You’ll chow on Bbq, crawfish, lamb kebabs, wok-fried rice noodles, fruit pudding, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles and much more from countless hawker stalls, if you have a second stomach. I experienced all this and more on a frigid January evening in Shanghai with the guidance of a knowledgeable, hungry expat who moonlights as a tour guide for UnTour Shanghai.
We met at the corner of Shouning Lu and Renmin Lu (Lu is the word for “road” in Mandarin), an eclectic group of 10 visitors to Shanghai with an appetite for adventure. Unbelievably, one of the two other Americans was from Arkansas and the other from Texas and were in Shanghai on Walmart business, the rest of our group were Aussies and New Zealanders.
After a round of introductions and protocols, we made our way down the narrow street past crates and makeshift kitchens while our guide Dan filled us in on the strange (to us) sea creatures and other more familiar looking foods along the way to our first stop. He also assured us that the places we would be eating had been carefully curated after many dining experiences by the locals and long-term expats that make up the team at UnTour Shanghai.
Yes, those are sea snakes and we did not eat any, oysters and scallops (lower left) and crawfish, which was our first stop after picking up custard pastries for dessert.
Quite literally a “hole in the wall”, we entered a tiny cluttered space, washed in unbecoming, harsh fluorescent light and were led upstairs to a room devoid of decor as we know it, but where the good stuff is, as Anthony Bourdain would say. Beers all around and instructions by Dan on the proper way to eat crawfish in case you weren’t familiar – basically, you grasp the head, give it a twist to separate from the tail, suck the juices from the head, discard the shell (some people eat it), pinch the shell of the tail to pull the meat out, discard the shell, remove the vein at the top of the crawfish and discard, then enjoy the delicate meat.
Lingering spices from the shells tingle your lips, heat seeking icy insouciant beer to quell the numbing. With more street fare on the agenda, we were urged to refrain from filling up and clambered out into the night.
From there we headed to old town Shanghai near Yuyuan Garden. The Old City bustles with activity well into the wee hours of the morning and hawker stalls crowd every street and alley, filled with tourists by day and locals by night.
It was here that we witnessed a wok master in action. Chaomin is his name and noodles is his game! What he creates in seconds in a decades-old burnished wok is pure palatable joy.
Chaomin makes it look effortless, but I’m sure his technique has been honed over many years. Check back for Chaomin’s “recipe” that UnTour included in their environmentally-friendly reusable market bag for us to take home.
I’ve gone on three UnTour Shanghai food tours and with their knowledge and guidance have learned more about the history, food, and culture of Shanghai than I would have on my own. It’s so much easier and enjoyable to explore the local cuisine with experienced guides – all you have to do is be able to step out of your comfort zone and be willing to try anything!