I am certain it’s just around the corner. I am wrong. The “X” marked on my map of Shanghai turns out to be yet another hollowed‑out construction site framed by billboards for luxury condos with marble bathrooms and doormen in formal attire. At every turn, my search is thwarted by the city’s fast‑changing neighbourhoods (and an acutely felt absence of Google Maps).
The subject of my quest is Mr. Wu, a sixty‑year‑old who is Internet‑famous among locals and food‑motivated travellers for his scallion‑pork pancakes, rumoured to be among the best in the country. The catch: You’ve got to find his hole‑in‑the‑wall shop, located on one of the many back alleys hidden behind the French Concession’s tree‑lined streets. On day one of my hunt, I twist and turn and lose myself down these dead‑end lanes, known locally as lilongs. Ten hours in, standing next to a derelict Shikumen courtyard home in the shadow of a gleaming skyscraper, I feel hung out to dry like the crisp laundry criss‑crossing the lilongs above me.