Shengjian Bao is a traditional snack eaten primarily for breakfast on the streets on Shanghai. Shanghainese, on the way to work or school will buy piping hot shengjian ‘mantous’ as they are called in the local dialect, wrapped in a brown paper bag and washed down with nice, warm, freshly made soy milk. They are also eaten during the day and are a classic comfort food
Generally it is agreed that the shengjians came into being in the 1920s and were made popular when they were sold alongside the then-ubiquitous 'Laohu Zao' teahouses. Originally, shengjians were made with a pork filling and in the following decades, fillings such as prawns were added to the list as shengjians became ever more popular.
Shengjian bao types
There are two key types of shengjian:
1) ‘Qingshui’ - These are the more traditional, 'original' shengjian bao. Those made without a pork belly aspic. The 'soup' itself comes from the meat's own juices. They can be found in eateries such as ‘Dahuchun’ which was established in Shanghai in 1932 and is still going strong. These shengjians have pleats facing upwards.
2) ‘Hunshui’ - Those made with a pork belly aspic and meat filling and became popular in the last 30 years – this is used by the wildly popular ‘Xiao Yang Shengjian’ in Shanghai which started in the mid-90s in a small roadside shack and has now spread across Shanghai with multiple stores. Popular with younger people and tourists, the bun skin is thin, full of soup with a large helping of meat. In Chinese, this is known as ‘pibao,zhiduo,rouda'. These shengjians have pleats facing downwards.
In China, buns that have a filling are typically named ‘bao’ whereas plain buns are called ‘mantou’. However in Shanghai and surrounding areas, both filled and unfilled buns are known as ‘mantou’ and therefore in Shanghai the shengjians are known as ‘shengjian mantou’.