Shanghai Breakfast // The Best Things to Eat in Shanghai
A wise man once said, if you win the morning, you win the day.
Having a good breakfast in the morning fuels not just your body, but also your mind; and it sets you up for success for the rest of the day.
A good breakfast for you might mean scrambled eggs on a piece of toast alongside a cup of Americano.
For the Shanghai locals, a good Shanghai breakfast consists of four things, collectively named the Four Guardian Warriors (四大金刚). How’s that for originality?
Having these four things for breakfast is a bit of a dying tradition.
Most of the elder Shanghai residents will fondly remember them as the most popular breakfast combo back in the days.
These four items are: Chinese sesame pancake (大饼), fried dough (油条), soy milk (豆浆) and stuffed sticky rice (粢饭团).
Shanghai Breakfast – What’s In The Name?
Shanghai Breakfast – Chinese Sesame Pancake 大饼
Shanghai Breakfast – Fried Dough 油条
Shanghai Breakfast – Soy Milk 豆浆
Shanghai Breakfast – Stuffed Sticky Rice 粢饭团
Shanghai Breakfast – Where to Enjoy the Best Shanghai Breakfast?
Shanghai Breakfast – What’s in the Name?
I know you are curious about the funky name for these Shanghai breakfast items. I wasn’t kidding.
But to be quite honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why these are called The Four Guardian Warriors.
But I can share a bit of back story that might give you some clue.
The Four Guardian Warriors originated from Buddhism and they are the mighty protectors of Buddha.
Rumour has it that they were first named The Four Heavenly Kings (四大天王), and later people gave them the name The Four Guardian Warriors (四大金刚).
Today the two names are often used interchangeably. Guardian Warriors or Heavenly Kings, they are powerful and each has their special superpower. According to folktale, they were in charge of timely wind and rain (风调雨顺) on Earth to nourish the crops.
My guess is that these four breakfast items were named The Four Guardian Warriors because the numbers work out, for one.
Of course, more importantly because they nourish the body the same way wind and rain nourish the crops.
Now let’s talk about the food.
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Chinese Sesame Pancake 大饼
A popular snack among Shanghainese, Chinese sesame pancake is still relatively easy to find in the city.
These pancakes come in either round or rectangular shape; they are crispy and flaky, and best enjoyed hot.
They can be either sweet or salty. The sweet ones are round with cane sugar for sweetness and roasted sesame seeds for the nutty aroma.
The salty Da Bing (大饼) is usually rectangular and made with scallions.
Fried Dough 油条
If you have been in China for a while, then you are no stranger to this simple yet delicious snack.
Fried dough is not a Shanghai specialty; it has been enjoyed in all of China and remained a stable on the Chinese breakfast table till this day.
It’s common to enjoy fried dough in smaller pieces in congee, or enjoy it crispy by dipping it in some soy sauce.
Shanghainese like to have fried dough with soy milk or soy sauce.
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Soy Milk 豆浆
I bet you’ve never tried salty soy milk.
There seems to be a pattern of making everything in both sweet, for the sweet tooth, and salty, for those who like savoury. Sweet soy milk has just added sugar.
The salty soy milk is a concoction of small dried shrimp, fried dough, pickled vegetable, soy sauce, sesame oil, and of course, soy milk.
The only non-carb item on the list, it’s a great source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B-12 and potassium.
Since we’re at it, did you know soy milk contains as much protein as cow’s milk?
Stuffed Sticky Rice 粢饭团
The easiest way to describe Stuffed Sticky Rice is that it’s sort of a mix between sushi and burrito.
It’s a roll with sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, on the outside and various breakfast favorites on the inside.
The people’s favorite choice of stuffing is fried dough (surprise!). Other popular stuffing options include pickled vegetable and fried meat floss.
Want to give these four breakfast favorites a try? The good news is that they can be found almost everywhere in Shanghai.
The bad news is that not all the breakfast joints sell them together. But don’t worry, I found two places you can try the Four Guardian Warriors together…
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Where to Enjoy the Best Shanghai Breakfast?
Xiao Tao Yuan 小桃园
Address: 1251 Middle Fuxing Road
A popular breakfast franchise, Xiao Tao Yuan is many Shanghai residents’ go-to place for breakfast. This branch is conveniently located and easy to reach. Do expect a long line if you go in the morning.
Morning Hill 早安山丘
Address: 88-102 South Yanping Road
Morning Hill is another popular franchise serving breakfast food and snacks.
The biggest difference between this franchise and Xiao Tao Yuan is the size of the seating area.
This location in particular is huge with lots of floor space. But it will likely still be hard to find seating if you go around meal time.
Nearby LTL Shanghai
Luckily for you (if you are a student at our Shanghai branch), the street is lined with small local eateries.
Exit South Shaanxi Road Metro station, embark on the short walk to LTL but prepare to be distracted by all sorts!
As you exit the Metro station, you’ll immediately see a long line of small stalls, each with their own specialty, whether it be one of the four choices listed above, or their very own treats, of which there are really too many to list!
Get lost in this wonderful array of smell and color!
Just don’t be late for class!
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Shanghai Breakfast – FAQ’s
What is a traditional Shanghainese breakfast?
For the Shanghai locals, a good Shanghai breakfast consists of four things, collectively named the Four Guardian Warriors (四大金刚).
Chinese Sesame Pancake 大饼
Fried Dough Sticks 油条
Soy Milk 豆浆
Stuffed Sticky Rice 粢饭团
Is breakfast cheap in Shanghai?
If you eat the local delicacies as listed in this article then yes, it’s very cheap.
Visiting a western cafe adds much more expense to your breakfast.
Is a typical Shanghainese breakfast healthy?
Generally not, a lot of things are fried, such as the Dough Sticks, therefore should be eaten in moderation.
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