Transforming Shanghai Street Food

Transforming Shanghai Street Food

“I want to strike a balance between food that is meaningful and food that is affordable.”
— Alex Xu, Co-Founder at Baoism

Owner of Baoism, Chef Alex Xu is working to completely reinvent the way that street food is perceived in the Chinese marketplace.  Baoism is not just his trendy restaurant, it is a philosophical outlook on life as it pertains to food that he has created for the younger generations.  Reinventing the idea of breakfast food has been his biggest accomplishment with modern take on bao, and the trend shows no signs of backing down.

Bao is a simple steamed bun with many different types of fillings that you can request.  You can find it scattered throughout places around Shanghai, but Chef Xu takes them to a completely different level.  Instead of closing the bun up and steaming the entire thing, he leaves it open, making it a larger vehicle for more of those scrumptious fillings that he fills them with.  Traditional dishes, such as hongshao rou, are given a new spin for the traveling millennial as he fuses traditional memories and emotions of food with modern twists and turns, creating a metaphor for China’s shifting population of millennials.

He has realized that the younger Chinese generations are very internationalized.  They are well-traveled, they take in different cultures, and they soak up traditions from other places in order to enhance their own.  At their core, they are Chinese, but their personalities are an amalgamation of all they have seen and experienced abroad.  He has stepped outside of his fine dining background in order to harness that concept within his street food so that he could create an emotional food experience fit for the growing millennials in the Chinese marketplace.

His parents were the first generation in his family to study abroad.  His father was a rice farmer, his mother a fruit farmer, and he urges us to understand that many of our emotional connections and dominant relationships with foods come from the ingrained standards of our families.  His own filling for his popular baos are all inspired by his life, his memories, and how his family shaped his own relationship with and understanding of food.  And, while he currently works in the street food fair, his background boasts of an extensive fine dining study centered around pastry techniques in Paris, as well as an overall understanding of French cuisine and technique.

Bao, and baoism, is something that he takes very seriously.  He wanted to find the ultimate balance between affordable food and meaningful food, while still making it appealing to the younger generations who are branching out with their lives and breaking traditional bonds.  His different recipes comprise of different fillings, different flours to make his steamed bread, and even different types of meats with traditional seasonings.  The core of his establishment is lunch and dinner, though he has found a line cascading around the block every morning whenever he goes into prep for breakfast.

He is focusing on pairing baos and noodles.  Now, noodles are a core part of every Asian culture.  In various cities, both large and small, you will see many people with push carts lined up on the sides of the streets divvying out noodles in containers to people passing by and willing to purchase.  Noodles are essentially the hot dog cart of the United States, which is why he feels that pairing this deeply-ingrained, traditional food with something that he has taken and put a modern spin on will pair well with all generations within the Chinese marketplace.

Street food is a massive food movement that is happening, and places like Shanghai are just starting to see their beginnings.  The core dishes of street foods seem to be breakfast-driven, though Chef Xu seems to be out to change that, whether it was his goal to begin with or not.  In stereotypical street foods, you will find all of the things that make it addictive: sugar, something deep-fried, and contrasts of textures.  This is where Chef Xu excels, and this is where he has made his mark.

The street food culture is growing and morphing as the populations and traditions of their central area grow and morph as well.  Food is having to keep up with the times, however… In the case of Baoism and Chef Xu’s creation, it seems as if he is making people shift with his food.

And it shows.

Rebecca Travis

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