On a recent business trip to China I had the good fortune to be taken, off the beaten track, to a little bamboo shack by my hosts to try some good authentic Chinese barbecue pork ribs.
We were dropped off by our driver at the end of a makeshift road. A couple of minutes walk and the shack came into view as I asked what the symbols on the sign meant. I was told that literally it translated into “Fairy Temple Roast Chicken”…Amazing!
Inside the shack were low driftwood tables with red plastic stools around them. My host disappeared off to order as the other members of our party helped me out with the customary washing of plates, cups, bowls and implements in boiled water that is necessary due to China’s less than hygienic tap water.
Before long, large bowls and trays of food were being thrown onto our table by the waiting staff as they passed, barely breaking stride.
First up were the aforementioned Chinese BBQ Pork Spare ribs. I must say that these did not disappoint, making what you get from your local Chinese takeaway look distinctly average. They were simply perfectly barbecued, soft and tender, with a simple sauce containing honey, soy sauce and Chinese spices that they would not elaborate on. They were stunning.
Next up was something called Beggar’s Chicken, an interesting dish more because of the cooking process than anything else. The chicken is stuffed with Chinese herbs, spices and chillies and then marinated in another lot of spices before being wrapped up in tin foil. The tin foil is then covered in mud before being baked.
It is so called because of a story of a hungry beggar who stole a chicken from a poor farmer. Legend has it that whilst being chased by the farmer the beggar buried the chicken in mud next to a riverbank. Later that night he returned to the chicken’s hiding place and set the chicken atop a burning pile of twigs, resulting in a clay crust forming on top of the mud soaked chicken. When cracked open the feathers fell away to reveal aromatic tender meat. It just so happened that The Emperor was passing, stopped to dine with the beggar and declared the chicken so good that it was added to the Imperial Court menu and the beggar pulled himself out of poverty by selling the chicken to the public.
A nice story, but more importantly this was delicious chicken which lived up to its billing, aromatic and tender with some lovely heat at the end of each mouthful from the fresh oriental chilli.
Finally the last main dish, alongside some more standard barbecue chicken and egg fried rice, was something a little more out of my comfort zone. Barbecue chicken feet. That’s right, I eat these things so you don’t have to. Chicken feet are a delicacy in China and more often than not are served boiled and spiced, resulting in a pale soft dish. These however, having been barbecued, were a different proposition. Golden and crispy they were worth a try. To be honest once I got over the fact that I was having to suck meat off the individual parts of the claws, which felt a bit too much like fingers, they resembled a slightly grisly chicken wing, but harder to eat.
What a fantastic experience and such wonderful authentic Chinese food. I am glad to have had the chance to have enjoyed real simple provincial Chinese food. You often hear horror stories about frog soup or snake and I am sure those are available to those who go looking, but these were a lovely introduction into the beautiful unpretentious Chinese cooking.