Ever wondered why people queue outside a hole-in-the-wall at six in the morning for breakfast? Check out our comprehensive guide to all the best local breakfast foods and where to find them in Shanghai. Take a break from cereal and toast and try some of the best cheap street breakfasts this city has to offer, most of which were featured in our list of 25 Best Dishes in Shanghai.
Scallion pancakes | congyoubing 葱油饼
These savory fried pancakes are pockets of joy. They are crispy and golden on the outside, moist and meaty in the center and fragrant with the scent of scallions. Head straight to A Da Cong You Bing run by A Da, dubbed “the god of scallion pancakes” by locals. Get there early and be prepared to wait in line for one of his famous bings, going for RMB6 a piece. These particular ones are stuffed full, fried on a griddle and dried off by the flame.
Deep-fried dough sticks | youtiao 油条
Youtiao is a deep-fried dough stick, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. These are best enjoyed fresh from the fryer and are usually eaten with doujiang (soybean milk), zhou (rice porridge) loaded with toppings or soupy doufuhua (see below). In the mornings, you’ll find youtiao on almost every street corner selling for RMB3-5 each. If eating on the go isn’t your style, check out Xiao Tao Yuan a smaller brand of Taoyuan Village that's open 24 hours.
Savory tofu | doufuhua 豆腐花
There’s nothing more comforting than a warm bowl doufuhua (literally translates to “tofu flower”) on a cold Shanghai morning. Doufuhua is soupy, silken tofu topped with pickled veggies, tiny dried shrimps and scallions. Light soy sauce is often added to amp it up. Dip your youtiao into the cloudlike tofu for a mouthwatering contrast of textures. A breakfast of youtiao and doufuhua worth making the trip for can be found at 24-hour snack joint Niu Shi Jian Kang in Yangpu. Also open late is Lao Shaoxing.
Baos | baozi 包子
Baozi are the busy person’s perfect breakfast on the go. These steamed buns are often filled with pork (roubao) or vegetables (caibao) and sometimes vegetable and mushroom (xianggu), roughly RMB1.5 each. Lesser known fillings include fermented green beans, glass noodles and black sesame. We especially love the pork and soup variety (routangbao), like xiaolongbao in soft bun form. Check out Xiang Le Baozi (襄乐包子店) on the corner of Xiangyang Lu and Changle Lu—get there early and you’ll get a glimpse of a small army of baozi makers hard at work.
Sticky rice | zongzi 粽子
Zongzi are so good there’s a festival devoted to them—making and eating zongzi is an important custom during the Dragon Boat Festival. These pyramid-shaped bundles of fragrant sticky rice and other fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves or lotus leaves make for a satisfying snack any time of day. Varieties include Chinese sausage, salted egg yolk or red bean. Hole-in-the-wall baozi vendors usually also have giant steamers full of these selling for RMB3-4 each. Go to the one at 488 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Danshui Lu.
Rice dumplings | Shaomai 烧卖
There are many varieties of shaomai, also known as siumai in Cantonese. The ones you'll find in Shanghai wraps glutinous rice, pork mince and mushroom in a sheet of dough, flavored with soy sauce and then steamed. It's a hearty nugget of carbs that help you start the day. Sold at baozi stores. (The Cantonese siumai is filled with pork mince, sometimes a mix of pork and prawn and often garnished with crab roe.)
Scallion oil noodles | congyou banmian 葱油拌面
If there were any ever doubt that simple works best, this is proof. Thin noodles are tossed with soy sauce, scallions that have been fried until dark and caramelized, and the scallion-infused oil. The result is a satisfying blend of umami flavors with a hint of bittersweet. Ranging from RMB10 at local noodle shops to RMB30 at high-end joints, a great place to try these is at a hand-pulled noodle shop (lamiandian 拉面店) such as Henan Pulled Noodles on Changle Lu near Donghu Lu or Ding Te Le, which is our favorite and open 24-hours. Or check out our guide to the best scallion noodles in Shanghai.
Rice porridge | zhou 粥
Zhou, known in other parts of Asia as congee, is the ultimate healing food. If you think rice porridge is boring, think again. Eat like a local and customize your bowl with tons of toppings: pickled veggies, fresh lettuce, coriander, scallions, dried pork, dried shrimps or tea eggs (hard-boiled eggs that have been cooked in tea and spices). Zhou is a healthy breakfast all on its own, and light enough to leave room for a dumpling or two afterwards (and light on the wallet at around RMB5). It's available most places that sell youtiao, but check out Mi Dao Zan.
Fried pancake | jianbing 煎饼
This is China’s answer to the breakfast burrito. On street corners all over Shanghai, vendors spread batter on a griddle to make a thin wheat crepe. On top goes an egg, scallions, coriander, sweet bean paste, zhacai (spicy pickled mustard tubers), a wonton cracker, optional lajiang (dried chilli paste) and sometimes they'll even stick in a youtiao. The result is an amazing blend of textures and sweet/salty flavors to keep you full for hours, just for RMB5.
Pan-fried baos | shengjianbao 生煎包
Shengjian are xiaolongbao’s crispy, doughy, underrated cousin. The truth is you haven’t lived until you’ve tried them. Shengjian are round, thick-skinned dumplings filled with meat (usually pork, but Yang’s does a good spicy shrimp variety) and hot soup—really hot, so let the soup cool before you chow down—fried on one side in huge iron pans. Sounds too heavy for breakfast? Shanghairen eat dumplings any time of day, so you might as well too. Find the real deal at Da Hu Chun for RMB6/four. A similar version is guotie—potstickers that don't have the soupy filling of shengjian.
Wontons | huntun 馄饨
Wontons are a breakfast staple, but like shengjian, they can be eaten any time you like. Shanghai huntun are big and meaty, filled with pork and green veggies, folded in the shape of giant tortellini. Shanghainese make a clear distinction between these and xiao huntun, small wontons, which are tiny, delicate bundles of pork served in soup. A bowl usually contains 18 or 20 small wontons and will set you back around RMB10. Try the xiao huntun at Loushi Dumpling Shop, famous for their fragrant onion broth.
In Shanghai, bing (a word describing foods that are round and flat) is pretty much an entire food group. Dabing (“big biscuit”) is a giant flaky flatbread sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions and cooked until crispy on both sides. It’s often sold alongside its eggy counterpart, jidan bing, which has the texture of a soft crepe. Nominate a monetary amount and the vendor will cut you a few pieces accordingly (RMB3 will get you enough for a big snack.) Our favorite stall on the corner of Nanchang Lu and Xiangyang Lu sells extra crispy dabing along with other deep-fried doughy snacks.
When there are so many different kinds of dumplings to eat in Shanghai, why not enjoy them for breakfast? One long (一笼 yilong, one steamer) of these delicate soup dumplings that Shanghai is so famous is enough for breakfast. There's Din Tai Fung and Jia Jia Tang Bao, both of which are consistent. Jia Jia Tang Bao is more famous perhaps, with lines out the door. And they're known for their rich all-crab xiaolongbao (RMB30). It's possibly the best xiaolongbao in Shanghai.
Eat It All With A Tour
If you’re really looking to experience Shanghai’s best breakfast foods all in one go, we recommend booking a tour with UnTour, Shanghai’s best food tours. They literally have a food tour for almost every category of eating in this city. Trust us, you won’t regret it. Happy eating!
Did we miss any breakfast foods? Let us know in the comments below.
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