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Queuing up for baozi from the Bun Lady

By Emily Ford (Shanghai Daily)

09:26, May 07, 2012

FOR several days now I have been wondering about the bun shop opposite my house. Outside, huge bamboo baskets are steaming little balls of dough. The stuffed buns, or baozi, must be delicious, because at 7am the queue already runs halfway down Gao'an Road. Clouds of vapor blow into my face as I pass each morning. I peek behind the counter to where buns are being fashioned and placed delicately to steam.

"I shall try them," I think.

My first attempt at ordering is a disaster. Faced with an array of identical white buns but no idea what is inside them, my "point and nod" strategy falters and I lose my nerve. Dejected and bunless I return home, but the queue and the aromas continue to play on my mind. "This is not beyond you," I tell myself sternly.

Ordering buns

My perseverance begins to pay off. I learn the names of several of the buns, each one a distinct ode to flour and filling - "pork", "vegetable", "red bean" and the deliciously cryptic "spicy". They are deliriously fluffy, small white mounds of happiness, a rhapsody in bread. Above the shop, a menu with at least 20 items hints at breakfasts yet to come. "I will never move house again," I decide on the spot.

Before long, ordering the buns has become a daily measure of my progress in China. The bun shop is a slick commercial operation: at 1 yuan (16 US cents) apiece, it is a numbers game. Customers have precisely three seconds to state their request. There is no margin for error. "Wal-Mart could learn from these guys," I think.

Bun Lady, as I nickname the server, never affords me so much as a flicker of recognition, but I am enthralled by her nonetheless. Red-cheeked and pony-tailed, she can bag four baozi with one deft hand movement and count coins at the same time.

After several days of experimenting, I discover my all-time favorite: black sesame. I practice the Mandarin in my head. "Liang ge hei zhima - two black sesame."


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Canada at 2012-05-0870.36.49.*
That"s funny. Love the buns. I"ve learned about 60 mandarin words recently but forget them if don"t review them daily.
  

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