The venue: Sunya Cantonese Restaurant on Nanjing Dong Lu.
The item: Yan du xian (腌笃鲜) mooncakes. Sunya's newly developed mooncake recipe features the main ingredients of classic Shanghainese soup: cured pork, fresh pork, and winter bamboo shoots.
The wait: Two and a half hours on weekdays.
Mid-Autumn festival hasn't arrived yet, but nearly every pork mooncake (xianrou yuebing) stand on Nanjing Lu has a queue. The latest local favorite is Sunya's Yan Du Xian mooncake, available every day from 10am (occasionally from 9am). Since its appearance on TV and social media not so long ago, people have been queuing for the cakes every morning from around 7am. Even the summer heat can't stop them.
The first line we saw on Nanjing Dong Lu. These folks were just queueing for ordinary pork mooncakes.
Shanghainese have a deep and unshakeable fondness for freshly baked pork mooncakes, which are Su-style pastries (苏式月饼) that have crumbly dry skin and juicy minced pork inside. These cakes aren't as fancy as Guang-style mooncakes (广式月饼), which almost never use meat and have more room for unconventional flavors, but that doesn't stop the lines. Shanghainese, especially the older generations, are always willing to queue for old-school brands like Guang Ming Cun (光明邨) or Lao Da Fang (老大房) each and every year. In fact, pork mooncakes are such a classic, everlasting, straight-to-the-point pastry, that any alteration to the formula might result in more frowns than smiles.
The one major shift for Sunya in the past decade is the marketing. The shop now focuses on the kind of pork they use (black pigs, not factory-bred), which manufacturer they source the meat from, and... that's pretty much it.
One yan du xian mooncake costs 6rmb. There is a limit: each person can get up to five boxes of yan du xian mooncakes.
This, combined with what appears to be a bigger marketing budget, have made Yan Du Xian mooncakes stand out. It's a classic dish that most Shanghainese grew up with and still adore. One ayi in line told us, "Shanghainese are always happy to try something xian (尝鲜, try new things)... and I also think standing is good exercise."
On the banner: "Wang Hong is Coming!" (网红, an internet celebrity).
Not so sure that standing under the sun for two and a half hours is good exercise, Ayi. So far, this mooncake has gotten good feedback overall on social networks. But just like the majority of people who have tried it, the security guard outside the shop doesn't believe it trumps its predecessor: "It's just cured meat after all, how good could it be? My daughter also tried it, and she doesn't find it that amazing either."