What is Shumai & Where can I Buy Shumai?
So what is Shumai or Shao Mai?
Shao Mai (烧卖), also known as Shumai, is a popular savoury breakfast in Shanghai.
You can think of them as dumplings with an open top.
It’s shaped like a vase with a large and round bottom, a small neck section, and a wide top. It resembles a flower viewing from the top.
What is Shumai – Different Types
Shao Mai has been around since the dynasty days in China. It isn’t unique to Shanghai.
In fact, each region has their own version of Shao Mai. You can find something similar even in Japanese and Korean cuisine.
Shao Mai fillings vary greatly from region to region.
What makes Shanghainese Shao Mai distinct from others is the use of spring bamboo shoots (春笋) and glutinous rice (糯米) in the filling.
What is Shumai – Where to buy in Shanghai
Like the Four Guardian Warriors (四大金刚), the locals have been consuming Shao Mai for breakfast in Shanghai for ages.
Before the days of Taobao and Elema, when food was scarce and Shao Mai wasn’t as readily available and as easy to find, eating Shao Mai was a real treat.
It used to be difficult to make Shao Mai at home because the consistency of the wrappers was hard to master.
The shape and cooking process of Shao Mai requires the dough to be thick enough to hold its shape during the steaming process while still retaining its elasticity.
One Shanghai local reminisces about the excitement of waiting to enjoy Shao Mai on cold days in early spring, the season of spring bamboo shoots (春笋).
He wrote, quite poetically, of his Shanghai breakfast favourite.
“Shao Mai just out of the steamer exudes a savoury aroma. There were many tasty snacks in town, but only Shao Mai is full of the aesthetics of an art. “
“It’s beautiful; the base translucent and plump, and the top like a blooming pomegranate flower. Its mere appearance is a delight both for the eye and the mind.”
What is Shumai – Making them at Home
We’re fortunate enough now to be able to enjoy Shao Mai all-year-long and on-demand.
It’s also easy to make Shao Mai at home now that all the ingredients are so readily available.
Most the ingredients of Shao Mai are easy to find and almost all Chinese grocery stores carry them.
If you are like me and want to take full advantage of the convenience of ordering your groceries online in China, you can get them delivered to your home in less than thirty minutes.
A quick note, if you can’t find Shao Mai wrappers (烧卖皮), you can use dumpling wrappers (饺子皮) as a substitute.
Traditionally, bamboo shoots (笋) are used for this recipe – they add a nice crunch.
For the sake of simplicity, some recipes use scallions (葱) instead, which adds a nice onion-y flavor to the Shao Mai.
Just know that you can add bamboo shoots to the filling if you want. Another common ingredient to add is shitake mushroom (香菇), best dried because they offer more depth of flavour.
If you decide to add dried shitake mushroom (干香菇), make sure to soak them a few hours in advance (Tip: using warm water can help speed up the soaking process), dice them and add to the filling.
If you are curious to give this a try at the comfort of your own home, here is a step-by-step recipe.
Here is another recipe in video.
Whether you decide to try making it at home, buy it freshly made at a breakfast stall in Shanghai or order them from the elema app, I hope you enjoyed learning about this snack as much as I do writing about it.
Last but not least, bon appétit!
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