Time for a last bite of Tilanqiao's treasured snacks and flavors
Residents in Tilanqiao area around the North Bund are moving on to new lives under the city's relocation campaign. However, some famous, traditional old shops have lingered, along with their memories of the past.
Weimin Snack Shop
"The guotie (fried dumplings) of Weimin Snack Shop is one of the things I have missed most after I left," said Zhang Kunlin, a 68-year-old resident who lived in the neighborhood.
The 30-year-old snack shop is in its last week of operation. Although Zhang has moved away, he still visits the outlet by bus every morning for a fresh and hot fried dumplings.
In Chinese, weimin literally means "for people," and that's the exact description of this yummy, inexpensive, down-to-earth snack shop.
There are only three choices on the menu – guotie, clear soup and beef soup.
The original price of its fried dumplings was 0.45 yuan (7 US cents) for four in 1992, and it was raised to 6 yuan in 2017, still very affordable for most residents.
The guotie from Weimin Snack Shop has always been a good breakfast choice. The skin of the fried dumplings is thin, and the bottom is flaky and crispy. The meat inside is tender and juicy. No wonder customers would wait in line for half an hour to buy some.
Despite the high temperatures, customers sit on small stools by the street enjoying their guotie, just as it was 30 years ago.
"The fillings of fresh pork, not frozen, give it an authentic juicy taste," Zhang said. "The flavor of the fried dumplings is the same as 30 years ago, which can rarely be found in the city now."
A bowl of hot soup and guotie are a perfect match.
According to Zhang, the clear soup was free when the snack shop first opened. In 1992, a bowl of clear soup cost 1 jiao (0.1 yuan). Even today, in 2021, it's only priced at 1 yuan.
A better choice is the 5-yuan curry-flavored beef soup, with a few slices of beef.
The snack shop announced it would close on July 23 in an eye-catching notice on the wall.
Owner Chi Lanying says regular customers ask every day "Where will you move to?"
"We will reopen soon," Chi said while frying the dumplings.
"Our opening hours are the most difficult challenge in finding a new location. As a traditional breakfast shop, we must be open at 6am, so we cannot move into a shopping mall. There are less street shops in the city center."
"But I'll do my best, to keep the shop and the authentic flavor of the guotie," Chi added.
Auntie Bian's Milk Tea
Locals would definitely come up with the name "Auntie Bian's Milk Tea" when asked about the most popular milk tea shop in the Tilanqiao area. The small 30-year-old shop has grown with the locals from a little cart and become a hot attraction for tourists.
As the prototype of many copycat "Auntie's Milk Tea" outlets all over Shanghai (even spreading abroad to New York), Auntie Bian's Milk Tea is famous for its specialty – combining purple sticky rice with milk tea for a drink with a special texture and taste.
Very different in appearance and taste, it is a mixture of ordinary milk tea and purple sticky rice, a purple/black-colored glutinous rice which tastes sticky and a little bit sweet, very similar to corn or wheat.
Compared with normal rice, the purple sticky rice is harder and chewier, making it an ideal ingredient for milk tea. Auntie Bian, owner of the shop, created the recipe. Thus, you can hardly find any other milk tea shops that offer such a combination.
But July 15 was the last trading day of the milk tea shop at 82 Huoshan Road, and a flood of customers formed a long queue in front.
"It's not only a classic flavor, but also the memory of my childhood," said Coco Zhang, a neighbor of Aunty Bian who grew up in the block.
Thirty years ago, Bian's cart sold just four products – purple glutinous rice porridge, tremella soup, fruit soup and mung bean soup.
In the 2000s, pearl milk tea became popular in Shanghai. So when Bian put the milk tea and her purple glutinous rice porridge together, the creative mixture attracted a lot of young neighborhood customers and soon became famous throughout the city.
Today, there are over 50 items on Auntie Bian's menu, including sweet mung bean soup, a typical summer food that is refreshing and palatable, and is recommended with the added sticky rice.
"I'm going to take some time off, then reopen the shop," said Bian. "The city is renewing everyday, but the classic flavors will pass on."
(Cai Lingxiao also contributed to this story.)