The first Shenzhen temple fair to welcome the Spring Festival has added to the festive air with a full and colorful array of local nosh from different parts of China.
The temple fair opened Wednesday in the western square of Shenzhen Stadium. It features a merchandise expo, where a wide variety of goods are sold, including Chinese handicrafts, children’s toys and clothes and other items people will buy to celebrate the Spring Festival.
Above all, however, the biggest attraction is food in the form of various snacks, savory buns, bowls of noodles, tasty tidbits and kebabs.
Kebabs seem a popular snack this year in Shenzhen. Their culinary treatment and flavor may differ slightly, as I was once told that kebabs from Xinjiang were tastier while those from Inner Mongolia more juicy and tender.
The presence of kebabs in the fair has resulted in hot competition among similar stalls. But the chefs seem unaware of their rivals. They are cheerfully preparing the food, with a certain amount of showmanship, to impress their customers and attract the passers-by.
The weirdest street food may be fried insects. At one stall, a middle-aged man, who spoke with a heavy Beijing accent, tried to convince spectators of the health-improving qualities of those terrifying worms. Apparently eating grasshoppers, scorpions and silkworms is good for health.
To me, the insects look too weird to be eaten. But they obviously appeal to some people and a temple fair is not complete unless there are plenty of tasty things to eat. Almost everywhere I went, the aroma of cooking food filled the air.
Small buns stuffed with juicy and sweet meat are a celebrated food in Shanghai. At the fair I saw a man in a yellow jacket walking up to a stall and ask, in Shanghai dialect, for such buns.
He told me that since he worked nearby and would planned to have lunch at the temple fair every day until the event’s conclusion. “My hometown is very near Shanghai. The bun is a best remedy to my homesickness,” said the man.
Such a food fair without Sichuan flavor would be incomplete. This year the hot and spicy Sichuan food seems not as popular as Xinjiang kebabs, but there are still a handful of stalls at the fair striving to make their Sichuan food better than their competitors’.
Besides those fundamental but tempting snacks like noodles, wontons and stuffed dumplings, more revamped traditional nosh has appeared to lure customers. One is “bamboo-flavored meat,” which is steamed meat, mushrooms and glutinous rice stuffed in a section of small bamboo.
A creative form of red bean jelly served in a tiny earthenware pot attracted many young girls. The jelly is made of water chestnut powder and is a traditional Cantonese dessert.
The list of novel or strange snacks is very long. Other specialties from different provinces are also here to join the food parade. Among them, there is tea from Fujian, sausages from Guangdong, dates and walnut from Shanxi, hazelnuts from Northeast China and hawthorn from Hebei.
China’s temple fair first started in Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Originally it was held from the first day to the 15th day of the first lunar month, an ideal occasion for the Chinese people to enjoy the celebrations of the Spring Festival.
This temple fair in Shenzhen is endowed with a modern touch. Hotdogs and ice cream from the United States, roast squid from South Korea, egg tarts from Macao and coffee from Brazil can be found on display with local Chinese food.
(Southcn.com January 27, 2003)