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Shanghai's Vegetarian Street Snacks

Yes, they do exist! But if like me you love street food sans meat, you do need to know what to ask for. For short-term visitors to Shanghai, it is understandable that this may pose a problem. Here are some helpful options for you to grab on the run while sightseeing around this fabulous metropolis. All snacks can be found at corner street stalls and will set you back just a few RMB’s each.

The Savoury:

Green Onion Pancake (Cong You Bing)

A simple concoction of delicious hot dough laced with spring onion flavour, you can’t go wrong with this one. Identify the oldest granny-like stall holder you can find – apparently lots of practice makes the pancakes taste so much better! If you eat eggs, you can ask for one on top of your pancake, too. A similar spring onion option, but harder to find, is the puffy pancake (Qiang bing), sold in slices.

 Tofu Soup

This one is a little trickier, because to make it vegetarian you’ll need to ask the vendor to hold the dried shrimp flakes from your dressing. Otherwise, it’s a great option for soup and tofu lovers, (especially on a cold day) infused with flavours of chilli oil, pickled radish, spring onions, soy sauce and seaweed.

Stinky Tofu

My favourite Chinese savoury snack by far, and, used to high vegan strangeness in food, I didn’t find the smell quite that strong, or unappealing. Usually sold in deep fried (in vegetable oil) cubes of four with sweet chilli and soy sauce on top, stinky tofu got it’s accurately descriptive name from the fermentation process the tofu undergoes and the resulting mouldy smell. Craveworthy, I promise.

The Sweets:

Mung Bean Pie

Well, you can’t really visit China and not try one of those. Don’t worry, the red bean filling tastes nothing like baked beans; it’s rather similar to a much softer version of mince. My favourite version of this pie comes in a soft pancake-like textured dough, made from rice flour. The flavour is not overly sweet and you’ll find that the pies are quite filling, so are recommended as the perfect takeaway food to be had when peckish later.

Sesame Balls (Ma qiu)

One of Shanghai’s most beloved sweet indulgences, it combines the mung bean filling with glutinous rice dough covered with a layer of sesame seeds, which is then lovingly deep fried until golden. Slightly addictive and will get you ever closer to a heart attack, but when you’re devouring one, such thoughts are far, far from your mind.

Deep-fried Donuts (Tang gao)

Well, this is a total indulgence, yet still relatively “healthier” than the Western version, as they are made from glutinous rice flour - but still get coated with white sugar, though. Irresistible, with same health consequences as described above.

Baked Sweet Potato (Hong shan yu)

Speaking of healthy, this is probably one sweet treat that could probably get away with that tag! It’s on the fluffy side, approximately like a sweet muffin (but not really), and you are likely to want another one. So whether you fly to Shanghai for work or fun be sure to try these treats on your next trip.

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Patricia Bieszk is a freelance writer who loves to travel and harass street vendors around the world to make her dish…vegan (the rate of success is consistently growing!)

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