SOMETHING FISHY: Drunken seal whelks are available all year round. [Photo/provided to Shanghai Star]
They set out to sell sugar, dried seafood, tea and the other necessary delicacies that a southern Chinese kitchen needs. But, it was the scent of alcohol that drove this old Shanghai store to new heights. Wang Ying reports.
In 1852, it was the second year of the reign of the Qing emperor Xianfeng, and a new store called Shao Wan Xing (later renamed into Shao Wan Sheng) had just opened in the Hongkou district of Shanghai. In addition to selling groceries from both North and South China, the store also offered sugar, seafood, preserved meat, tea, snacks and a regional delicacy— food preserved or pickled in alcohol, including sea whelks, clams, prawns and crabs, as well as different types of cooked or raw fish.
The shop, founded by a man surnamed Shao from Ningbo in Zhejiang province, had stumbled upon a successful formula with these "drunken foods".
Although these were not the store’s main products, they were sold out every day, as customers from Jiangsu and Zhejiang developed a special attachment to these home-style pickles.
The store’s new owner decided to expand this facet of his business.
Noting the rapid rise of Nanjing Road as the commercial artery of the city, the new owner decided to relocate to 414 Nanjing Road in 1870, and it is still at this location.
At the new store, drunken food grew to account for half the shop’s total sales. While the seafood items were perennial favorites, customers also liked the cooked chicken marinated in distillers’ grains.
The sharply rising sales of drunken food laid the foundation for Shao Wan Sheng as it is now. It became the shop to go to for the best alcohol-preserved food, not only in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai, but the whole of China.
During the hot summer, people would remember Shao Wan Sheng’s "yellow mud snails" or huangni luo.
Traditionally, the best came from the Longshan area of Zhejiang, famous for the quality of its snails and their lack of sediment. Later, it also used snails from Shenjiamen of Zhoushan, Zhejiang.