[In a back alley, somewhere in Shanghai]
"Help Chaxiu, Help!"
"Gee, Sunjing, is that you?! What happened to you? You look so brown that I can hardly recognise you. Do yourself a favorite and listen to your brother: no more hung up with that sun-in-a-tan spray, okay?"
"No. It's nothing like that. I've been pan-fried! And they even tried to drown us by pouring water into the pan when they were frying us -- our buttocks were fried while heads were steamed. Look what they've done to me. And they put us all into a poky camp. It's a MADHOUSE, a Holocaust! Chaxiu, save me, get me outta here."
"Sunjing, how many times did I tell you not to gamble? How many times! You lost all the money father and I sent you and go do sauna in creepy places and you end up with illusion like this. Who's to blame? I have seen it all before. Keep your ass from the punt and find yourself a decent Spa club. There're many goodies in the Bund area. They even give you a massage before the steam and they spread some sorts of powder over your body, what they call, al, cake flour? They say it can add firmness to your skin. Yeah, something like that. Promise me you'll do that, okay?"
"What's that dirt on your chin?"
"Sesames, I guess."
"And over the nose?"
"See how these dirt cheap Spa got you all screwed up? Now lets go, we've Xiaolong to save."
"What's wrong with her -- where are we going?"
"To who knows where, to who knows where..."
Sunjingbao (生煎包), also known as Shuijingbao (水煎包), when it comes to snacks, this pan-fried dumpling probably matchs Xiaolongbao stride for stride in terms of popularity in Shanghai. There are many kinds of meat fillings available but by far the most common one is the pork.
While the dough of Xiaolongbao is usually made of normal flour, chefs mostly use cake flour (low glutten flour) for Sunjingbao in which the density of the dough is higher so that it can hold the juice of pork when it goes through the gruesome test of pan frying and steaming. The buns are first heated on the pan until the bottoms turn brown. Then water thickened by flour is poured in to steam the upper part of the buns. What you got at the end is a bun with moisty upper part and crusty lower part.
Below are two of the most rhapsodized places to try out this delicacy in Shanghai. In regard to their settings -- let's not make too fine a point of it -- both are small and poor. But in regard to their Sunjingbaos, both deliver the best you can ever find in Shanghai.