Jianbing, which is basically a Shanghainese breakfast burrito, is hands-down one of the best things I have ever eaten. Morning hangover, who?
When I first arrived in Shanghai a few weeks ago, it was dark. It was almost 10pm and the city was slowing down to a halt. Unlike New York and LA, where the city comes alive after dark, the Shanghainese are settling in for a good night’s rest. Little happens in this city after midnight.
One thing seemed to unite everyone in this morning rush; Shanghai Street Breakfast.
When I woke the next morning however, the city had boomed into a beautiful array of life. If you wake up here at 8 or 9am, you’re already behind most of the city’s population. The streets are already bustling with the vibrance and character I thought only existed in postcards. Old people are exercising in parks, construction workers have already been working for a few hours, men in suits pass children in backpacks, and scooters crisscross the laneways en masse. The people of Shanghai are getting to where they need to be before the intense heat of the day kicks in. But one thing seemed to unite everyone in this morning rush; Shanghai Street Breakfast.
I left my hostel hungry and jet-lagged. I not only wanted food, I wanted damn-good food. I had spent the past day living off of soggy airport sandwiches and the dreaded in-flight dinner. Luckily, it didn’t take long before I noticed lines of people standing in front of tiny storefronts. I saw this everywhere, in all directions around me.
One lesson I’ve learned while traveling is this: A city is like a river. They all flow in their own way, they all have their own rhythms and movements. And when you arrive in a city of 24 million people, and they all make this a part of their morning ritual…well, you have no choice but to partake.
I stood in line and watched a man spread a very thin layer of batter on a hot circular surface. After the dough started to harden, he cracked an egg and brushed it throughout the batter. My stomach rumbled. I watched him throw on a spoonful of garlic, then scallion, and cilantro. He folded the circle in half and then slathered on a thick dark sauce and a little chili oil. Finally he added a giant piece of fried wonton and romaine lettuce. He folded it all into what looked like a burrito, and handed it to the man waiting.
I took a giant bite and fell in love. Sweet, savory, and a little spicy.
After a few more people, it was finally my turn. I hardly knew any Chinese when I first got here. I mostly knew hello, thank you, and goodbye, so I was completely at the mercy of this man to make me something amazing. I watched as he went to work, like a sculptor creating his next masterpiece. When he finished, he handed me my burrito thing and said “wu” , meaning five. I gave him five Yuan and said thanks. I looked down at my first breakfast in China. It cost less than 1 US dollar but looked better than any I-HOP junk that may cost you fifteen.