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.
Whether in san xian dou pi, zongzi, or lo mai gai, sticky rice is one of my favorite eats in Asia. The hot glutinous squish against your teeth coupled with the fragrance of pork, dried shrimp, mushrooms or whatever else it’s paired with was enough to make me roam place to place for different renditions of this sticky sustenance. My go-to in Shanghai is ci fan (糍饭), a softball-sized sphere of sticky rice (often a compilation of white, black, and purple varieties), filled with you tiao or Chinese cruller, sour and salty pickles, pork floss and sometimes eggs, ham, and sugar.
Despite being extremely common, ci fan are perhaps the most overlooked street eats in town. I walked by a ci fan stand everyday for almost two years without realizing it. How did I miss something so cartoonishly big? Well, they’re found in a pretty inconspicuous place: that cloth-lined barrel at you tiao stands that I thought was for trash. When you order, the lady scoops out a handful of sticky rice with moist gloves on to keep the rice from glomming onto the hands (this is also what the cloth’s for) crumples a youtiao and puts it in the middle with the pork floss, pickles, and other ingredients. She then molds the rice around them like Playdough and voila, it’s ready to eat.
Namely a breakfast food, ci fan is the perfect cluster bomb of carbs to get your motor running in the morning. This also means that one ball fills your stomach like a paperweight so bring a friend to help you get the job done. Get to your neighborhood stand early as these guys tend to sell out by late morning or noon.
Sold at you tiao stands. They run you around 4RMB a piece.
Last time on Dish of the Day: San xian dou pi (Three Delicacies Wrapped in Tofu Skin) on Sipailou Road
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]!