Although I was primarily visiting Shenzhen in China on a business trip I was hoping to search and capture some food memories of Chinese Food that I ate back in the late 90’s when I worked in China for a while after completing my PhD at the Chinese Academy of Science in Wuhan. I was hard to believe that it really was 16 years since my last visit. I knew that I would probably have to eat some hotel food but I was still hopeful and determined that some other culinary opportunities might come my way.
After a disgraceful 5 hr airport transfer from Hong Kong to Shenzhen I arrived at the somewhat plush Shrangri-La Hotel in Shenzhen just next to the Luo Ho border point. It was in the low 90’s or high 20’s depending on your weather currency, let’s just say it was hot and humid on the streets and I need sustenance, preferably in dumpling form, and something cold in a glass (or a bottle or a can).
A quick scan on the hotels menus told me that I would have to pay £5 for a small bottle of local TsingTao Beer (I don’t think so) and about £10 for a club sandwich. I can say now with all clear conscience (and a small smattering of reverse snobbery) that it not going to happen.
I only paid £2.50 for a club sandwich in India when I was living in a suite of one the best Hyderabad 5 star hotels (it wasn’t very good though) so I am not paying £10 in China. However I digress, which is a pretty standard state of affairs, and as usual I am apologetically unapologetic about the fact (after the fact). To further digress and just to push home the point I bought 3 cans (cold ones) of the same beer from the shop on the corner about an hour ago from a very nice man for 50p each, they are assisting me with these prose as I type.
So it came to pass that I found myself on the usual aimless food ramble around the streets close to the hotel. On days like this I feel like the ant that is sent out to look for food sources in the nearby area. On principle I feel that I cannot really come all the way to China and eat in the hotel, even though it is a really nice 5 star hotel that my company has kindly encamped me into. I am just too frugal and I will not pay over the odds even with someone else’s money.
It didn’t take too long to remember that my smattering of Chinese doesn’t really assist at the best of times, I can ask for toilet paper, count to 8 (it used to be to 20), and say no (which helps with the hawkers)
I ended up at the doors of the Shanghai Snack restaurant in a shopping mall at Jianingna Youyi Square just off Renmin South Road opposite the Guomao Subway stop. After a few failed attempts at other similar establishments, to explain myself to the good folk of Shenzhen that I required a dumpling. It was little fancier than I was hoping for, but I was quite taken with the picture of the lady in the window, she reminded me of Wendy from the same named hamburger chain in the states.
I just had to have the “Hot and Sour Soup” as it is something I always used to get as a hangover cure in Chinatown when I was a little worse for wear after an evening in New York. That used to be in the ‘Excellent Dumpling House’ on Lafayette, I had to see what it really should taste like when in China.
It was everything that I hoped for and so much more. It was a thick deep and earthy taste, almost pungent. It was bitter, almost too bitter, I had never tasted anything that I can compare to. It seemed to be on the verge of being unpleasant, but it wasn’t, I know that makes no sense whatsoever. I was spooning it in, scoop after scoop. The heat was there as well, so different from that I which I ate in NYC ChinaTown. It was spicy but not a chilli spice, no it was quite different, it made your mouth and throat tickle but it was so moorish, so kind of unbearably bearable you just couldn’t stop, even though it did hurt a little, it tasted and felt so good. Not only that but also, the bowl was filled with what I thought were wood eared mushrooms, strips of some sort of tofu and some other Chinese mushrooms and bits that I half recognised. It was all pretty filling and was only prices at 16 RMB which works out at about £1.60 with the current exchange rate.
Next to arrive was a dish of steamed pork mince dumplings. The dumpling casing was soft and juicy, almost silken. The filling was tasty, and I hate to say, not quite as good as I hoped, it was a bit runny I wanted more texture, I suppose I wanted what I know which is the dumplings from the Excellent Dumpling House. I wasn’t too upset though these were mighty fine and probably as they should be. It was just that after having being totally blow away by the Hot and Sour Soup I was so expectant to be moved by my dumplings that I just over reached in my mind and they fell a little short. Having said that these were just 18 RMD a mere £1.80. How can that be wrong?
That is OK though, we cannot win all the time, and tomorrow and the next day, and probably the one after that I will be eating more dumplings on the streets of Shenzhen and we shall see what the streets have to offer.