S to the Z

Shenzhen is one of China’s designated “special economic zones“.  It’s right across the border, and for me that means ready access to dirt-cheap massages, trinkets, DVDs, and Chinese food.

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On the strength of a recommendation by the Shangri-La lobby, we hit up a Sichuan place popular with local businessmen and tasted dishes across the menu.  Cold spicy (ma la) buckwheat noodles with shredded chicken.

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Cold noodles with a garlic-sesame sauce.

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Wood ear fungus marinated with vinegar, a nice respite from the heat of some of the other dishes.

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Another cold dish featuring an unknown vegetable that tasted like a very mild (young?) celery.

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Sweet potato fritters — pillowy deep-fried dough puffs, whats not to like?

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Vegetarian ma po do fu — a balanced level of spiciness and tofu that is soft but with body are essential to good mpdf, imo.  This dish had both.

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Salty fried string beans — a bit limp (oil not hot enough before frying?) but tasty nevertheless.

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Squirrel fish — as I learned, squirrel does not refer to the species but to the form of preparation.  The flesh of the body appears to be turned inside out and scored in a criss-cross pattern such that when the fish is deep-fried, the end product resembles the tail of a squirrel.  While the presentation was impressive, this was my least favorite dish of the meal, which is doubly sad considering my love of suk yu (”cooked fish”).  The little nuggets of flesh were, well, not very fleshy, and the fish was swimming in a lake of the radioactive-orange, candy-sweet sauce that I instinctively associate with the sweet and sour meat dishes popularized by Westernized Chinese restaurants with cringeworthy names like Ruby Palace.  This sauce has a time and place — for instance, it goes really well with deep-fried pork or pork spareribs, which can stand up to its potent, syrupy sweetness — but it just doesn’t make much sense to me to dress fish with it.

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Funny aside: the restaurant is on a street named ai guo lu — literally, ”love country road.”  Oh, China.

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