By Marc Galdon Ferrer
If there is one item that represents the street life of Latin countries... it's churros! CHURROS! With double R, chuRRos! Try to roll your tongue! Once again: ChuRRRRRRRRRos!
In Chinese, the words you need are "xibanya youtiao". The resemblance to the street snack – youtiao – is obvious. In the end, it is all just fried dough.
Churros are eaten everywhere -- not only in Spain and Mexico, but Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and everywhere else. People like delicious, fried chocolate things. There are many different and acceptable ways to make and serve them, so what makes an authentic churro, then?
If it tastes good and gives you a sugar rush -- it's a churro.
So, let's look for the "most authentic" (best tasting) churro in downtown Shanghai.
Needless to say, this is solely my subjective and very biased point of view, you can believe me or you can go try them by yourself and then criticize my judgement. I don't care. You could even invite me, because believe me, eating churros alone is sad and boring.
I start my tour de churros in Fumin Road, visiting Jax Jamon, Cantina Agave and Tres Perros. Here is what I think:
Jam on, Jax. Let's begin! The churros here are thin, long, and crispy, and made with some sort of colorant that renders the dough a red color. Red velvet, maybe? An explanation was not forthcoming. But it didn't taste like red velvet. Something else, I guess.
The churros come out with three little shot glasses filled with chocolate sauce, vanilla, and the last one is... strawberry? Red velvet? Something else? Who knows...
Churros taste: 3/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 2/10
TOTAL = 18/40
Right next door is Cantina Agave -- Tex-Mex food and good vibes all day long. Let's check their churros game.
I sit down expecting some Mexi-style churros. The Spanish style churros come sprinkled with sugar but Mexicans use a nice mix of white sugar and cinnamon. But hey, it is just fried dough. Either way works.
Cantina Agave didn't disappoint. The churros here are thicker but still come with that crispy, fried skin. And the mixture of sugar and cinnamon is on point.
Churros taste: 8/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 7/10
TOTAL = 28/40
Last one on Fumin Lu. Tres Perros is beloved by the Spanish community. According to many this is the onlyauthentic Spanish restaurant in Shanghai, like the kind you might find on any corner in Madrid. That's what they say. I'm just telling you what they say. Let's check out their churros then.
Medium size. A bit pale in color but still coming with unique and random shapes that indicate they're homemade and not frozen. Points for this.
However... icing sugar? Really? Why? I don't know... that's not very authentic, I would say. But that's my experience. I don't know about using icing sugar.
Luckily, Tres Perros' chocolate sauce saves the day. It's delicious. Homemade, thick, sweet -- yet not toosweet. Lovely! One more please! Just the chocolate sauce.
Churros: Taste: 4/10
Chocolate sauce: taste: 10/10
TOTAL = 28/40
Part two of this journey. I am full, sugar-high, and need some water bad! But I am on a mission to find the best churros in town. Let's go DES-PA-CI-TO!
Let's hit a bunch of places on Julu Lu. It's no coincidence that where people can go bar hopping on a Friday night, you'll also find where all the churros are. First to Mustache, then next door to La Mesa, continue with Mexican mainstay Maya and finish it off at El Santo (Found 158)
Here it comes: arguably the worst churros of all on this list. Congratulations Mustache! Shame!
The dough was mildly fried, pale, and not crispy -- not appealing at all. And the chocolate sauce... tasted like they bought a candy bar in the Family Mart next door and melted it in a pot.
Ayyyoooo. Less than good.
Churros taste: 1/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 0/10
TOTAL = 5/40
Luckily, things are about to get much better. I walk into More than Eat to get to La Mesa. This place is famous for the tacos, but their churros are also a reason to go back and back again.
They are not pretty. Don't bother with your pictures on your phone. Just enjoy the churros.
Thick, crunchy, with a slight hint of vanilla -- I'm starting to sound like a wine connoisseur here LoL -- La Mesa's churros are coated in that Mexi style mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Definitely good even by themselves without the sauce.
And the chocolate dipping sauce is only lacking in quantity. Too small, but very good. Pictures don't make it look small but it was. I don't know, I am too high on sugar right now.
Churros taste: 10/10
Chocolate sauce: taste: 8/10
TOTAL = 34/40
The entrance entrance at Maya is so familiar. I have been here before, definitely, but not for churros.
It was summer... what did I come here for? The swimming pool! Oh yeah! Maya is in the same compound as that small, crowded swimming pool every expat in town goes to.
Shit! Churros won't help me to achieve the pool body to come back this summer...
Anyway, there's still time for the gym...
- Fuwuyuan, do you have churros? Xibanya youtiao.
- Ok bring me one please!
Maya's got some seriously thick and big churros, possibly the biggest of them all! Very nice. Score one, there Mexico! And they are good. Quite good indeed. I bet they would makes for a great ending to your dinner here.
Churros taste: 7/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 6/10
TOTAL = 29/40
And finally reaching the end of the second stage. I feel like an athlete. But different! But similar! But fatter! Definitely fatter.
Found 158, what happened here? It used to be lively, packed with people, too many people even... this time I was alone, and no one else here,
It was a Thursday night and they had free mojitos. And nobody is here!!!!???? Shanghai, you've changed.
Now on to the churros. Am I back at Maya!? Why do the churros here look and taste so similar!? Well, in the end it is just fried dough.
(But yeah, these are the pretty much the same and do the job.)
Verdict (same as above)
Last stage! Let's roll down Nanjing Xi Lu, hitting Taco Bell, Olla, Pistolera (Shanghai Center), and Pintxos (Kerry Center).
American Tex-mex fast food chain. They have several shops in Shanghai, I came to the one in Fengshengli, next to West Nanjing Road metro station.
It feels like a fast food chain indeed, I walk to the counter and ask for a "xibanya youtiao". The lady is confused. What's that? I try to explain in my rusty Chinese. Then she just asks me to scan the QR Code and check the mini program. Easy way to deal with silly laowais.
Found it! It is not called churro, it is called...I don't know what is called. But it is so cheap, 14rmb only? What the hell am I getting? Anyway, I pay, I get my number and sit down.
And here it comes. One churro, only one. Long, thin, crispy, no sugar, no cinnamon, nothing. Just the paper bag it comes in. That's it. It is sad, it is depressing...
Bye, bye Taco Bell. I am never coming back.
The verdict is just don't go here for churros.
OLLA TAPAS & WINE
Right around the corner from Taco Bell, in the same Fengshengli area, I get to Olla. This restaurant, apparently, belongs to the same group as Mustache.
Yes, Mustache, who served up the worst one earlier. So anyway, let's see here.
Oh wow! Quite an improvement. Churros are good, medium thickness, and crispy on the outside. They taste better by themselves than with the chocolate sauce actually.
Why all those chocolate sauces everywhere (except Tres Perros) always so...so...so-so. Anyway, hurrah for these churros. Olla, get your chef to go to your sister restaurant Mustache to show them how to do it.
Churros taste: 7/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 2/10
Pistolera (Shanghai Center)
One more representing the Mexi way of doing things. The churros at Pistolera are as delicious in taste, however the texture is a bit off. Crispy outside, however, the inside is a bit on the heavier side.
Pistolera churros come with three sauces. But only chocolate is the REAL sauce so we'r not talking about the other ones. At this point, I feel I have tried lots of different chocolate sauces and none knocked me out of my shoes (except Tres Perros).
Pistolera chocolate sauce is not an exception to this. It is alright, just alright.
Churros taste: 8/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 5/10
TOTAL = 23/40
Pintxos (jing'an kerry center)
And off to the last stop of this churro spree! And then off to sleep! I will dream of churros tonight!
Sweet dreams are made of this...(made of churros?)
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas everybody is looking for churros!
Insulin is at its highest now and I am suffering hallucinations here. By here I mean at the basement of a shopping mall -- China's favorite weekend getaway.
I am sitting in the terrace of Pintxos, beautiful terrace overlooking... an escalator. Well yeah, that's the view, but I am here for the churros.
Back to the Spanish style in here. Churros at Pintxos have a funny shape, wavy stripes somehow, or maybe it's me...am I really hallucinating?
Anyway, taste? Good. Texture? Good. Chocolate? Meeeh.
Churros taste: 6/10
Chocolate sauce taste: 4/10
TOTAL = 21/40
And here's the ranking of 10 plus one places. Drum roll!
Shanghai's Best Churros (personal) ranking
2. Maya (29/40)
3. El Santo (29/40)
4. Cantina Agave (28/40)
5. Tres Perros (28/40)
6. Pistolera (23/40)
7. Olla (21/40)
8. Pintxos (21/40)
9. Jax Jamon (18/40)
10. Mustache (5/40)
1,000,000: Taco Bell.