Saturday, March 10, 2007

Crossing Shenzhen

As you may or may not know, the vibrant city of Shenzhen ("vibrant" is a very polite way of saying loud, crowded, with not much regard for the law by 99% of its inhabitants) is a short train ride away from Hong Kong. I go quite often, not to join my fellow womenfolk to buy replica handbags, but to eat.

Shenzhen is a peculiar place, thirty years ago it was just another scruffy village, but now, it's been crowned a "Special Economic Zone" which basically means it's been flooded with all kinds of business and has a bubbling, gushing economy, fueled as much by multinationals as sketchy massage parlours.

Wages here are much higher, so restaurants have been able to attract excellent chefs from all over the country, meaning you can pretty much find very decent food from any province in China.

This weekend, we tried a place serving Chao Zhou (or Chiu Chow) food. Chao Zhou is in Southern China, close to a river (Pearl River?) so there's lots of seafood (or shall I say, river-food?). They're famous for their cold/room-temp tapas-like dishes that we call 打冷 (da2 leng3) in Chinese, such as cold crab. As with most Chao Zhou restaurants, they had a counter up front to display/serve these small dishes, as well as 'samples' of hot pot dishes. They also have a small menu for staples (e.g. rice, noodles) and vegetables.

As you can see, presentation isn't exactly their forte.

Stir fried gai larn (aka Chinese broccolli) with salt-preserved fish. The vegies were more thinly sliced than usual, allowing the stalks to cook at around the same time as the leaves. So crisp you can feel the fierceness of the wok (in Chinese it's called 鍋氣).

Lamb hot pot with dried herbs. Lamb and these medicinal herbs are supposed to have a warming effect on the body, hence perfect for winter. Dishes like these make me wonder what kind of lamb they use - because these little morcels get simmered and simmered and simmered and yet remain tender and juicy all the way.

The much less appetizing interiors

The next morning, we went and had yum cha at the notorious Dan Gui Xuan in Lo Wu Commercial Centre (huge, shabby mall, replicas galore). It's almost impossible to get a seat here without waiting and hassling the servicepeople for at least half an hour. The food is pretty good - not excellent, but it's the best bet by far if you've got a shopping day planned in this maze of a mall. Service is sloppy, but their taro (purple) and egg yolk & custard buns (white) can probably help calm you down when the tea just fails to arrive hot.


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