For many older people, typical Shanghai-style breakfast means the "Four Heavenly Kings" (si da jin gang 四大金刚) - da bing (大饼) or Chinese pancakes, you tiao (油条) or deep-fried dough sticks, ci fan tuan (粢饭团) or steamed sticky rice balls, and soy milk.
These traditional foods are simple and delicious, easy to grab from vendors on the way to work without having to sit down at a restaurant.
In the old days, vendors worked at the entrance to many old lanes and aromas filled the air, so you could follow your nose to breakfast.
But urbanization has bulldozed many traditional neighborhoods and in place of many small eateries and vendors, there are bakeries and higher-end restaurants.
Traditional breakfast is also difficult to find because making the food is labor-intensive and requires getting up before dawn. And the profit is low; dinner is much more profitable.
Pancakes and dough sticks
Every day there are long queues for the breakfast. Both Chinese pancakes (da bing) and deep-fried dough sticks (you tiao) are crisp and aromatic。
Pancakes can be either sweet or salty; sweet pancakes are made with sugar and covered with sesame seeds, while salty pancakes are covered with shallot slices. Compared with Western pancakes, Chinese ones are made from a thin dough, not a batter, and fried in a pan or on a skillet.
Deep-fried dough sticks are golden in color and very fragrant. The fermented dough is mixed with alum powder, twisted into long strips and deep-fried in oil.
If you ask a Chinese which kind of soy milk is better in taste: the sweet one or the salty with dried shrimps and Chinese pickles. This could be the start of a war. My suggestion is: try them both.
Steamed sticky rice ball
Ci fan tuan (steamed sticky rice balls).