A seafood lover's guide to snacking, Fujian style
(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-10-12 08:20

Another national holiday and another chance to sample a different sort of local cuisine. This October I headed to Xiamen in Fujian province on the South East coast opposite Taiwan. Despite being a hub of industry this is a fantastic place to pass a few days, and I would especially recommend a trip to the island of Gulangyu, 5 minutes ferry ride from Xiamen, which was formerly home to a vast number of foreign consulates and the world's largest piano museum.

A seafood lover's guide to snacking, Fujian style

Xiamen cuisine is dominated by seafood, which is fantastically fresh. Several of our meals on Gulangyu involved choosing live fish and shellfish, which were promptly wok-ed up with select ingredients and presented at our street-side table. Scallops came topped with chili and ginger with a wasabi-like dipping sauce, crab were chopped into quarters with the shell on, briefly fried in batter and served with spring onions, coriander and ginger, and whole fish steamed to perfection in a light soy and ginger flavored broth. Not too heavy and absolutely delicious.

Fish ball soup (yu wan) is a local specialty and a surprisingly satisfying light lunch. The snowy white casings are made from the fish, which is minced, pounded and mixed with flour to make a smooth paste. These are then stuffed with minced pork, mussels and or other ingredients and served in a warm, clear, salty broth with spring onions.

In search of an authentic Xiamen lunch, we stumbled upon an old-style canteen restaurant serving up a variety of dishes to hungry locals. My favorites were the pyramids of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves (zhong zi or rong zong) which contained lots of hidden goodies such as chestnuts, pork, mushrooms and lotus seeds. These are simmered for around 12 hours in a large pot resulting in a moist texture and a rich, sweet flavor. They came with a dash of scarlet red sauce - sweet and gingery with a hint of spice - which went equally well with the very red and somewhat aromatic pork sausages.

The sweet snacks and desserts were also surprisingly good. Peanut soup (huasheng tang) is sweetened with sugar, and sometimes jazzed up with dates or tinned fruit. The chilled version with soft hunks of silken tofu immersed in it was particularly refreshing after a stroll amongst the winding lanes of Gulangyu on a hot afternoon. Ma zi were a strange textural experience - soft glutinous, almost jelly-like starch balls filled with and rolled in sweet powdered peanut and sesame.

A must-try treat are the Xiamen pies (xian bing), small bite-size cakes encased in flaky pastry with sweet, dense fillings such as desiccated coconut or red bean paste. Not the healthiest option as made with lard, but they go down perfectly with a nice cup of local Oolong tea, and could certainly be offset by an energetic dip in the sea.

There are more ethereal and pricey dishes available, such as "Buddha jumping over wall" (fo tiao qiang). My conscience (shark's fin!), purse strings and personal dislike for having too many animals present in the one dish (something the Fujianese are apparently fond of) prevented me from sampling. This delicacy comprises more than 20 different ingredients including pork tripe, duck, pigeon's eggs, shark's fin, mutton elbow and dried abalone - definitely not one for the vegetarians. To sample authentic Fujianese cuisine in Beijing, head to Ba Min Restaurant in the Fujian Provincial hotel, Anzhen Xili, Chaoyang district.

This nutrition-related column is written by Nina Lenton, a qualified dietitian living in Beijing and working at Bayley and Jackson Medical Center. Contact her at nina.lenton@ikang.com

(China Daily 10/10/2007 page16)