Naturally I wanted to maximize my eating opportunities whilst I was in Shanghai and after putting a shout out for help on Twitter, help came in the form of a tweet from Travel writer Lee Cobaj recommending I book myself in on a food tour with UnTour Shanghai http://untourshanghai.com/ UnTour offer 3 different walking tours, from night markets to a dim sum tour that includes the opportunity to try your hand at making dumplings, but it was their breakfast “Street Eats” tour that I had my heart set on and so I booked online (so convenient!) to do my tour on my last morning in Shanghai. Let me say this was a BIG mistake. Huge in fact. The tour was absolutely fantastic and if I had only had the foresight to do it on my FIRST morning, well I could have eaten everything twice *sobs*. Yes the food on the street food tour was that delicious I feel foolish for passing up the opportunity to maximize my enjoyment on it. Needless to say if you do plan on visiting Shanghai you should absolutely do one of these tours.
The tour started at 8:30 in a small park in the middle of Shanghai’s historic French concession and I was lulled into a sense of relaxation as I watched the hordes of senior citizens all practicing their Tai Chi whilst I waited for the other people on the tour to arrive. I was a bit puzzled by the couple who had bought their swords with them (!) as I am pretty sure that would get you arrested in most places but apparently not in Shanghai – no doubt my friend Jules would approve! Our guide was Jamie, the co-founder of the tour company itself and she was a great mix of local history and knowledge as well as being a whole heap of fun and of course, she knew where all the best food was to be found.
We started the tour at the Xiangyiang Food Stalls with Cong You Bing 葱油饼; a delicious, piping hot, Middle Eastern style unleavened flatbread that we ate as we walked to the next food stall for Jidan Bing 鸡蛋饼 a sort of deep fried doughy egg pancake which is spread with a layer of chilli sauce and spring onions before eating, quite delicious but a bit too rich for breakfast, it would take me all day to manage a whole one! We then moved just next door to a little dumpling stall for Guōtiē ( 鍋貼 literally translated as pot-stick – which is where their more common anglicised name of “Pot stickers” comes from) and shēngjiānbāo 生煎. Both are types of pork dumplings – although with different ingredients added to the filling – that are pan fried on the bottom before water is added to the pan which is then covered with a lid is to ensure the remainder of the dumpling is steamed. The end result is a delicious mix of crisp golden base and soft dough with a rich porky broth and a tiny pork meatball inside. Honestly I could have eaten a dozen of these they were just so, so good. The spicy chilli sauce was also fantastic and there was no doubt that my taste buds had been given a good wake up call and were ready for more!
Next, we tried jiān bǐng 煎餅 a delicious Chinese style crepe made with a mix of millet, bean and regular all purpose white flour, which is filled with egg (spread thinly over the crepe base, forming a thin egg pancake on top) fried wonton wrappers, chilli sauce, soy bean past, spring onions and coriander. After the dumplings, this was definitely my favourite dish of the tour so far and I nibbled on it as we walked around the rest of the French concession, unable to admit defeat until we eventually made it to our next stop on the tour for Shanghai’s famous hand pulled noodles.
Our next stop was this tiny family run 24 hour noodle shop, famous for their Hand pulled noodles 拉麵. Now this was impressive! The shop owner took a large chunk of dough, kneeded it and then began to “pull” the noodles until they were ready to be cooked, no more than 3 minutes later. Just amazing to watch and even better to eat! We also tried another outstanding dish of “Bamboo tofu” 腐竹 with Pimientos de Padron. Bamboo tofu – so called because it looks like bamboo – is a by-product of tofu making, made from the skin if the tofu that floats to the top whilst the soy milk is being boiled. The end result is really buttery and more flavourful than ordinary tofu and combined with the fiery peppers made for a stunning dish.
We had a bit of a break from the eating at this point and visited a local wet market before ending up at this little dumpling shop for Nanjing style xiao long bao 小笼包 and wonton soup. I was extremely full by this point in the tour but bravely struggled on (!) and was rewarded with some of the best XLB I have ever tasted.
The dumpling skins were really thin – Jamie explained that this is a signature of Nanjing style XLB over other varieties – yet they held together perfectly, not allowing a single drop of delicious porky broth to escape until we were ready. The wonton soup was also great but I managed just a few spoonful’s as I wanted to save room for the last stop on our tour….
Lillian bakery started life off as a humble streetstall after its Macanese owners decided to bring the Portuguese speciality from their home in Macao to Shanghai. They now have numerous shops all over Shanghai, we visited the branch in the B2 level of the Paris Spring Mall where we were lucky to arrive in time for a batch straight from the oven I had a great time on the Street Eats breakfast tour, at 400 RMB it seemed very reasonable and we ate some truly delicious food that I would never have known how to find on my own. I would definitely do another tour if I visit Shanghai again and to be honest, I think I would do this one again too as every bite was more than worth it!