North beef-south beef – carnivorizing about in Shenzhen

When I was first learning Chinese in Taiwan, I remember being told that one of the teachers (who I didn’t know) had become gravely ill because of “wind.” This of course put my imagination on edge – was it pollution? extreme flatulence? They couldn’t explain, and I couldn’t ask.

I discovered the answer some years later, when I went to teach English at a school of Chinese medicine in Shandong. “Wind” in fact has many specific meanings in Chinese medicine, as do other ideas like “lethargy” or “heat.”

People often talk about “rising heat” (上火), which is not so much an affliction as a condition, specifically one of imbalance, often (but not always) caused by eating too many “hot” foods. These would include meat, especially sheep, but also some fruits like lychees. Rising heat will give you pimples, sore throat and shortness of breath, and the way to get rid of it is dissipate the heat. Some foods like ginger are very good for this, which is why ginger tea is so good for an oncoming cold.

My reason for bringing all this up is that like all food, Chinese people think about meat in a specific nutritional context. Beef (we knew we would get there eventually!) is a warming food. That’s why it is good for the elderly or ill. It’s also why it is often paired with ginger, not just for the taste, but to balance out the excess.

I knew that Cantonese food included a lot beef, but I have been surprised at how common, and how good the beef is in Shenzhen. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised, since this whole area has a long history of trading beef cows.

The taste is clearly different than the beef I had in Hulunbuir, though I can’t really explain how, especially since it is cooked so differently. Yesterday I had hot pot, which is of course the most common way to eat beef or lamb, but what was interesting was the way the meat itself was prepared. In most places, you get meat that’s been frozen and thinly sliced, which produces a kind of melting effect. Here, it’s all fresh meat that is hanging up in the front entrance, you point to the piece you like and they prepare it for you. It’s still very thin, and very soft, but has a much meatier quality.

Today I went looking for lunch, and saw this giant boiling bowl of beef bones, and inside saw a big crowd all eating rice noodle soup.

I wasn’t passing that up, and as soon as I walked in, they asked “20, 25 or 30?” Having no idea, I said 30, which worked out well, because 30 (yes, they did mean price) meant that I got soup with three items: sliced raw beef, braised intestines and beef balls. You often see this combination in pho restaurants, but the taste was different, among much else, the soup clearly had cinnamon and ginger.

And you know what it did not have? MSG! Boy did that made for a much nicer afternoon.


Shenzhen – double skin milk

Its been a couple of weeks and a few thousand kilometers since Bayannuur.

After that, I went on an epic train journey through Hohhot, Chifeng, Tongliao and Qiqihar – arriving three days and some visible beard growth later back in Hailar.

Hailar was basically the three r-s, resting, riting, and running so apart from the fact that I had fun doing all three, there isn’t much to report. After a couple of weeks, I finally got back on a plane and headed to Shenzhen, crossed into HK and ended up at the Hyatt, which was inexplicably not only the cheapest option, but also the one that upgraded me to a suite.

IMG_6487I subsequently moved to a cheaper option, but eventually thought since I can’t use the CUHK library on weekends, that I should get out of HK and go back over the border to Shenzhen, a place that I have repeatedly been through, but never spent any time in.

So I did, and apart from much nicer hotels (not you Hyatt, I will always love you), Shenzhen is – interesting!  I aways had the bias that Shenzhen is not worth seeing because it’s a new city, which it was when it was founded over 30 years ago. For those of you counting at home, that’s a long time, and Shenzhen is now an interesting, and pretty fun place.

Since Shenzhen is full of migrants, it has food and culture from all over China, and especially from all over Guangdong. One dish that immediately caught my attention was something called “Shunde double skin milk.” (顺德双皮奶)

This is for two reasons, first milk – duh – and second because Shunde is a place that I associate with a specialty water buffalo cheese (酪). I saw a place selling this as I walked from the train station to my hotel, and a few hours later traced my steps back.  Here’s what I found.

IMG_6505Basically it’s a steamed milk custard. I asked why it was “double” skin and nobody seemed to know. What they did know is that I should also order this:

IMG_6510That’s right kids, it’s fried milk, that same stuff you see in every American Chinese restaurant. I had always assumed that fried milk was up there with fortune cookies in its sheer fakeness. Whenever I saw it on a menu, I felt it my responsibility to roll my eyes and heave an audible sigh.

Well, it turns out I wasn’t dead, I was just in Kansas. And also fried milk is delicious. More specifically, it is delicious once. It’s pretty heavy stuff.

Double skin milk, on the other hand, yeah, I definitely wanted that again, so I went to another place that looked and was older – they have been making this same dish for twenty years. Even better than yesterday. This one was made with actual water buffalo milk, which they get delivered every morning. The taste was richer, and the skin on top was a layer of butterfat.



Recipe: Two minute avocado chocolate mousse

What? Another one? It seems you can’t take two steps on the Internet without tripping over another recipe for avocado chocolate mousse. Some are good, some – not so much.

I threw this together without a recipe in all of two minutes, and the result was surprisingly tasty. Of course, I had the benefit of starting with ice cream, but still, the result was much lighter than ice cream, but still really rich and creamy–not to mention much healthier than eating ice cream (as well as more dignified, since I tend to eat straight out of the container). All measurements are very approximate.IMG_0644

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 350 ml) softened chocolate ice cream
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz, 125 ml) applesauce
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 shot of cold espresso
  • pinch of salt

Put everything in a bowl and whip with a stick blender until smooth, trying to get as much air in the mix as you can. Check the taste, and freeze until set (about 15 minutes – if the edges freeze solid, you might hit it with the blender again) and serve it up! You can even be fancy and top with some sifted cocoa.  Seriously – two minutes.