As a kid, my family didn't do live sporting events. Why pay all that money to sit in uncomfortable seats too far to see the action? One reason: the food.
With that in mind, I went looking for the best food at the League of Legends World Championships semifinals in Shanghai. The secret? Stay outside the arena.
The Shanghai Oriental Sports Center offered standard American fare, with slight Chinese twists. For 30 yuan, or about $5, there was pepperoni, cheese or Hawaiian pizza. The other option, for 10 yuan, was the "super hotdog," consisting of not just one, but two types of mystery meat.
One mystery meat turned out to be tuna. I'm still wondering what was in that sausage. For smaller snacks, I chose between popcorn, sodas, chips of various kinds and, a personal favorite of mine, Chinese yogurt.
But outside the arena, in the walk up to the entrance, was the real food. Amid scalpers offering tickets and vendors hawking flags and team swag were carts of food and drink. Surprisingly, all of them accepted WeChat Pay, which seems to be the dominant form of payment in China. (That's like using Facebook to buy a New York hot dog.)
Most of the carts were selling the same thing: ji dan bing, something akin to a Chinese egg crepe. With my mother's warnings about unsanitary street food in mind -- China has long struggled with food safety, Upton Sinclair style -- I warily approached the cart.
The vendor was offering two types of meat: chicken and sausage. For peace of mind, I chose the chicken. The vendor put the thin crepe-like dough on the griddle, then cracked an egg next to it. Just as the egg was almost cooked, she flipped the crepe onto it so that the egg would brown and cook into the dough. Then she added chicken, fresh lettuce and some chili oil, folded it all up into a wrap, and stuck it into a handy bag for me to take away.
I was still a little nervous about eating it. But then I ran into some Australians, who were attending the tournament for work. One of them was chomping away at his ji dan bing. He told me it was delicious, and he wasn't worried at all. So I sat down, took a deep breath and took the plunge. He was right. The wrap was crunchy and delicious, the egg giving it extra texture and flavor. The chicken was spicy, which made me wish I'd bought a drink, but the lettuce helped cut the burn. All for just 10 yuan, or about $1.50.
With my mouth burning from the spice, I searched for dessert. I'd been craving sweet potato, a super healthy cure for my sweet tooth, since seeing the street vendors in Guangzhou during worlds quarterfinals. I finally decided to do it. I approached another vendor, with a mini oven on his cart. He charged by the pound, so for 4 yuan (about 60 cents) I walked away with a tasty baked sweet potato.
Street food: 1. Arena food: 0.