Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Chinese Hamburger

When I used to live across town from the university where I taught, I would often stop on my cycle home to eat a snack which is the closest thing I've found to a Chinese hamburger (in a good way). Most days this snack vendor was there, next to a bus-stop on the road running along the river, and at rush hour they did a pretty brisk trade among the commuters.

What first caught my attention and caused me to pull over somewhat recklessly, were the many small bamboo steamers built into the vendor's portable stall, stacked several high and now and then emitting little puffs of steam. Once I'd got closer, I saw that the snack itself consisted of a small pouch of flat bread, stuffed with chucks of beef that was cooked in the tiny steamers with ground rice and chillies. Once this mixture was done, it was placed into a small bowl and mixed together with spring onions, fresh coriander, more chili powder, and ground Sichuan pepper; the finished mixture was then stuffed into the pouch of bread, and was thus ready to eat. The result, was totally delicious � slightly spicy, slightly numbing, but also wonderfully fresh-tasting from the coriander and garlic.

Since I moved house a couple of months ago, I don't go up to the river so much, and so don't get to eat this snack as often as I'd like. The other day however, I set off at 5pm with camera in hand and a mission: to eat the snack again, take a photo of the stall and, most importantly, find out it's name.

The lovely couple running the stall, Mr Pa and Sister Zao remembered me, and happily posed for photos. They are there everyday, they told me, from 5pm till 8.30pm, with another hour in the afternoon spent by the gates of a big middle school up the road. And the snack's name, it emerged, is zheng long niu rou ga bing (蒸笼 牛肉旮饼), a name not easily translated (ga means corner/nook/recess/out-of-the-way place), so I will for the sake of convenience just call it 'steamed beef bread pouches'!. I should also add that the snack is actually not native to Chengdu, but, as it's sign proudly proclaims, is a 'Famous Leshan Snack' (Leshan is a city about 2 hours south of Chengdu, famous for being the site of Dafo, the tallest stone Buddha in the world).

The snack was easily as good, if not better than I remember it, and I happily munched away while sitting by the river. There is another snack in Chengdu which I've heard referred to as the Chinese hamburger � a rather greasy concoction of egg, dough and minced pork � but I much prefer this version.

Steamed Beef Pouch stall

Corner of Bin Jiang Xi Lu and Jiangxi Jie


Everyday, 5pm till 8.30pm

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