China’s 冰糖葫芦 bīngtánghúlu are what you offer to someone who has grown tired of having teeth. I suppose you could say it’s China’s version of Coca-Cola. Basically, a skewer of bingtanghulu is a blanket of sugar around pieces of fruit.
This street food is more popular in northern China in the winter months, though I have spotted it at touristy markets during the summer, too. Since bingtanghulu is a snack in the mainland, pretty much any fruit (botanically or not) is at risk of becoming impaled on the bamboo stick. Thus, cherry tomatoes, plums, melon, kumquat, bananas, strawberries, haw, smoked duck necks – most of those, anyhow – will do. Here are an English recipe and a Chinese recipe for your indulgent pleasures.
Have you tried bingtanghulu? Would you compare it to coating baklava with a layer of spun sugar?
As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane. Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.
In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) / 唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).
Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct. Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.
Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments. Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.” Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology. For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.
With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.
What?! A paifang in China? Of course! This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen. If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.
My introduction to 馒头 (mántou), steamed wheat bread originally from northern China, is actually one of my fondest food memories. In 2004 I visited Singapore with my dad, and a couple of natives invited us to try chili crab. Not only was the crab delicious – but it was equally fun to sop up the chili sauce with fried mantou.
It’s easy to satisfy salty and umami cravings in China, but what if wanted to grab me somethin’ sweet?
From having lived all over Shenzhen, China – a city built by and on internal migration – I had come to get familiar with menus from regional Chinese cuisines. However, based on those experiences, there seemed to be no better way to conclude a meal drowned in reused cooking oil and loaded with MSG than by getting served A) sliced tomatoes covered in granulated sugar, B) caramelized potatoes that will singe your mouth or C) durian anything.
Or, occasionally, there was choice D) fried (金炸 jīnzhà) mantou with 炼奶 (liànnǎi), or sweetened condensedmilk.
Have you tried this combo before? If you’re really looking to overdo it, order it with can of root beer.