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.