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Dec 24, 2006 06:01 AM

Mystery Street Food in Shanghai

I was recently in Shanghai and we spotted (at several locations) vendors selling a snack my wife, a Shanghai native, was unfamiliar with. It was balls of fried dough (cooked in a mold) filled with nothing but air, and drizzled with what looked and tasted like tartar sauce. They seemed to be all the rage with school-aged girls in particular, but we found them disappointingly insubstantial ("fried air" my wife called them).

There's a picture of them linked below. Does anyone know what they are called or where/how they originated?

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  1. I have seen these in Beijing and in the US, too. I think they are usually made in a little octagonal mold that flips over, and they are originally a Japanese (or maybe Korean) thing. The sauce is more mayonnaisy than tartary, and I have to say I don't care for them much (no flavor other than the sauce).

    1 Reply
    1. re: James G

      I didn't get a closed look at the molds, but the product came out nearly spherical. I suspected a Japanese connection because of the mayo. It was embedded with pickled greens, which gave the whole mess a tartar sauce-ey flavor. The sauce may have been adapted to Shanghainese tastes (they love their mei cai).

      Korea may also be the origin, as there is a big love affair going on with Korean pop culture in Shanghai as a result of those dumb Korean soap operas they have been showing on TV in China.

    2. Are you sure there wasn't a piece of octopus in it? If there was its Takoyaki.

      1 Reply
      1. I saw these for sale last night at the night food market off of Wangfujing in Beijing. The Chinese name was fried fish balls, and they are the same as what I had tried some time ago. No fish inside, though perhaps there's some in the batter.

        1 Reply
        1. Just to update, designerboy01 was correct: the mystery street food appears to have been takoyaki. After following a discussion thread by takoyaki-lovers, I brought my wife along to a street festival in our local Japantown where we checked out the takoyaki stall. Same stuff and process we found on Tianyiaoqiao Lu right next to the stinky tofu. When and why a takoyaki fad hit Shanghai, I know not.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gary Soup

            They are hugely popular in Taiwan - even moreso than in SH & BJ (every street corner type of popular). So delicous!