After visiting the famous Chaozhou bridge, we headed through the old city gate and entered the Old Town area.
We walked around a bit, occasionally popping into shops to take a look at the local handicrafts. The day was brutally hot and humid, even for the locals. So it wasn’t before long that we decided to seek refuge indoors – somewhere that we can sit for a bit and fill our tummies, and most importantly, somewhere with air conditioning.
The Old City area has many Chaozhou “small eats” restaurants. From what I could see, they all looked more or less the same with the same type of food. So there’s not a particular one I recommend. We were lured into a random one with the promise of air conditioning in the upstairs private room.
Sufficiently cooled, it was time to decide on our order. A lot of the food is new to both of us, so Susan and Lydia did the only reasonable thing: order a plate of everything. Of course.
Chaozhou is from the Guangdong province of China and the cuisine is pretty unique to the area. It’s one of the great 8 regional cuisines of China. It’s more delicate, focusing on mostly fresh ingredients for flavor, as opposed to heavy sauces or seasoning. I would say the flavor profile leans more towards the slightly sweet side. The result is very mild (read: sometimes bland) flavors, but fresh and considered to be more healthy since there’s not heavy oil or sauces used.
*since I procrastinate way too much on writing up these posts, I had forgotten what a few of these dishes were. Luckily, Susan was happy to help fill in the lapses in my memory so I can present the most accurate information!
First to come is a bowl of appetizer soup for everyone. This is a slightly sweet soup with rice balls (tang yuan), white woodear, and sweet red dates. The rice balls have sweet fillings, such as black sesame or peanut paste.
If you’re not Chinese, you may never have heard of woodear. It’s a type of mushroom/fungus that’s thin and kind of resembles a bath loofah in its dried state. The texture is a bit crunchy and jelly-like. It’s believed to have medicinal purposes like cooling the body. I can tell you that this soup was perfect on a hot day. I slurped down both mine and D’s.
Soon, a steady stream of plates arrived to our table.
Fried taro cubes – the taro itself is plain in flavor but these are crusted with a sugar layer. Told you they like their food sweet here.
Pork trotter jelly – yep, it’s what it sounds like. The lower grade meat (such as trotters and skin) are boiled in water with spices for so long that the collagen and gelatin dissolve into the broth, which then can be cooled and set into a jelly.
Brief interruption here for a group photo:
And now, back to regularly scheduled foodgramming:
Oyster omelette – I’ve had this in Taipei before. It wasn’t my favorite then and it still isn’t my favorite now. It’s a pancake made with flour + egg batter, which would be delicious, if not for the oysters hidden within every bite…
Chaozhou is located next to the ocean and is actually directly across from the island of Taiwan, so it’s not surprising that they share some cultural similarities. Seafood is a big part of Chaozhou cuisine, but unfortunately, I’ve never been that much of a fan.
Crispy spring rolls
Side note: I really love how Susan, Lydia, and their families didn’t think I was weird for taking photos of all the foods. In fact, they encouraged it, pushing each plate to me for photos as they arrived. I think they are excited to get a little exposure for their town. :)
Beef meatball soup
Fried radish balls
Sticky rice sausages – these were SO good! Sticky rice, chestnuts, corn, mushrooms, and ham stuffed inside of pork intestine casing, then boiled, sliced, and drizzled with a slightly sweetened sauce.
Little rice flour bites with salted pickled radishes – this reminded me of banh beo in Vietnam. A little sweet, a little salty, a little sour… delicious!
Pan-fried dumplings – we got two different fillings: bamboo shoots and egg + chives. These are different from the dumplings I’m used to because the wrappers are made from rice flour instead of wheat. This makes the wrappers a little stickier and chewier.
Pan-fried radish cakes
Oh look, we were responsible and got a plate of veggies too :P
Sweet and sour meatballs – this was probably one of the most interesting dishes. Meatballs coated with batter and lightly fried. When I asked what was inside, Susan told me it’s minced pork, mati (马蹄), and onions. Mati?? As in horse hooves?! Luckily, no. That’s just another word for ‘water chestnuts’.
And lastly, a Chaozhou specialty: roast goose.
A picture of the spread of all the dishes:
It looked like a lot of food, but we polished off every last bite. I remember being absolutely stuffed. And with full tummies, we were off once again to brave the sweltering heat…
I feel so lucky to have experienced Chaozhou and its food. I don’t think Chaozhou is a place on most people’s China itinerary. Even for someone from China, I’ve never even heard of it. This was a short visit, but I feel like I walked away with a much better understanding of this city’s culture, history, and food. And many, many thanks to Susan, Lydia, and their families for the wonderful day!
Have you had any food similar to any of these before?
Linking up with Monday Escapes.