DIY Shanghai street noodles: How to make the perfect late night snack
If you're standing on just about any Shanghai street corner -- and especially at night -- a bowl of freshly stir-fried Shanghai noodles, or any late-night street food for that matter, is never too far away.
Whether we’re coming in from MAO at 4 a.m. or in need of a quick and cheap lunch, these noodles always satisfy that need for something salty and delicious.
“They’re cheap and can be made very quickly,” explains Li Ping, one of our favorite Shanghai noodle makers. “People want to eat right when they are hungry, so they come to me knowing that their food will only take a minute or two to prepare.”
“And if a few people like their noodles the same way,” she continues, “I’ll make a big batch, and then divide the food into their bowls, so they don’t have to wait long at all.”
This is my favorite part of making noodles. Watching as Westerners and locals sit down on the curb together and eat. I don’t think you see this very often outside of this type of setting.— Li Peng, Shanghai street noodle vendor
Popular ingredients include pork, bok choy or cabbage, scallions, sprouts and an egg, or two. And, of course, no Shanghainese dish would ever be complete without a liberal amount of sugar. A secret ingredient that most Westerners want left out, Li divulges, “is the weijing (味精)” -- MSG.
“What most foreigners don’t understand is that we use MSG as a spice -- it adds flavor to the dish that other spices don’t have.”
She might chuckle, but if you ask nicely, Li will oblige and not add any MSG to your order.
Late night Shanghai noodle delights
During the day, Li can be found outside the front gates of East China Normal University serving hungry students in need of a snack. But come nightfall, she heads over to the Former French Concession where the late-night action is.
Li, who can usually be found at night on the corner of Changle Lu and Fumin Lu (near Cantina Agave and Club 88), tells us that late-night dining is often her prime business hours.
“Midnight is pretty busy for me,” she explains while flash frying some pickled green beans for a customer. “I’ll get people from the bars who need something to eat, as well as local families wanting a snack before bed.”
Li has a vast range of clientele -- from foreign and local club-hopping hipsters to sleepy-eyed children in their pajamas -- and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is my favorite part of making noodles,” she tells us. “Watching as Westerners and locals sit down on the curb together and eat. I don’t think you see this very often outside of this type of setting.”
Within a moment of ordering, our hot Shanghai noodles are dumped into a Styrofoam bowl and tossed into a plastic bag. Sitting on the corner of Fumin Lu and Changle Lu, we can’t help but inhale this stuff.
Perhaps it is the high sodium content or the MSG, but whatever the reason, these are addictive and tasty.