Xiamen, one of the coastal cities of China where the Minnan dialect is widely spoken, offers us enough reminders of Taiwan, which is just across the Formosa Strait.
Zhongshan Road Pedestrian Street is the Xiamen’s night market. Given its proximity to the business district, more than 80 percent of the famous snack stalls and restaurants in the city could be found along the street.
Inspired by the culture of Nanyang, the everyday dish satay noodles, called shacha mian (沙茶麵), in Xiamen is like a fusion dish as the Fujian shrimp noodles are served in a laksa soup base well-mixed with satay sauce and ground peanuts.
Wutang, Sili, Yuehua and Kaihe are the renowned outlets for the noodles.
But to me, the focus of shacha mian is not quite about the noodles or the soup base but a wide range of ingredient toppings such as seafood and meats that allow diners to customize their own bowls.
Mochi, also known as glutinous rice cake, is regarded by people as the oldest taste of Xiamen. Unlike the Japanese version, the filling is a mixture of sugar, ground peanuts and seeds of black and white sesame. The dough is mixed with crunchy bits on the outer layer that would then be pan-fried.
The most prestigious fried glutinous rice cake is from Yeshi, which is at Sanchakou on Longtou Road.
One of the unforgettable dishes of Xiamen is undoubtedly the Sipunculid worm jelly (土筍凍). Upon boiling of the worms, it would in the jelly form due to high collagen content. Since the jelly is tasteless, it depends very much on the sauce, usually of a paste of garlic and coriander base, yielding tastes like topped with Chinese five spices or in chili oil.
Speaking of seafood, Shangqing is a well-known outlet that features dishes with genuine local taste — a characteristic marinated sauce. Xiamen fishermen would sell the expensive fish or parts while consuming only those remaining in the catch. They would make the marinade by boiling the meat, belly and liver of sharks.
Though I was not very interested in eating shark, I just gave a try to some boiled shark meat slices, marinated shark’s belly and liver. The meat was like the genuine fish balls in the streets in the olden days, with a rough texture. The belly was silkily crunchy and the liver was so rich in fish oil!
Lastly, I had duck rice porridge, which is made up of rice in broth. Diners can have any parts of the duck meat into their bowls. While duck meat is often dry and rough after cooking, I didn’t encounter such texture of the meat in two shops in Xiamen. Clearly they were experts at handling the difficult ingredient.
Personally I preferred duck neck and kidneys. The skin and the meat of the duck neck came flavored with five spices and were an excellent match to the rice porridge.
Xiamen’s street food may not score high marks in terms of appearance but the dishes come with brilliant flavors. You will know it only when you have tried the dishes.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 4.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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