I found them! Well, the name anyway.
While researching traditional Chinese breakfast eats for my part two of Not So Ordinary Breakfasts (part one here), I came across a blog post written by Pauline for la.foodblogging that described some Pan Fried Pork Buns. They looked very similar to the ones I've had in Shanghai many years ago which I never were able to find again here. Reading the post brought back great memories of eating them in stalls in Shanghai cooked up fresh.
After a quick google search I found out its official name.
It is called the Sheng Jian Mantou but may more commonly be referred to as the Sheng Jian Bao.
(image: flickr robert lio)
The way I would describe them is that they are a cross between a Xiao Long Bao, a Steamed Bun Bao, and a Pot Sticker.
They visually look like a Mini Steamed Bun Bao but are pan-fried on one side like a Pot Sticker and have a porky meat with scorching hot (but yummy) soup center similar to a Xiao Long Bao. And OMG were they Good. In my opinion they've taken the best attributes of my favorite Chinese foods and managed to create one that is super duper.
More photos of Sheng Jian Bao on Flickr here and a YouTube vid explaining here.
The version I had in Shanghai (near the University of my friend that I was visiting) were made fresh in front of you and cooked up in a giant flat circular pan. It was heated extremely hot and the Sheng Jian were covered to steam/fry to the point where the bottom of the mini buns were on the verge being burnt. The strong lovely scent of Toasted Sesame Seeds emanates throughout the tent stall and your SJB's were placed on a simple white plate, sprinkled with Scallions. You are almost guaranteed to burn your lips with the first one you eat.
(image: flickr markdavidelliott)
So now armed with a post-it with its name scribbled down, I immediately proceeded to head out to where else but Shanghai City in Kearny Mesa. If any place in SD would have them I thought it would be them since the Sheng Jian is a Shanghai specialty..
However after a simple inquiry I was surprised to have been met with a rather defensive response from a worker who simply pointed to a photo of a Xiao Long Bao and said, "That's all we have.."
So I proceeded over to Imperial Mandarin. Still holding the post-it note, it was only several skips away.. "laa la-la la-laa.." and was greeted by a kind smiley gentleman. "Sorry we don't have that.. But here's our Dim Sum menu you can take.."
Instead of continuing to skip my way I decided to call China Max instead but without much success.. "Sorry we are not familiar with Shanghai-style Dim Sum.."
While I was pretty familiar with Dumpling Inn's menu and didn't remember anything resembling the Sheng Jian listed, I decided to try calling them anyway.
"Ah, yes I know what you are talking about.. Sorry we do not have that though.."
By now I was impressed that at least the lady knew what I was asking about.
While I have been known to drive up to L.A. for the sole purpose of a single meal, with gas prices these days I would really want to find a place local.
If you come across this post and know where I can get some Shanghai Pan Fried Pork Buns in San Diego, please let me know! I will be skipping all the way there.. :)
"laa la-la la-laa.."
(image: wiki commons)
Update 04/05/09: I've since tried a frozen bag version which you can read about here.