Editor’s note: We’re sorry to report that Lao Shaoxing Doujiang has closed.
In Shanghai, a pretty surefire way to tell whether a dining establishment deserves your attention or not is by the presence of a line in front of it. (A corollary might be that the amount of attention the place deserves is commensurate with the size of the line.) Lao Shaoxing Doujiang passes the test.
This ramshackle stand in the Huangpu district serves traditional breakfast foods all night long. Until recently, the stand was run by a granny in her nineties who would ladle out bowls of hot soy milk (豆浆, dòujiāng) into the wee hours of the morning. She retired this year, but her less-than-friendly son has taken over, and the buzz remains (as does the inevitable line). Once you’ve made your way to the front, you just have to say how many bowls of the sweet or salty dòujiāng you’d like and what accompaniments: deep-fried dough sticks (油条, yóutiáo), deep-fried rice blocks (粢饭糕, cī fàn gāo) or stuffed rice balls (粢饭团, cī fàn tuán).
For the cī fàn tuán, you can also choose from among savory or sweet fillings, but they’re forgettable – try Zifantuan instead for those. What brings us back time and again are the hot bowls of dòujiāng. One or two of the impossibly fluffy, freshly fried yóutiáo will do the trick for each bowl of dòujiāng. The savory cruller provides just the right vessel to alternate between slurping and dipping into the soy milk and gives a bit of substance to the meal. While the sweet soy milk could make a fine dessert to follow an earlier dinner, the salty version, sprinkled with green onions, preserved vegetables and mustard tubers and topped with a dash of chili oil and vinegar, manages to stand on its own. It’s impossible to choose a favorite, so we let our cravings dictate our order.
Online commenters bemoan the granny’s absence and are quick to mention the son’s surly attitude and general unwillingness to increase his serving speed to alleviate the line. His four other employees are found clearing tables, frying the dough sticks or stuffing the rice balls as the orders roll in, but only he handles the cash.
We’re always in awe of the range of people we find in line, from the young, hip, iPhone-wielding set to the bleary-eyed clubbers to the weary elevator repairman who has finished his shift and is blowing off a bit of steam from his piping hot bowl. Many customers get an order to eat streetside and bring a to-go container as well – after all, if you’re going to wait in line, you may as well put a bowl in the fridge for the next day. More often than not, you’ll see brand new BMWs and Porsches pull up so their passengers can grab a quick bite. It’s the perfect snapshot of China’s new reality – for all the money you can spend trying to show status, there’s no cutting this line and no shame in sitting elbow to elbow for a soul-warming bowl of dòujiāng.
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