out front, indicating faster turnover and better bao, and order a pork bao (1-1.5RMB). The dough’s soft and hot like sun-kissed baby skin, but doesn’t mush like western white bread or flake off. There’s even a slight chew to the dough. Inside, you find a pork meatball, which seeps delicious grease that drips onto your shirtfront (the more drippage the better). You pulverize it.
You realize that countless headlines and hypochondriac relatives have warned you about Shanghai’s “street meat,” but this hits the spot just right, and you’re willing to snack first and ask questions later.
Babi Mantou – 749 Caoxi Bei Lu, near Yude Lu (漕溪北路749号, 近裕德路). Hours: 6 am-7 pm.
Last time on Dish of the Day: Dumplings @ Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King
See a complete list of our Dish of the Day series here.
Have a recommendation for Dish of the Day? Let Shanghaiist’s food editor Benjamin Cost know at [email protected]!