Eat Your Way Through Shanghai With Glutton Guides

Jamie Barys’ mission in life is simple: help visitors and residents of Shanghai eat well. The Shanghai-based food writer set out to achieve her goal in December 2010 by launching UnTour Shanghai, a food tour company that guides guests to the best local hole-in-the-wall vendors and street food stands on a walking tour. 
Since its inception, UnTour has steered more than 6,000 guests through some of the city’s best dumpling houses, night markets and hawker stalls. Now, she has taken her passion a step further with Glutton Guide Shanghai, the first e-guidebook in a new series dedicated to uncovering a city’s best places to eat and drink.
Barys and her business partner Kyle Long (also the other half of the UnTour Shanghai founding team) came up with the idea for a food-focused guidebook while trying to plan a holiday itinerary to Hanoi focused entirely on where to eat.
“Combined, we had about 20 tabs on our computers and two guidebooks open, all with conflicting reports on where to eat, what to order and how much to pay. In the end, the research required for planning a delicious mealbased itinerary took days, and when we finally put all our research into practice, there were still definite tourist traps and closed restaurants along the way,” says Barys. “In our experience, the amount of information available online is overwhelming, and the relevancy of restaurants listed in guidebooks is underwhelming, so we decided to create a one-stop e-guidebook designed by foodies for foodies.”
In order to optimise food-based itinerary planning, Barys and Long have set up a system where each e-guidebook in the Glutton Guides series is written by culinary experts based locally in each target city – there’s no crowdsourced information in this well-curated content. This person is responsible for condensing the city’s dining scene into one easily digestible resource that is regularly updated so readers don’t have to worry about outdated listings.
Shanghai, the first e-guidebook in the series, was launched on 1 July. But world travelers need not fear. They already have plans to launch a new e-guide each month in major cities around the world, starting with Melbourne in August and Prague in September.
This means no more hauling around last year’s Lonely Planet with your fingers crossed that your restaurant of choice is still open – and hasn’t jacked up the prices from all the press.
Foodie cities like Buenos Aires, Montreal and Kuala Lumpur are also in the line-up, and Barys and Long are constantly adding new writers in countries around the globe to keep up with demand from food-focused travellers, hungry to taste the best the world has to offer.
Glutton Guides is stepping out as the first and only global, locally written guidebook series to focus solely on the dining scene of its destinations. The Shanghai edition of Glutton Guide covers the city’s dining scene comprehensively, with chapters in the Shanghai book ranging from “Best Street Food” to “Best International Restaurants”. There is also a supplement with maps and general getting around information, so that the food-focused traveller doesn’t need to buy another guide just to get the lay of the land.
Barys and Long already had a solid base on which to build their book, having spent long hours producing the best local food tours in Shanghai, writing about food for local lifestyle magazines and eating their way around the city over the last eight years. Still, Glutton Guides in Shanghai has been a long labour of love.
“Even for discerning eaters like us, it can be hard to pick the best from all of your favourite places,” says Barys. “We really had to whittle it down and wield our red editing pens freely, but we wanted to create a book that only listed restaurants and bars that would pass our test. For tourists - will they remember the meal when they return home? For expats, will they return again and again to these places with their friends in tow? If the answer to both was yes, then we added it to the book.”
In total, Glutton Guides Shanghai took about a year to write, design and produce. This meant they went through several revisions thanks to Shanghai’s dynamic dining scene, as new restaurants opened and some moved to other parts of the city. They will continue to update the book regularly, in order to keep pace with the city.
Visitors to Shanghai will appreciate the “Street Food Safety” chapter, while newcomers and residents alike will be able to utilise the “Food Shopping” section, with tips on buying produce and supplies to cook at home. 
The guide also covers China’s varied regional cuisines, and where to find them. However, instead of offering listings of every place that serves that cuisine, the 130-plus page book cherry-picks the top restaurants in each category so readers can decide for themselves which style, price point and location serves them best. They’ve also given the Mandarin-illiterate the tools needed to overcome the language barrier.
“When I first arrived in China, unable to speak or read Mandarin, ordering at a local restaurant was an intimidating, stressful process. Chinese menus can be upwards of 150 dishes long, so even if you go to a great place, you can still have a bad meal if you don’t know what’s good,” Barys says. “To take the guesswork out of ordering and ensure our readers don’t waste a mouthful when they’ve got limited meals on holiday, we’ve included both recommended dishes and menu translations at all Chinese restaurants.”
With the release of Glutton Guide Shanghai and the remainder of the series in the works, Barys may be one step closer to ensuring visitors to Shanghai can now learn to stop dining with other tourists and start eating with locals.
Tag Talk Magazine Shanghai on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tell us about your favourite street food stall in Shanghai for a chance to win a copy of Glutton Guide Shanghai and two tickets for UnTour Shanghai’s Street Eats-Breakfast tour.
No matter whether you’re chowing down at a night market in Old Town or pulling up a stool at a morning hawker stall in the former French Concession, using these simple tips will help you stay safe and healthy on vacation – and they apply all across Asia.
1. Inspect the vendor’s station
Cleanliness is next to godliness, especially when it comes to street food, so check out their mise en place and utensils. If your vendor has a jar for money and asks you to retrieve your own change, that’s a very good sign. Money is one of the dirtiest things we touch daily, so this means that they are already factoring that into their cleanliness. Alternatively, some vendors use utensils or gloves when handling food, so touching money isn’t as much of an issue.
2. Check the vendor’s oil
Reused oil is a problem in a lot of the smaller cities around China, but you will occasionally run across a spendthrift vendor frying street food in dark oil. Avoid this at all costs, as reused oil can be dangerous. Most vendors do not keep their oil in its original container. Instead they pour it into smaller water bottles that are much easier to handle than a bulky jug when you’re tossing noodles in a wok with your right hand and throwing in other ingredients with your left. So, just because they are using a Coca- Cola bottle, doesn’t mean they’re bad – just efficient. If their bottle is filled with oil that is a golden yellow colour and has no debris floating in it, it’s generally good to go.
3. Time your meals around peak dining hours
When you’re not familiar with a food street, eat at peak dining times so you can make sure turnover is at its highest. This ensures whatever you’re eating is fresh. Never eat something that is pre-cooked and has been sitting out. You should select from raw ingredients and watch the vendor make it fresh before your eyes.
4. Think about what you’re eating
Different meats spoil at different rates, so it’s good to keep in mind what spoils fastest. Seafood degrades most quickly, followed by poultry. Pork, beef and lamb are the slowest to spoil. Keep in mind larger chunks of meat and fish need more time to reach a consistent temperature throughout, so smaller chunks of meat are less risky. Always make sure any meat is cooked through. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind: never eat raw seafood as street food.
5. Consider cooking techniques and temperatures
It’s also a good idea to keep in mind what cooking techniques reach the highest (and thus maximum bacteriakilling) temperatures. Poaching and simmering do not reach boiling point, whereas steaming and boiling are right at 100 ̊C / 212 ̊F. The big flame under the wok when stir-frying reaches about 150 ̊C / 300 ̊F minimum. Deep-frying is even hotter, and grilling has the highest heat.
6. Opt for brick and mortar shops
Since roving vendors can set up shop anywhere, they are not always held accountable for their food safety qualifications. Now we’re not saying avoid these at all costs – sometimes they serve the best food – but if you have the time to check they are at the same spot daily, then they’re trustworthy. Many street carts on wheels are nomadic because they hit up the same streets every day, but they choose the peak times for each corner, such as outside metro stops during rush hour or at night markets after sunset.
7. Trust the locals
Chinese people try to avoid queuing, so if you see a long line of locals at a vendor (or streetcart), you’re pretty much guaranteed to be on to a good thing. See what everyone else is ordering and follow suit.
8. Avoid processed meats
Most food safety scandals in China come out of the processed food industry. Once you get a look at the avoid it all costs.
9. Use all of your senses
Sight and smell are just as useful as taste when it comes to checking for spoilage. See a whole fish you want barbecued? Check its eyes are not cloudy and its gills are still red or pink. Smell it. It should smell like the ocean, not fishy.
10. Wash your hands
A lot of what travellers consider food poisoning actually has nothing to do with the food they are eating, but what they already have on their hands. Make sure you wash your hands before eating (or carry hand sanitizer) and eat with chopsticks. You’ll notice that Chinese people rarely touch their food with bare hands – even in McDonald’s, people keep the burger wrapped in its paper wrapper while they eat.
11. Prices can be too good to be true
This is a bit tricky if you’re not already acquainted with how cheap Chinese street food can be, but it’s best thought of as a comparison. Pork costs the same as beef? Definitely not in China. You won’t spend over RMB 10 for most street food, but just keep in mind certain items (like beef) should cost a bit more, just as they do in your grocery store back home.