It seems to be a tradition in Shanghai to eat street food after a night out. Street food is cheap, convenient, delicious, and the perfect compliment to Shanghai’s wild nightlife. The late night partiers and street food vendors in China have a codependent relationship where both ends thrive: the partiers get their delicious snacks, and vendors profit from the hungry customers.
The street food vendors are well aware of this relationship….
Around 9pm, vendors start moving towards Shanghai’s most popular bars and nightclubs, such as the options on YongFu Road, to await customers searching for late night snacks. By 10pm, these areas are full of carts stocked with raw BBQ ingredients, and tricycles with attached woks. Of course, the inebriated customers can sometimes be an annoyance for the street vendors, but it is out weighed by the vibrant spunk and steep appetites they bring to the scene.
YongFu Road is in the Xuhui (徐汇) district of Puxi. Xuhui is a famous commercial center and a shopping destination in the city. The Shanghai Library, a short walk from YongFu Road, attracts tourist and locals to its green grounds and grand architecture. A canopy of trees covers YongFu Road making your walk down the street refreshing and enjoyable. At night, YongFu Road provides Shanghai patrons with a variety of restaurants, bars, and clubs to enjoy.
YongFu Road displays the relationship between Shanghai nightlife and street food culture in a unique way. A recent trend has begun where several men line the street to cook on tricycles. Instead of the classic skewers (xiaokao) and stir fried noodles (chao mian), they are grilling and serving up hamburgers. Each of these vendors are competing for business; selling the same product to the same customers for relatively the same price. Then you continue to walk towards Wulumuqi Road and encounter more classic Chinese street food. So how do the burgers on YongFu Road stand out in Shanghai’s competitive street food scene?
Meet Yao, a 29 year old from Fuzhou province. He went to college to study fashion design but ended up changing career paths and chose to sell burgers on YongFu road.
He first worked at a restaurant as a line cook, and after perfecting his skills from the restaurant business, he bought a cart and in hopes of making a better living for himself and his family back in Fuzhou, started serving up his burgers to street-dwellers from all walks of life. On Thursday-Saturday nights, you can find Yao grilling burgers and chatting with Shanghai’s buzzed-but-friendly foreign crowd. Yao has only been in Shanghai for one year, but in that short time he has made a grand impact on Shanghai’s street food scene.
The burger stand at Shelter is a necessary evil. Everything about it screams bad idea, from the moment the unrefrigerated patty comes out until you swallow the last oily bite. The burger itself has a suspicious and previously untasted umami quality that a wiser person would take as a warning sign. But I’m not a wiser person, as demonstrated by the fact that I’m outside Shelter at this hour – but I am outside Shelter at this hour, and the burger will absolutely be eaten.
–Adan Konhorst Plano, Texas
I ate that burger outside of shelter because I was drunk and ravenous. All in all, it’s not terrible. He kind of does drown the patty in ketchup and some sort of mystery sauce. The meat isn’t that flavorful, but it does the job. I miss the original Burger Babes stand, but this guy still makes a decent sandwich that fills me up like no skewers or chaofan can (maybe due to my western palate).
–Veronica Hernandez Sarasota, Florida
Street food is a unique and cheap way for me to experience Chinese culture. It’s great that I have the opportunity to eat classic Chinese food so late at night when all the restaurants are closed. That’s why I go to Yao. Yao is not only a great cook but a great entertainer. He understands customer’s needs. He is a great addition to the street food community.
–Maddie Stover Hershey, Pennsylvania
There seems to be a notion that foreigners do not like Shanghai street food, but foreigners stand in line at their local street food cart right next to Chinese people. The success of the hamburgers on YongFu Road, and the traditional street food just a short walk away, provide an example of the demand foreigners have for street food. Most foreigners embrace the street food culture and enjoy the interactions they have with street food vendors. The hamburgers especially bring a bit of nostalgia to the many expats partying on YongFu Road.
Getting street food at night with friends helps me practice my Chinese, but also lets me see the city in a different way.
–Allison Chesky Holyoke, Massachusetts
Street food encourages a set of strangers, regardless of background, to form a tight-knit community around food. Every story of a Shanghai night includes an anecdote about street food. It is a commonality held among all residents of Shanghai. Foreigners and Chinese alike can appreciate the culture, history and meaning of street food.
Street food is a way of life. When I eat it, I’m not just consuming something for my body to digest, I am participating in a social activity with others. Whenever I go out with friends, we always end up going our own ways during the night. Some leave early and some hop to different bars, but we always end up finding each other at our local street food.
–Dylan Crow Overland Park, Kansas
To see the versatility of street food and experience many versions of it., head to YongFu Road. See how street food vendors have changed their product to satisfy their customers. Strike up a conversation with a Chinese person while standing in line, ordering a burger. Or, get to know a foreigner in line for traditional fried noodles.
So next time you are walking home from a Friday night out, stop by your local street food vendor. Become a part of the street food community and experience this unique aspect of Shanghai culture.