SHANGHAI: Every day people wait in long lines outside the Nanxiang Mantou (steamed bun) restaurant in Yuyuan Garden. And all for the taste of a little hot bun.
Now, however, the makers of the delicacy, which has been a firm favorite for hundreds of years, are looking for it to be recognized as part of the country's cultural heritage.
"We have applied to the Ministry of Culture for the skill of making Nanxiang steamed buns to be recognized as part of the national cultural heritage," Wang Jianguo, a spokesman from the marketing department of Yuyuan Mall, which is home to the Nanxiang steamed bun restaurant, said this week.
Yuyuan Mall made the application jointly with Nanxiang town in suburban Shanghai's Jiading District, as that is where the snack originated, Chen Yi, a spokesperson for the town, said.
Chen said the bun was invented there in 1871 when Huang Mingxian, a snack stall owner, changed the way he made the steamed buns by using more filling and less dough.
In 1900, a relative of Huang opened a stall by the Yuyuan Garden, which has been there ever since.
"Only we two - Yuyuan Mall and Nanxiang town - by joining hands can make the history complete for the bun," Wang told China Daily. "It originated in Nanxiang, and perfected in Yuyuan."
"I used to take my foreign friends to the bun resturant," Chen Qiang, a Shanghainese, said. "But the place is often packed. You have to come at odd hours, otherwise you have to wait a long time.
"I had a foreign friend who once burnt his tongue on the hot filling of the bun," Chen said, "because the juicy hot filling is characteristic of the Nanxiang bun."
Wang said: "It's the skill and craft of making Nanxiang buns that can be called a cultural heritage, not the bun itself."
The snack is popular in most restaurants providing Shanghainese cuisine.
"They are all handmade, with recipes passed down passed through generations of chefs. We don't want the tradition to be broken some day," Wang said of his desire for "national cultural heritage" recognition.
"Also, it will benefit our overseas marketing moves," he said.
Although Yuyuan Mall has not yet opened any Nanxiang mantou franchises in China, it does have 14 branches in other Asian countries.
"The buns are very popular among the Japanese, who think highly of the craft," Wang said.
"And in Malaysia we changed the pork filling to beef or mutton, so the Muslim community can enjoy them as well."
(China Daily 08/21/2007 page5)