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Shengjian mantou

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Shengjian mantou (aka, shengjianbao) are a type of small, pan-fried baozi which is a specialty of Shanghai. It is usually filled with pork and gelatin that melts into soup/liquid when cooked.

Left: Shengjian mantou.

Shengjian mantou has been one of the most common breakfast items in Shanghai for the last century. As a ubiquitous breakfast item, it has a significant place in Shanghainese culture.

In Chinese, a filled bun is usually called "baozi" or "bao", while an unfilled (plain) bun is usually called a "mantou". However, in the south, the older word "mantou" refers to both filled and unfilled buns. Hence, the shengjian mantou is called a "mantou" despite being a filled bun. The same is true of the xiaolong mantou, which is called "xiaolongbao" elsewhere.

Shengjian is made from semi-leavened dough, wrapped around pork and gelatin fillings. The "knot" of the bun, where the dough is folded together, faces downwards when cooling to prevent the crispy bottom from getting soggy. Usually, they are served with the knot at the top, but people flip them over before eating to let it cool a little. Chopped green onion and sesame are sprinkled on the buns during the cooking process.

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The name of the bun comes from its method of cooking. The buns are lined up in an oiled, shallow, flat pan. Typical commercial pans are more than a metre in diameter. Water is sprayed on the buns during cooking to ensure the top (which is not in contact with the pan or the oil) is properly cooked.

Left: Shengjian mantou in a pan in Shanghai.

After frying, the bottom of the bun becomes crunchy, and the gelatin melts into soup. This combination gives the shengjian its unique flavour. Because the buns are tightly lined up in the pan, they become somewhat cube-shaped after cooking.

The traditional shengjian has pork fillings. Common variations include chicken, pork mixed with prawns, and pork mixed with crab meat.

Shengjian is usually eaten at breakfast, and can be accompanied by poultry blood soup or beef soup. The buns themselves can be dipped in Chinkiang vinegar or Worcestershire Sauce. Because of the method of cooking, especially the relatively hard bottom, the buns are quite durable, and are therefore easily portable. They are often packed in paper bags for take-away consumption.

Some shops or restaurants sell the item throughout the day as a snack. It is rarely found as a dish in a main meal.


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