Shengjian mantou (aka, shengjianbao) are a type of small,
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.
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.
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.