UnTour Shanghai Review – Dumpling Delights Tour

by torontogirlwest on January 3, 2014

Empty Steamer Baskets

The Husband, and I are not typically organized tour people. Instead, we prefer to go at it alone in a foreign country, fumbling over words in a language vastly different from our own, and studying maps and guidebooks ahead of time so as to plan our trip. That’s why I was a bit taken aback when a high school friend of mine who had previously done a solo-trip to China suggested that while in Shanghai we look into taking an Untour.

Dumplings Frying

UnTour Shanghai is a small guided tour operation run by Jamie and Kyle – two expats that decided to create a company that did tours differently than everyone else. To that end, Jamie and Kyle decided to focus on their respective passions and skills. Today, UnTour runs five different type of foodie walking tours (featuring everything from traditional Chinese breakfast eats to fantastic night market delights), as well as, running tours. And while I’ve been known to lace-up my shoes and head out for a run in the past, this time it was the dumpling tour we were after.

Chinese street dumpling cooking

On the morning of our tour, we met up with our tour guide Carla, and six other hungry foodies at a picturesque corner in the French Concession. Our group of nine people would spend the next three and a half hours walking from street stands to small neighbourhood restaurants, sampling the best of Shanghai’s dumplings. Given that Shanghai is famous for its dumplings, I was more than a little excited.

Dumplings steaming

As we walked to our first stop, Carla told us a bit about herself. Carla is a European expat that has lived in China since approximately 1988. It was in China that she married her husband (also European) and gave birth to several children. She speaks Mandarin fluently and is intimately familiar with the culture. Throughout the day we came to know Carla as impressively articulate, and well educated. In fact, I’d say that getting to experience China through the eyes of an expat and long-time resident of the country was one of the highlights of not only our trip to Shanghai but also our month-long journey throughout the country. I say this because the Chinese people, while extremely kind, can be exceedingly reserved and guarded when sharing their experiences, and it is difficult to have one of them open up beyond their concerns for loss of face.

Street Dumplings Pouring out the Oil

Shanghai is a city of approximately 25 million (!) people but of those only about 12 million are original to the city — the rest are migrants. And like migrant populations across the world, those people bring their own culinary traditions with them to their new home. That’s why throughout Shanghai one finds small stalls and restaurants with cooks dedicated to serving the food of far-flung regions to their fellow country-men and women. And while as a tourist it would be nearly impossible to find those delicious locales, and to discern which ones are safe to eat at, with UnTour as your guide – it’s easy.

Shanghai street dumplings

Our tour lasted approximately four hours and we ate more than my stomach could handle. There were a lot of delicious highlights during those four hours but those dumplings that the Husband is holding above will forever remain the epitome of dumpling perfection in my mind. I kid you not, I was positively giddy as I watched the skilled cook lightly fry the bottoms of the dumplings to crispy perfection, and then steam them to finish them off. The filling of the dumpling themselves was perfectly juicy and hot, while the dumpling pastry was just delicate enough.

I died a million culinary deaths as I ate those dumplings. And if I’m ever in Shanghai again, I intend to make a beeline to that stand, while praying to God that the tried and true recipe hasn’t changed.

Xia Long Bao

Frankly, I have to give Kyle and Jamie kudos; they have put together a fantastic tour that not only allows foodies a chance to try the fried dumplings they are likely to be more familiar with but also sample some different dumpling delicacies. Chief amongst these is the king of Shanghai dumplings – the xia long bao (above), or soup dumplings as they are commonly referred. Xia long bao are delicious pork dumplings that are filled with tasty and piping hot soup. There is an art to eating a xia long bao without burning or making a disastrous mess of yourself – and UnTour see to it that you leave your tour a soup dumpling eating expert.

Jian Bing Cook

During our tour there were two deviations from the dumpling-fest. The first was jian bing made by the friendliest street food seller anywhere.

Jian Bing with egg

Jian bing is a breakfast delicacy of the Shandong region which is perhaps best likened to a crepe. The expert cook will spread and work the batter into a very thin, large round shape, before cracking an egg inside, adding various sauces, and green onions,  before folding the crepe around pieces of crispy fried dough. And while I know that description may sound strange, you will have to trust me when I say the end result is incredibly delicious.

Street Jian Bing

Just look at that beauty. Sigh.

Steamed Pork Bun

The other non-dumpling delight we enjoyed during our tour was a steamed bun vaguely reminiscent of those one sees in dim sum tables in Vancouver – except these ones had a tinge of spice, making them all the more exciting. Frankly, I’m glad we taste these buns early on in our tour as I may have been too full for them as the day progressed.

Street Food Stalls

Bottom Line: Would I recommend UnTour Shanghai? Emphatically yes!!!! If you’re an adventurous traveller, who is a die hard foodie, and is willing to step out of your comfort zone for half a day – absolutely!!! For $65 per person we ate like kings and saw a side of China that we otherwise would have missed. And for those that have dietary restrictions, want a smaller group, or are looking for one type of eats in particular, UnTour also offers private tours!


Question: Have you ever taken a food tour? Do you think you would? I have to confess I probably would have said no to a food tour prior to our China trip but I’m now a believer!!!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon January 4, 2014 at 6:34 am

Wow! That breakfast crepe looked amazing! I think I may have to try and recreate that. Minus the fried dough of course ;) Loved the recap. I’m looking forward to next Friday :)
Sharon recently posted..Oat Bran Breakfast Bowl with Seeds & Almond Butter


torontogirlwest January 4, 2014 at 3:33 pm

You should totally recreate it!!! If I had my crepe pan here, rather than Toronto, I would totally go for it!!!

And now I’m looking forward to that post! lol :P


Jenn (Cookies Cupcakes Cardio) January 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

Oh my god those look amazing!!!! I don’t even like dumplings, but now I want one so badly!! I would definitely take a food tour now that I see what you got to sample.
Jenn (Cookies Cupcakes Cardio) recently posted..Birthday Cake Pops


torontogirlwest January 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm

lol Food tours are where it’s at! Seriously, I think it’s the type of thing you’d LOVE! :)


AndreaClaire January 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

I want to book a ticket to Shanghai and take that tour RIGHTNOW! It all looks so good!

I wasn’t a tour person when I was younger – I was determined to do it all by myself – but I’ve started to enjoy day tours as I get older. Quick glimpses into areas and customs I would otherwise miss because you can’t read a guide book and walk down the street at the same time without tripping over things.

I don’t think I could handle a full multi-day tour though, stuck for days with people I quite possibly would want to stab…
AndreaClaire recently posted..Making Plans


torontogirlwest January 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm

LOL After I wrote this post, I had to stop myself from running out the door to my nearest dumpling restaurant!! :P I may give in tomorrow – I’ll let you know! HA!


Jessica @ Dairy Free Betty January 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Wow – this sounds truly incredible! Something I would want to do for sure! LOVING these posts! I’m pinning this one for sure!


torontogirlwest January 4, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Thanks Jess! :) And it really makes me oh so happy to hear you’ve loving the China posts!!


Samantha Angela January 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

That tour sounds really fun! I’m not much of a tour person either but in a foreign country like that where I’m not familiar with the language or food it would be nice to have someone take you to the best places and explain it all to you.
and the Jian Bing looks tasty!
Samantha Angela recently posted..All the Cookbooks


Toronto Girl West January 7, 2014 at 9:12 pm

It’s funny how we’re all not usually tour people but would be willing to go that way in a few exceptions! lol ;)
Toronto Girl West recently posted..UnTour Shanghai Review – Dumpling Delights Tour


Rachel January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am

Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my China postings! That dumpling tour looks and sounds so wonderful. Having a long-term expat as a tour guide, like Carla, would be a great way to get some insights into the culture. If I ever find myself in Shanghai again, I will definitely put this tour on my to-do list.
Rachel recently posted..How to Navigate This Site


Toronto Girl West January 11, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Thank-you for commenting back! :) I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and found myself discussing with the Husband how insightful your posts were. :)

And yes, definitely do give UnTour a try!!! They were great!!
Toronto Girl West recently posted..UnTour Shanghai Review – Dumpling Delights Tour


Oranic Whey January 9, 2014 at 12:13 am

WOW! looked like you enjoy a lot, seriously i felt being there while reading your post and there is no food in orange here i can taste banana shake made with organic whey protein powder. ;)


Toronto Girl West January 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :)
Toronto Girl West recently posted..Shanghai French Concession – A Nearly Wordless Post


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