Street treats — crayfish to kebabs
Shanghai is famous for its street food stalls and on warm summer nights they’re crowded. Chen Ye takes a tour of top sidewalk eateries for crayfish, kebabs and other treats.
glass of icy beer in one hand and skewers of lamb in the other, Ryan Wang eats, drinks and jokes with his friends on the street, totally ignoring the heat and what some consider questionable food safety. But all those happy, return customers must know what’s good.
It’s 11pm and Wang and his work mates sit outdoors on Xianxia Road in Changning District. Nearby food stall owners are busy stewing, steaming, grilling or stir-frying various snacks, from noodles and potstickers to squid and oysters, and kebabs.
“I love the casual atmosphere,” says Wang, 27, a marketing specialist. “Although the food might not be as safe and goodlooking as those in the fancy restaurants, at least I can have a variety of options at one time — Xinjiang-style shashlik, Sichuan hot pot, Cantonese soup, and lots of other things — it’s like a hodgepodge.”
It’s not fine dining, but it’s fun to check out the night market offerings. Some people suggest taking your own chopsticks.
China enjoys a long history of culinary culture, and various regional cuisines are recognized worldwide.
But one form of eating out — munching on street food and ye xiao (midnight snacks) — brings it all together in one place, sometimes under one roof.
Midnight snacks are favored by construction workers getting off shift, taxi drivers, professionals working late, and anybody who wants a snack after a movie or a hard night of clubbing.
At a time of food safety concerns, experts warn snack-seekers to be careful.
“Night snack stalls fill a need, but most have no license, so people should choose carefully and go to stalls that are attached to restaurants serving guests outdoors,” says Xia Xiangqing, a food expert with the Shanghai Restaurants Association.
Though snacks are delicious, most are high in fat, far higher than ordinary food, says Yang Kefeng, a noted nutritionist. People who don’t want to gain weight should not make it a habit to eat these night treats, he says.
In addition to taking in more fat- calories than usual, night snack eaters tend to gain weight because they often go to sleep after eating, he says, adding that metabolism usually decreases by around 10 percent during sleep.
But many people aren’t too worried, and expats go where the locals eat.
“I don’t need to dress up — shorts, slippers and even vests are fine; manners don’t mean much,” says Wang. “I love it.”
Some foreigners are also making and selling their own midnight snacks, such as crepes. At the South Gate of Tongji University, two French students sell their hand-made French pancakes and one overseas student makes “British fried rice” near the Southwest Gate.
Generally, barbecue, crayfish and stirfried dishes are the most popular ye xiao.
Here are some of the city’s popular ye xiao sites.
A stall owner ( right) prepares while eaters enjoy their food on Wuxing Road in Shanghai.
( midnight snacks), one form of eating out, brings all varieties of snacks together in one place, sometimes under one roof. — Wang Rongjiang/ Dong Zao