10 Things To Try At Shanghai's Friday Muslim Market
Shanghai's Friday muslim market is one of the few real ethnic enclaves left in a city rapidly being eroded away by the tides of urban renewal. After the city shuttered it in 2013 over Han-Muslim ethnic tensions masqueraded as pollution concerns, this beloved bazaar was brought back by popular demand. The mere fact that the city went against their cultural clear-cutting campaign to resurrect it should tell you just how spectacular this place is.
The new location on Aomen Lu is a mere "diorama" of the original location outside the Huxi Mosque, but it's gradually making a comeback. You've still got a veritable Okavango Delta of vendors congregating each Friday from 10-3pm to to hawk everything from sable fur scarfs to a kaleidoscopic array of dried fruits to, well, lamb everything. Some might be put off by the billowing smoke, cavalcade of cars, and constant threat of receiving an "eyeball kebab" from a toddler scurrying about with a spiky metal skewer clenched in each fist. We call it character. You'd have to spend a week there to try all the wares, but here are some of our favorite noshes. Noms away!
Watch what's on offer here:
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Fried Beef Baozi
It's no surprise that this vendor boasts the longest line at the bazaar. These are the best bao in town. Niurou baozi is essentially a mantou that's stuffed with fragrant Halal beef and fried in oil so it forms a crispy carapace that insulates the heat without smothering the flavor. Think a regular baozi minus a couple years off your life. They say the market kicks off at 10am, but we see people queueing for these guys as early as 9. We recommend you follow suit.
Don't want something that high-octane at 9am? Head a couple stalls down for Samsa, a crispy, hot dough envelope bursting at the seams with fatty lamb hunks like a Halal empanada.
When you think of chuanr in Shanghai, you probably picture shady carts outside clubs at 3am pawning meat of dubious origin off on intoxicated expats. These aren't them. Muslim folks are excruciatingly picky about their lamb; they're not going to sell you a rat in sheep's clothing. It's just not halal. But don't take our word for it. You can observe the whole sheep-to-skewer process yourself from when they truck the whole animals in fresh and butcher them street-side before spitting them on spikes.
Our favorite vendors are the husband and wife team slinging the metal skewers towards the middle of the market. These guys are incredible. Somehow sans pen and paper (let alone a computer), these two people manage to keep track of the number of skewers you ordered, your place amongst 30 customers who aren't standing in any discernible line, and man a grill with 40+ identical skewers -- all without botching a single order. It really puts in perspective your earpieced banquet waiter with an iPad who doesn't know which table of two ordered the guo bao rou. Oh, and the lamb is some of the heartiest we've ever eaten.
We like cradling our skewers in Naan: discs of flower, egg, warm water and yeast that are stamped with a concentric stamp with little spikes so the center doesn't rise (hence the circular patterns), and slapped on the inside of an oven, where they cling like doughy limpets until golden brown. We're partial to the vendors towards the mouth of the market because they shellack them with green scallions -- Xinjiang's answer to cong you bing.
New York bagels? No, wo wo nang, a thicker, more compact version of the aforementioned naan with a hole in the center and a light patina of sugar. These also keep forever. They're another reason why the term "Chinese food" is a gross generalization. Bagel-like bread sold by a Borat-looking guy with a mustache are just as Chinese as potstickers ladled out of a wok by a Shanghai auntie.
If you aren't lambed out by this point, try the mutton polo, or rice pilaf as most people call it (presumably so you don't get it confused with the sport where Patrician-looking upper-crusters ride around on sheep hitting balls with long mallets). It entails a large pan of savory rice, carrots, sultanas and most importantly, marbled chunks of mutton. The meat has to be supremely fatty so each grain gets slicked with flavor. As a result, the vendors at the Muslim market swap out the typical runty lamb hunks for large Flinstonian bones swaddled in marbling.
Props from a goresploitation flick? No, a popular uyghur offal dish made by stuffing sheep intestine and lung with a rice and flour mixture. If you're getting squeamish you should probably also forgo hot dogs and Polish sausage (hint: they also use intestine). The Muslim Marketers like to liven it up by adding yang zasui, a spicy menudo-like soup with sheep stomach and potatoes.
We didn't see the pigeon and chicken rotisserie guys last time around, but we were partial to Xinjiang's answer to Popeyes.
Need a palate cleanser? Go for the Liangpi, cold white noodles shaved off a mung bean cake and mixed with cucumber, cilantro, chili oil, garlic and vinegar. You might recognize the vendor Mrs. Bai, from the back gate of Jiaotong University, where she works the rest of the week.
No, not that watery stuff in a plastic bottle that soccer moms drink while driving their kids to school in their active wear; real brawny, curdy Xinjiang yogurt. Dip your naan in and enjoy.
We're just scratching the surface here; there's also pomegranate juice (if it's fall), melons, dried fruits, date juice, fur traders (we even saw Tibetan Mastiff pelts) and sweets and pastries galore. Not to mention premium raw meats and veg. Get out of your culinary comfort zone and check out the Muslim market before it falls to the bulldozer.
Find it: Corner of Aomen Lu and Changde Lu, Hours: 10am-3pm