There's a woman I've long admired in Shanghai - she speaks fluent Chinese and is a street food obsessive who knows all the best snacks and where to find them. Like me, she genuinely loves China - particularly its edible, delicious side.
Meet Jamie Barys, who, along with friend and business partner Kyle Long established Untour Shanghai, a hugely popular off-beat tour company. Their tours remain the best way to get to know Shanghai's street foods, even for locals. "We wanted to show off the city’s best street food and hole-in-the-wall dumpling and noodle shops to visitors and expats who didn’t have the language skills or local food knowledge to find it themselves," says Jamie. "So we started offering culinary tours of the breakfast stalls, night markets and everything in between."
Fellow students at Peking University in 2005, Jamie and Kyle discovered a common interest in everything food-related, and cemented their friendship exploring Shanghai's restaurants. In Jamie's words, "Three years and about thirty thousand xiaolongbao later, we launched UnTour Shanghai."
Now Jamie and Kyle have together written the definitive guide to eating in Shanghai, the Glutton Guide Shanghai. It's the book I wish I'd had when I first moved to Shanghai, and it's the book I want now. Jamie saw a demand for comprehensive, up-to-date, reliable information for locals and travellers. "When we travel, we plan our days entirely around where we’re going to eat. Lately, whenever we planned a trip, we found doing the research to create an excellent food-based itinerary was increasingly challenging. Between out-of-date guidebooks and the overwhelming amount of crowdsourced online resources, there were too many conflicting reports on where to eat, what to order and how much to pay, not to mention travel stories by out of town writers listing the same old recycled content."
This is not your standard city guide. It's a digital guide to the food culture of Shanghai, with finds only a local would know about.
There are sections on street foods, food markets, cooking classes, Shanghai cuisine, regional Chinese cuisines, and the best in Western food and desserts. It's brilliantly done. There's even a suggestion to read certain food blogs before you start (why thank you guys....).
The Glutton Guide is full of gems that might take years to find on your own. Amongst those gems, I asked Jamie which one she and Kyle considered the diamond, the best hidden culinary secret within the pages of the Glutton Guide?
"We’ve written about a lot of the hole-in-the-walls (like A Da’s scallion pancake) over the years because they are the best bites in the city. But I think Zhu Que Men is the most underrated restaurant of the city’s noodle scene. The owner has opened three locations around the city, and ships in different artisanal vinegars from his hometown to use in his dishes. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, the mother stock for the pork in Zhu Que Men’s roujiamo contains 40 secret ingredients and was started over 20 years ago." I had never even heard of it. But if Jamie says it's good, I'm going.
And if she had to leave Shanghai tomorrow? What would her last supper be? "Take me to Wei Xiang Zhai for sesame-peanut noodles (麻酱面). With a side of jianbing (煎饼) please!" says Jamie.
I'm slightly devastated to hear her say this. In my first year in Shanghai I lived around the corner from Wei Xiang Zhai, just near Fuxing Park. I was desperate to try their noodles, but our housekeeper, Xiao Xu, cleaned our house in the mornings then manned the till at Wei Xiang Zhai every lunchtime. I was too embarrassed to walk in and show how bad my Chinese was in front of people she knew. Eventually, we moved away and she stopped working for us. Seven years later, she still works at Wei Xiang Zhai, and I still haven't been.
"We want to encourage visitors and expats to eat like locals and support these small businesses," says Jamie. "We wanted each and every listing to be a restaurant that a tourist would remember when they went home (and still talk about when they thought about their trip). For expats who live here, we wanted it to be a resource full of places they would return to again and again, and use to show off their local knowledge to other visitors and friends. Our goal has always been to make sure that every bite of our guests’ trip is memorable."
Couldn't agree more. You can find the Glutton Guide Shanghai here.