Searching for Mr. Wu’s Scallion Pancakes in Shanghai —

We hear they’re some of the best in the country.

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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.

July 1, 2019
Google Maps pin for Mr. Wu's in Shanghai

As the late‑afternoon sun dips below the tips of the plane trees on day two, I pick up the scent of hot oil wafting down a narrow alley near a dry cleaner’s. Dozens of acolytes – locals and visitors alike – are lined up in reverential silence, eyes fixed on a diminutive, bowed man rolling freshly cut scallions and fatty pork into dough. I watch as, eyes downcast, he flattens each ball of dough on the grill before frying them atop a burning oil drum. At long last, Mr. Wu.

After an hour in line, I find myself in front of the man himself and hold up two fingers to indicate my order. Mr. Wu, without making eye contact, scoops the pancakes into a bag as I hand over my yuan. The transaction is over in a flash, so I steal another moment to watch him work, slowly, methodically, unrelentingly.

Less methodical is my consumption of the treasured pancake. I make it only a few steps from Mr. Wu’s window before taking a bite. The pancake is soft and crisp – definitely the best I have ever had – and brightened by the spring onions and salty nuggets of pork. I stand completely still in a pancake‑induced trance at the crossroads of old and new Shanghai, until I finish the last layered bite of savoury, greasy perfection.