I traveled to Shanghai last summer on a whirlwind assignment, extending my trip by a mere two days so I could see at least some of the city.
Given that I didn’t know the layout, the language, or if my VPN would grant me access to Google, I was proud to be able to tick every kind of soup dumpling off my must-eat list…but couldn’t interpret much else.
By the time my night market tour with UnTour Food Tour Shanghai rolled around, my camera had just died, my phone was on its last few percent, and I was exhausted. Tempting as it was to crawl into my hotel bed and order room service, I sacked up and went.
Within the first five minutes, we watched as a vendor snipped the head off a water snake with scissors and peeled back its skin. As they say in fairy tales and god-awful wedding vows, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
I’d typically be mortified to be seen touring en mass—I’m a Bourdain-or-bust kind of gal—but our guide became my tastebud sherpa, constantly piling dishes of stewed crawfish, Mapo tofu, garlic scallops, spiced vegetable skewers and fruit custards on the tables of the little outposts where we stopped to dine. In a city where the language barrier is so severe and your outsider status is highlighted by strangers repeatedly asking to take photographs with you, diving into authentic Chinese food for a solid three hours with an expert at the helm truly made my trip.
I’ve traveled around the world without being able to speak the native tongue, but in a place where the Internet is so segmented, planning can be wildly burdensome. It’s tough to say if I would have even found a night market, let alone known what to order.
As for the snake that started it all? It was deep-fried, delicious and disgusted everyone on my Instagram feed. Perfect.