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shanghai dumplings

Search online for Shanghai’s best fried dumplings, and you’ll come up with hundreds of results extolling Yang’s Fried Dumplings. Though it was once just a humble shop sandwiched between the Bund and People’s Square, the online renown and ensuing crowds have propelled the brand into chain-store ubiquity, populating new malls and shopping streets with fervor.

In essence, they’ve become the Starbucks of dumplings; you’re going to get a relatively consistent product, but come on, you can do so much better! Enter Yang Yang’s.

The proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Huang, tell us their shop isn’t named after the other, better-known chain in China’s typical copycat fashion. Rather, it’s for their son back home in Wuhu, in neighboring Anhui province. Like many of China’s migrants, the Huangs set off from home to look for work in order to give their son a chance at a better future, leaving him in the care of his grandparents. “We only close the shop once each year, for two weeks over [Chinese] New Year,” Mr. Huang quietly told us. It’s the only time the family is reunited in full, highlighting the unfortunate fact that many parents feel they must make the difficult decision of leaving their kids behind to provide the best life for them.

About 10 years ago, the couple went to Guangdong province to open a dumpling stand, but a few years on, their location was demolished for new development, and they moved to Shanghai. Eventually, they settled on a small walk-up shop in the former French Concession to sell their dumplings. It’s only about 2.5 meters wide, and the couple lives in a small room behind the open kitchen.

The humble stall opens at 6 a.m. daily and sells just two items for takeaway from the large, shallow woks jutting over the sidewalk. If you want the breadier fried buns (生煎包, shēng jiān bāo) you’ll have to arrive before 8:30 a.m., when the limited batch tends to sell out. For the rest of the day, you’ll find freshly fried batches of our nomination for the city’s best potstickers (锅贴, guōtiē).

Absolutely everything here is handmade from scratch, Mr. Huang said, proudly showing us raw ingredient receipts from the online purveyor who delivers his goods nightly (there’s also a wet market around the corner that serves in a pinch when business is brisk). That dedication to freshness means rolling the dough by hand, then painstakingly wrapping and frying the thousands of dumplings the couple sells each day in batches of about 40.

Since these are Shanghainese-style dumplings, unlike those found in their native Anhui, Mr. Huang explains, the minced pork filling is also mixed with cooled pork gelatin to give it a soupy inside. One of them makes this every day when business dies down in the afternoons. To get the gelatin, pigskin is boiled in water for several hours, whereupon the top is skimmed and then allowed to cool and firm overnight.

As with any good Shanghai dumpling, you need to be careful eating these. Fresh off the pan, they’re brimming with savory broth that escapes in an unpredictable direction if you bite haphazardly in the middle. We like to douse the dumplings with rice vinegar and then immediately eat them on the street while standing up. Four dumplings will set you back 4.5 RMB, or you can splurge and get eight for 8 RMB. We’ve been splurging here for the last five years with no regrets.

This article was originally published on October 8, 2015.

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