Zhongshan, a city in the south of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, China, used to be called Shekki or Shiqi (石岐). In 1925, the city was renamed Zhongshan in the honor of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China.
Given that the city is a renowned hometown of overseas Chinese, it is fitting that the young pigeons which feature in the city’s most famous delicacy — Shiqi squab (石岐乳鴿) — are breeds of local and foreign origins.
At any one of squab specialty restaurants in Zhongshan, diners would be bombarded with options such as deep-fried squab, dressed squab, salt-baked squab, claypot squab rice, squab stew with coconut, braised squab in soya sauce, so on and so forth.
According to my friend, Chef Hin, it is not very difficult to prepare deep-fried squab. First, wash the pigeon thoroughly and marinate it with sauce evenly. Dip it into another Chinese marinade. Dry it for four hours and then deep-fry it in 120C hot oil.
It is supreme only when the cook has got its skin crispy and meat tender and juicy. Bones would also become so soft that they can be eaten.
Recently, Chef Hin and I began a day with morning tea at a very traditional teahouse.
We ordered four famous glutinous rice-based dumplings of the city: Hakka tea cakes (茶粿), Indian Pluchea cakes (萱茜餅), Chinese mugwort dumplings (艾果), and Zhongshan dumplings (金吒).
Zhongshan dumplings are particularly popular among the locals. It is a kind of steamed glutinous rice-based dumpling wrapped with minced meat marinated with red fermented bean curd.
I also tried Zhongshan rice dumplings, which are no different from the ones eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong except the wrapper is the long blade-like leaves of Pandanus tectorius and the inside uses red beans instead of green beans.
Another impressive bite was deep-fried liver mixed rolls, in which the fatty pork is wrapped with mixture of chicken and duck livers.
The texture and taste of deep-fried grass carp belly with salt and chili (椒鹽脆肉鯇) was wonderful. Among other dishes, lychee wood-fried crispy chicken was divine as it was fused with a fragrance of the wood.
Chef Hin and I tore into the chicken using our hands in a bid to enjoy every drip of the juice running from the tender meat.
The meal was more than just a yum cha, as it was in effect a big feast.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 5.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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