Shanghai food tour: Quest for the best qingtuan

Shanghai food tour: Quest for the best qingtuan

Qingming Jie is just around corner, but before you get to sweeping, indulge in the season's best snack, qingtuan (青团)

Qingming Jie (aka Tomb Sweeping Festival) means more than breaking out your cleaning equipment, it also means that Shanghai stores are putting out their best qingtuan for the occasion.

Qingtuan (青团, green rice balls) are a traditional food in southern China dating back to the Zhou Dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago. Made of rice flour and aicao (艾草, wormwood) juice, qingtuan are usually stuffed with red bean paste.

Although modern technology can produce these rice balls in bulk, Shanghaining still insist on buying handmade ones at the city's more traditional food stores.

We find the six best places to grab your qingtuan this April 5.

1. Wang Jia Sha

qingtuan (青团) - Wang Jia ShaCost: RMB 2.5-4.5

Why we love them: reports  that Wang Jia Sha sells 50,000 "tuans" a day, and the figure will double a week before Qingming Festival. They're that good.

This 60-year-old restaurant has all the traditional flavors and is also experimenting with new ones, now offering about 10 different stuffings, including vegetable stuffing, the pork and egg yolk stuffing and pork floss.

The qingtuans dished out here are usually still warm and some even have a few pieces of grass at the bottom, just like Shanghaining remember from when they were growing up.

Wang Jia Sha, 805 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu 南京西路805号, 近石门一路, +86 21 6253 0404

2. Shen Da Cheng

qingtuan (青团) - Shen Da ChengCost: RMB 2.5-3

Why we love them: The qingtuans made by this reportedly 130-year-old restaurant have won the venue a number of awards over the years, making this one of the best-known places in the city to get your qingtuan on.

The rice in their version is glutinous, but not overly sticky -- avoiding the problem of bits of qingtuan  sticking to your teeth for the rest of the day after you eat one.

“The qingtuan here are hand-made, so they won’t stay fresh for days like the ones you buy in the supermarket,” says Zhou Quan, a regular customer waiting in line. That probably explains the long queue all day on Nanjing Dong Lu.

Shen Da Cheng, 636 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Fujian Zhong Lu 南京东路636号, 近福建中路, +86 21 6322 4926

3. Qiao Jia Shan

qingtuan (青团) - Qiao Jia ShanCost: RMB 2

Why we love them: At a mere two kuai, the qingtuan here are the best priced among all the traditional restaurants. Not skimping on size, these tuans are pretty big, almost the size of a billiard ball.

We're particularly fans of their new flavors including sliced bamboo, pickles and pork stuffing -- thankfully not all together. These ingredients are a great break from the traditional red bean ones, taking these tuan to a new level.

Qiao Jia Shan, 33 Shanxi Nan Lu, near Hankou Lu 山西南路33号, 近汉口路

4. Cang Lang Ting

qingtuan (青团) - Cang Lang TingCost: RMB 2.5

Why we love them: Suzhou cuisine is famous for its sweet flavors, sometimes getting a bit too much even for the legendary sweet tooth of Shanghaining. But, when it comes to the qingtuan, sweet is all you need.

Although Cang Lang Ting, known for its Suzhou cuisine, only serve traditional red bean paste flavored qingtuan, there are few things that beat sitting on one of their chairs and looking out through the carved wooden windows on a sunny afternoon.

Take a bite of a tuan and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were lazing the day away in a small southern Chinese town.

Cang Lang Ting, 363 Tianyao Qiao Lu, Xietu Lu 天钥桥路363号, 斜土路 , +86 21 6426 3350

5. Gong De Lin

qingtuan (青团) - Gong De LinCost: RMB 2.2 a piece or RMB 10.5 a box

Why we love them: Made in Gong De Lin’s vegetarian kitchen, these tuan are more savory than sweet, with the fragrance of their wormwood juice lingering a bit longer on the tongue than your average bite.

Gong De Lin offers three different qingtuan stuffings: taro (a perfect balance of the sweet root and the savory wormwood juice), the traditional red bean paste and sugar-free red bean paste, for those watching their waistlines.

Gong De Lin, 445 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Qingqing Bei Lu 南京西路445号, 近重庆北路, +86 21 6327 0218

6. Guang Ming Cun

qingtuan (青团) - Guang Ming CunCost: RMB 14-15 for a box of six

Why we love them: The second floor of this restaurant is like foodie heaven, especially for the grazers among us who love bite-sized nibbles. You can find almost any traditional Shanghai snack food here.

Offering two qingtuan (青团) flavors, the “mixed stuffing” and the “red bean paste,” both more than satisfy a qingming festival craving.

The mixed stuffing of dried carrots, dried shrimp, pork and mushroom is delicious and savory, while the traditional red bean paste is so smooth that it almost melts away in your mouth.

Guang Ming Cun, 588 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Danshui Lu 淮海中路588号, 近淡水路, +86 21 5306 7878

Still hungry? After you finish your qintuan (青团), check out our shengjianbao food tour.
Now a freelancer writer, Zat Liu has been writing about Shanghai since 2003 when she started in "that's Shanghai" magazine.
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