Eating crawfish in the Shanghai night market tour

There are times in life when you think to yourself, “I never thought I’d see the day…” But there I was, standing in the middle of a night market in Shanghai, watching a man pull two rather long snakes out of a tank.

I guess it was time for dinner.

We flew to Shanghai a few weeks back to explore a city I’ve heard so much about, and a city, that not too long ago, we thought we might move to (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen).

After researching the endless list of things to do in town, I thought a tour might be a good way to get an authentic look at a city where spending all your time in tourist traps is surprisingly easy. The options, of course, are endless, but one tour ticked all my favorite boxes: food, markets, unlimited beer, live butchering. You had me at hello.

UnTour Food Tours has a reputation as one of the best food tour companies in China, offering small group tours in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. We read the glowing reviews, and their ‘Shanghai Night Eats’ tour sounded fresh and exciting. We met up with our guides on a Sunday night at 7pm, hungry, and along with ten other hungry travelers, set off to eat whatever came our way.

Three hours, three stops, and some twenty dishes later, we decided that the Shanghai Night Eats Food Tour is indeed a must-do for anyone visiting Shanghai.

Shanghai night eats food tour

UnTour Shanghai Night Eats Food Tour

Shouning Lu Seafood Street

Our first stop was the hectic Shouning Lu, lined on both sides with small, family-run seafood stalls and restaurants. Tanks full of live fish, bins of crayfish, and cases of fresh shellfish were on full display to entice passers-by, and many had grills set up on the sidewalks, ready to cook whatever you ordered.

We walked as our guide Thomas filled us in on our itinerary and the vast quantity of food (and drink) we were going to consume as we wandered through Old Shanghai. Our first stop was outside BBQ & Crawfish, a small restaurant with a local specialty: river snake.

Soon we were faced with a tank was full of surprisingly large and active snakes. One employee grabbed two snakes, displaying them for his stunned tour audience. The live snakes were quickly dispatched (Julie didn’t watch this part but I did and it was quite matter-of-fact) and prepped for dinner. As they wrapped up snake cleaning duty, our group sauntered upstairs to the tiny dining room, ready to begin our feast.

Shanghai night eats food tour

Large bottles of Tsingtao beer and water was provided, along with the dangerous Chinese spirit baijiu (白酒, pronounced ‘bye-joe’ more or less), which is essentially grain alcohol. It is actually the most consumed spirit in the world, beating out whiskey, vodka, or anything else. Of course, about 99% of it is consumed within the borders of China, and it is a beloved part of the drinking culture.

The first dish of the evening was a pile of crawfish, boiled and served with a vinegar dipping sauce. It is crawfish season here, so they are on menus all over the city (check out this ad for Pizza Hut! Crawfish pizza, anyone?). It’s hard to extract their tail meat gracefully, but eating crawfish is all about getting down and dirty.

Shanghai night eats food tour

Next came the famous shengjiao bao (生煎), a variation on soup dumplings. These are encased in a slighter thicker, yeasted dough, and fried in oil in massive cast-iron pans, before being steamed. This treatment results in an exterior that is soft and chewy on top, and crunchy underneath, with a porky brothy filling. Basically the dumplings of your dreams.

Shanghai night eats food tour

From there we were hit with a wave of grilled meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes, one after another. There were lamb kebabs, scallops with garlic, lotus root, garlic scapes, mushrooms, glutinous rice cakes, and of course, the snake.

The snake had been battered, fried, and dusted with a spice mixture, and served with leeks and chiles. The meat was pretty mild, but boy oh boy, were there a lot of bones. It is not often that I would describe a food as “bone heavy,” but that was certainly the case here. Overall not a favorite, but I am always looking to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.

Shanghai night eats food tour
Shanghai night eats food tour
Shanghai night eats food tour

Shanghai night eats food tour

The best dish at BBQ & Crawfish was the slow roasted eggplant with garlic and steamed bread. A whole eggplant was placed directly on moderately warm coals, and left to roast for 30-45 minutes. It was then sliced open so it laid flat, and smothered with a whole head of minced garlic warmed in oil. We’ve never eaten so much garlic in one dish, but when smeared on the steamed bread, it tasted like the best version of garlic bread you’ve ever had. Simply amazing.

We wrapped up with some Hong Kong-style dessert puddings from a small shop across the street. They were not the most beautiful desserts, but were simple and delicious. We sampled mango with fruit and cream, a taro pudding, milk pudding with sticky rice, and a few others. The mango (pictured below) was everyone’s favorite, though the taro was a close second.

Shanghai night eats food tour

Lele Xinjiang Restaurant

After a pleasant 15 minute walk that allowed our stomachs to settle a little, we arrived at Lele Xinjiang Restaurant, a Muslim restaurant that highlights the cuisine of Western China. Run by a China Muslim minority, it features grilled halal meat, no pork, and a heavy emphasis on spices like cumin that most people would not typically associate with China.

Shanghai night eats food tour

After the quantity of food at the first stop, we were concerned about overeating, but luckily, it was a lighter food stop. We sampled a dish of hand-pulled noodles with tomatoes and onions, delicious fatty grilled lamb kebabs dusted with cumin and paprika, and a cold cucumber salad dressed with sesame oil and vinegar. We washed it all down with Xinjiang black beer.

La Wei Xian

Our last stop was a fiery Sichuan restaurant, but we made two quick pit stops on our way there. We sampled some craft beer at Jackie’s Beer Nest, the original craft beer bar in Shanghai, showcasing the emerging interest in beer culture in the city. We then moved onto a tiny restaurant with an open kitchen, where we could watch expert noodle craftsmen make a batch of hand-pulled noodles in a matter of seconds. I’ve seen it done dozens of times, and it still mystifies me. Thomas grabbed a few orders of ginger scallion hand-pulled noodles to go, to be consumed at our final restaurant.

We arrived at La Wei Xian, and three traditional Sichuan dishes were brought out: mapo tofu, ‘fish fragrant’ pork, and twice cooked pork. Oddly, the ‘fish fragrant’ pork contains no fish, but despite the odd name, was delicious. The first few bites of these trio of plates were pleasant, but the heat of the chiles and the numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns began to build.

Julie dove into the mapo tofu and deemed it “not that spicy.” I snagged a bite that must have contained a mouthful of Sichuan peppercorns and a few chiles because I promptly lost the feeling on one side of my tongue. Those a little less tolerant of spice at our table shed some sweat and tears, mopping up with paper napkin after paper napkin. Oh the wonders of Sichuan cuisine.

Shanghai night eats food tour

We lingered at the restaurant, distracted by playful kittens. The kitten distraction was a nice break from the chile heat of the dishes.

We wrapped up with a sweet bite of salt and pepper pastries from Aizu Pastries that Thomas had brought along. This legendary storefront is rumored to make 10,000 of these pastries a day, and we had seen a swarm of people making them when we walked by. In fact, they were voted best bing (refers to any round-shaped pastry or flatbread) in Shanghai a few years back. They are round and flaky with a filling that walks the line between savory and sweet. It was a nice end to our epic night of indulgence.

Conclusion

The UnTour Shanghai Night Eats Tour was expertly planned and run. It starts near the Southeast corner of People’s Park, so it is conveniently located and easily reached via public transportation. Each restaurant was awaiting our arrival, with seats and drinks ready. Our lead guide Thomas, an expat from the UK, was extremely knowledgable, and touched upon subjects of Chinese culture and history outside of food. He was engaging, and clearly well versed in both food culture and the neighborhood.

Shanghai night eats food tour

The 10-15 minute walks between destinations were well-timed, and a perfect opportunity to chat with the others in the our small group, who were from all over the world. The collection of dishes was eclectic, showcasing not only local Shanghai specialties, but food from other regions of the country. The drinks were included in the price, a nice touch. With all the food, even the most enthusiastic drinkers were pretty moderate, but it’s always nice to walk through city streets nursing a beer when there are no open-container laws.

UnTour’s Shanghai Night Eats Food Tour gave us exactly what we were hoping for. An authentic experience, a renewed appreciation for Chinese food culture and a belly full of snake meat. What more could we ask for?

Our tour with UnTour was complimentary, but as always, all opinions are our own. The Shanghai Night Eats Tour costs $75/person, including the drinks.

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  • July 8, 2017

    I have to admit I wanted to try as well, but I was too scared! Your pictures look amazing.

  • July 8, 2017

    Eeep I don’t think I could handle the snakes – but dumplings & crawfish pizza are much more my style! This sounds like an awesome tour!!
    Claire recently posted…Motion Sickness: Don’t Let Car Sickness Ruin Your Travel Plans!My Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      I probably would pass on the snake next time, but it was a good one time experience. Far, far too many bones!

  • July 9, 2017

    Your food photos are great. I love walking food tours for all the reasons you mentioned. The only thing I don’t like about them is mixing up so many different types of food; I have a rather sensitive digestion!
    Penny Sadler recently posted…Five Easy Ways To Relieve Travel StressMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      Especially with Chinese food, that could be a problem!

  • July 9, 2017

    Very nice post! And I must add that the pictures look incredible!!
    wanderlustvlog recently posted…The Most Haunted Places in DelhiMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      Glad you liked the photos!

  • July 9, 2017

    This looks like a great tour. When we went to Thailand, there were so many choices of places to eat. Without fail, the ones we liked the best were either recommended by locals or we had a local guide take us there. Not only was the food quality excellent, we also had some context for what make this dish / restaurant special for the reason. The funny thing is, a lot of the places didn’t look so special from the outside but once the food hit our mouths we were convinced. I am still leery of river snake…
    Jenn and Ed Coleman recently posted…Ten Things You Can’t Miss in IndianapolisMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      I’m leary of river snake still too. Great point on hitting up the locals for tips. I feel like, especially in Asia, there are more hole-in-the-wall joints that the casual tourist would stroll right by without thinking twice. Also good to have some local advice.

  • July 10, 2017

    I would love to try a snake someday – have been waiting for it actually. The crawfish looks interesting too!

    • July 12, 2017

      Well, than Shanghai is your place. It does have a lot of bones, but the meat itself is pretty mild.

  • July 10, 2017

    Wow! I’d love to eat some crawfish right now! And I’d probably taste the snake as well, but only if I didn’t know what it is! haha… Thank you for sharing your experience with OnTour’s Night’s Eat food tour. When we travel to Shanghai next time, we’d definitely consider taking this tour as well!

    • July 12, 2017

      Definitely highly recommended and super nice people too!

  • July 11, 2017

    20 dishes in 3 hours! That’s a lot of food! But I loved this food tour except for the snake eating – I would freak to see a snake on my plate! I want to try garlic bread with egg plant. I am really curious as it seems like a weird combination! And Tofu looks delish too! Looks like a fab food tour in Shanghai!
    Reshma recently posted…Kurumba Village Resort – A Perfect Combination of Luxury & NatureMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      the eggplant dish was amazing. It didn’t have a strong eggplant flavour, as the garlic overpowered it. But the eggplant had been cooked for so long that you could pull apart the interior of the eggplant and slather it on the bread. Delicious!

  • July 11, 2017

    The mango fruit and cream would have been my favorite too Drew. Looks delightful. From the tangy mango to filling cream….a nice change up from many simpler, less flavorful mango dishes I have enjoyed around the world.
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…2 Blogging Fallacies That You Can Convert Into Sweet ProfitsMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      The mango dish was delicious. Asian desserts especially always have such interesting textures, and these were no exception.

  • July 12, 2017

    I always enjoy taking in a tour in a new place so I can get oriented to the place and the culture. But I still haven’t taken a tour that includes food. I can see that’s an element I’ve really missed out on! Fun pictures and descriptions!
    Tami recently posted…‘Dine & Do’ in La Jolla, CAMy Profile

    • July 12, 2017

      highly recommend food tours. The typically small group size is great, and learning about the food culture of a city is always interesting and delicious!

  • July 17, 2017

    I love food tours, such a great way to sample unusual cuisine! I would not have even thought about snakes having so many bones, interesting!

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