Mystery Bread/Cake Street Food In Shanghai
I was just recently in Shanghai and each night when walking home, I noticed some vendors selling a mystery street food and I never found out what it was. The vendors were always located along Wusong Road, right around the bridge that crosses Suzhou Creek. They seemed to only be out in the evenings.
The food was some sort of dense cake or bread of some type. It had a dark color and was very ornately decorated with nuts, dried fruit and candy in the shape of fruit or vegetables. The cake came in a huge slab approximately 24"x36"x4" and they sold it from the back of bikes with a platform on the back where the cake sits. It looked like they sold it by the slice or chunk because I would see the same people each day with ever decreasing cakes.
I have no idea what it was, but I'm still curious. Please let me know what it was if you know what I'm talking about. I don't think I got a photo of it, but my friends may have, so if I can I'll post a photo.
We saw the same thing in March on Nanjing Road near the Bund - it seemed to be a kind of massive nut brittle - the men selling it appeared to be possibly Uighur or other non-Han Chinese people. Didn't buy any, regret not doing so. Would also love to know what it is.
If it's sold by the Uighurs it's a kind of candy and called Xinjiang matang (麻糖). Different areas of China seem to have their own matang but the Xinjiang type is very distinct and elaborate - chewy/hard and full of nuts and dried fruit. (our Sichuan matang is white, much softer, and doesn't typically have nuts or other things added) Not typical street food since it's quite expensive and not an everyday indulgence. I love Xinjiang matang but only buy it for special occasions or when I have guests.
By way of a sighting report, I saw it being sold tonight in front of the Trust Mart (Lujiabang Lu and Haichao Lu) near the Nanpu Bridge. (I had to cross the street and go up to my hotel room to look up this thread, as I couldn't remember what I'd read about it).
PM, is it something that would travel well, and not pose a problem at US Customs? Have you ever brought any to Cananda? (I believe you are Canadian.)
re: Xiao Yang
Hi, I bought some the other day but the vendor didn't call it matang (I got that term from my Xinjiang native Mandarin teacher). He called it some kind of 'gao' or cake. It keeps fine if well wrapped; it gets soggy if exposed to moisture. See if you can taste it first; some is much less tasty than others. Shouldn't be a problem bringing it into another country.
I found a Chinese discussion group thread with pictures, but the thread is about being ripped off when buying it...
I did an image search with the characters for xinjiang matang and found the one below. It could very well be the same thing, but as I said, it was sold as a huge slab, all decorated with nuts and candy etc. I really wish I had gotten a photo.
The vendor (or another) was on Lujiabang Lu midway between Haichao Lu and Caoxiewan Lu tonight. (The whole south sidewalk in that block becomes an impromptu night market as soon as the sun goes down) I was determined to at least get a good picture, but my presence with the camera attracted so much attention I felt impelled to buy a hunk and take one for the team. As Peppermil pointed out, It is quite expensive, or very expensive by local standards, RMB 30 for one jin (or about $4.50 for 1.1 lbs). It's very chewy, something like a grainy hard taffy with a pleasant savory and (only slightly) sweet taste mixture. It reminded me somewhat of a favorite candy of my youth, Bit-O-Honey.
I also subsequently spotted another ma tang vendor in the immediate vicinity, on the North side of Lujiabang at the corner on Nancang Lu (the northern extension of Caoxiewan Lu). I don't know if it's a seasonal thing, but the first 10 days or so in the neighborhood I didn't see a single ma tang vendor, then two in one night.
Here's an interesting footnote to the Shanghai ma tang saga.
Across the lane from the hotel where I am staying, there's a Lanzhou La Mian restaurant run by an industrious Hui family from Qinghai. Tonight, when I headed there for dinner with my SIL, there were FOUR bicycle-carts parked in front with slabs of ma tang in various states of diminution on them, and their owners were inside having dinner. My SIL later found out from the restaurant owner that they were part of a group of nine persons who had traveled from Xinjiang to Shanghai together,
In case anyone's interested, the Lanzhou La Mian Restaurant is in Hainan Shi Long, between Haichao Lu and Puyu Lu. And oh, yes, the Yangrou pao mo is good.