I am so lucky in that, within a month of my arrival in Guangzhou, I’ve already had a visitor from home!

I’m also lucky that she’s an explorer, so we got to see a bit of the city which I haven’t yet seen.  After meeting up with her family one morning for an excursion to the leather market (see: jewelry market, but with leather) and a hearty cantonese lunch, we stumbled upon some sidestreets which led to a complex maze of alleyways.  Were we in the ghettoes of Guangzhou?  Maybe.  But it was fun.  Thanks Tammy for coming to see me!

Meat Cookies

The Chinese do a lot of things right- math, gymnastics, fireworks….when it comes to food, there’s no shortage of success in Chinese cuisine, either.  I mean, c’mon, noodles?  Get out of town, there is no competition for hand pulled spicy beef noodle soup!

Like every other country, there are regional specialties within the cuisine.  Given the expanse that is China, there are obviously hundreds of regional delights found in the country.  Southern China in particular, where I am at, is known for its epicurean bravado- something that I’ve consistently thanked since I’ve been here.  It’s been said that the Cantonese will eat anything with legs, except a table, and anything with wings, except a plane.  People eat on the side of the road, they eat at all times of day, they eat not only to satiate their hungers but to sustain their health and to cure their ailments.  Food symbolizes wealth, it symbolizes generosity and hospitality.  The way they do food here is legit.

Growing up with Chinese food (and here I am certainly using the word generally and inclusively) I’d like to say that I am pretty familiar with most tastes and textures of the cuisine, and don’t really get weirded out by most things.  I mean, I love chicken feet, I love sweet red bean soup, I love pigs feet roasted braised in soy and star anise!!!!  So last weekend, when I was in Zhongshan and at a restaurant specializing in Cantonese delights, I was excited at the prospect to try some of the many famed regional specialties- sweet pineapple buns, roasted pigeon, a big ball of fried dough (more on this some other time)….

hollow globe of fried dough, the centerpiece of the table.

…and meat cookies.  I like dim sum.  Rather, I love dim sum.  I’ve eaten meat buns and meat biscuits, so when I was told there was a regional specialty called a meat cookie, I figured it couldn’t be too far from anything I’ve ever eaten.  Now, in chinese, the locals explained this so-called meat cookie literally translates into “chicken (something) biscuit”.  But ironically, no chicken is found anywhere in the biscuit.  Rather, it is a pork mixture topped with a pastry glaze.  A mixture of salty and sweet, I was told.  When this was explained to me, I pictured a juicy, savory meatball covered with a fine phyllo-like pastry brushed with a sweet glaze.  Yum!  Salty and Sweet, just like kettle corn.

Although we tried many things at our table that night, the meat cookie was sadly not one of them.  But fear not fellow foodies!  This restaurant was part restaurant and part foodie delight take-home playland, where you could watch the regional delights being made as well as order them to take home.  The DiploMan and I spent half an hour after dinner and ended up taking home half a dozen meat cookies, along with sticky rice stuffed in bamboo leaves, meat dumplings wrapped in fish skin, and pineapple buns- quite greedy of us, yes.  Regretful?  Never.

meat cookies, fresh out of the oven next to a batch of pineapple buns

The next day for lunch, I toasted these meat cookies- in our American, Black&Decker; toaster oven (some things just cannot be compromised, my friends).  They looked just like they did when they came out of the oven the first time around- warm to the touch, crispy on the outside and slightly browned.  I took a bite, chewed for a bit, chewed some more…..

It was gross.  I spit it out.  The meat part was a super sweet, gelatinous piece of chewy cookie, similar to the taste and texture of a pork flavored jelly belly, if there was one.  The sweetness stayed in your mouth along with an odd, fatty pork feeling and taste.  It was the most confusing bite I’ve ever had.  I stand by my statement that the Chinese do a lot of things right, but the meat cookie is certainly not one of them,