South China

Exploring Huaqiangbei, one of the world’s largest electronics markets

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Ah, the joys of living in a Tier 1 Chinese city. So many exciting things to see and do. This week I paid a visit to one of the highlights of this glorious city: Huaqiangbei (华强北)  is the largest electronics market in China, and one of the biggest on this very earth. Huaqiangbei is home to electronics of every category including computers, smartphones, helicopter drones, RC anything, cameras, you name it! I thought it might be fun to show the world just what this exciting market is like.

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Huaqiangbei has a number of different buildings that have their own markets – some corporate name brands with very recognizable names such as Asus, Dell, Samsung, etc. Other buildings will have few brand names and be full of hundreds of independent resellers pushing products of questionable quality.

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Some of the more recognizable corporate names at Huaqiangbei

There are also plenty of popular Western and Chinese restaurants here. Burger King is here and in fashion. There are a number of pizza places and food courts serving plenty of different cuisines so you’ll find no shortage of delectable eats here also. However, people don’t come here for food. They come here for electronics. And RC products. Lots of RC products.

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A cute little drone quadcopter following me around. Were his intentions sinister?

Now the main and biggest market at Huaqiangbei is located inside the SEG building. This iconic building is insanely tall and has a history of both shady and good deals. Here are a couple pictures from inside the SEG building below. I wanted to give a better tour of this building in the YouTube video (Located below) but security actually gave me problems with filming, so I had to keep it on the down low.

Overall I had an enjoyable little walk around tour of Huaqiangbei – in the past I have bought many things from here including my current camera (My Canon G7x). Some important tips to remember here:

  • Question the great deal you’re about to get. There are a lot of fakes so it is important to make sure whatever you are buying is genuine. If you see an iPhone for 400 RMB, it is fake.
  • Don’t forget to bargain – never pay the first price that is asked. You can’t do this at corporate stores, but all independent resellers will try to give you the highest price first. Offering half of what they are asking is usually a pretty good strategy.
  • Pay especially close attention to independent resellers. Corporate stores are often 100% legitimate, but even corporate stores can be fake! Yes, there have been fake Apple stores, no joke. Copyright infringement is absolutely rampant in China. I knew someone that bought a Xiaomi Hongmi note from an actual Xiaomi store from Huaqiangbei and it was a fake repackaged old Samsung, so be careful!

Check out my video tour of Huaqiangbei below on my YouTube channel!

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Eating some late night Chinese Barbecue in Shenzhen

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One of the coolest things about China is how vibrant things can be late at night. Of course, it depends what part of the city you’re in but in most parts, there is usually a late night area with street barbecue that runs into the late hours of the night, sometimes as late as 3-5 AM! It was about midnight last night when we developed some strong barbecue cravings, so we decided to head down to one of our local barbecue spots at Dafen here in the city of Shenzhen. Chinese saokao (烧烤, or barbecue) is absolutely delicious, and I intend to show you just how delicious! First, have a peek at some of the things we had to eat that night:

 

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A picture of our barbecue selections

We went to our local barbecue spot (In truth, it was our first time going there since we moved to this new part of town) and checked out what they were offering. We stacked up everything in the basket and gave it to the laoban, and watched them cook it.

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My mouth was watering as I watched them cook over the hot grill

The first thing to sample was an appetizer. We had ordered some dried squid with wasabi and soy sauce, known as youyu (鱿鱼). This had the consistency of something like  beef jerky, but with a seafood flavor. When you dip it in the wasabi and soy sauce together, it has a real kick to your nostrils!

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Dried squid – delicious and with the wasabi, painful in the nasal area!

The first two things I had tried were the enoki mushrooms (金针菇) and shiitake mushrooms (香菇). I love all shrooms, as they help you to see life clearly! Barbecued mushrooms are no exception, especially when they are topped with special lajiao. After that came tofu (豆腐)that is covered in some kind of spicy orange sauce and also barbecued. Very delicious – much tastier than plain old tofu, that’s for sure!  Following the tofu was some spring onions (韭菜) that were delightfully tasty and flavorful. Of course they were covered in oil and barbecued, so they tasted much better than raw!

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Enoki and shiitake mushrooms, with tofu and spring onions.

Next up was some koi fish (开心鱼). Now I really had no idea what exactly this skewer was when I saw it. I thought it might be dried shrimp that was barbecued. When we got home and looked it up, I was surprised to find out that it was in fact koi fish.

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Trying koi fish for the first time.

Upon trying this dish, it reminded me a lot more of fish jerky than anything. Overall a nice fishy flavor with that dried chewiness that we so love in jerky.

The last couple dishes were chicken and fish. The chicken (鸡腿) was fantastic. The meat was nice and juicy and tender, some of the skin was crispy, and the lajiao had my mouth on fire at the same time. The fish, which we found out was actually called Ribbonfish (I had thought it was just mackerel) was the best dish of the night, however. The skin was very crispy, the fish meat was pleasant and soft, and the best part is they took out the bones. I rarely eat fish in China because of the strong presence of bones – which I hate! Any Chinese fish dish where the bones are removed is worth 5 stars to me!

Above are the chicken and fish dishes – click the pictures for a bigger view! That was all we ate that night, and my was it good! The total for the bill came out to 62 RMB, or $9.48 USD! What a steal! Check out the video of this Chinese barbecue adventure on my YouTube channel, below! Please subscribe if you enjoy the content! What do you think of Chinese barbecue? Do you enjoy it? Please let me know in the comments!

Chang fen: A Chinese breakfast staple

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This morning I returned to my local laoban to do a Chinese food video about breakfast. Today we had chang fen (肠粉) which is a common breakfast dish made with rice paste, eggs, vegetables, and ground pork covered in a pork fat broth with soy sauce and chopped garlic. I probably have chang fen at least once a week living here. I find it to be a relatively healthy option – as this is steamed and not fried, and I enjoy eating as healthy as I can.

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The laoban adds rice paste (Ground up rice with water added) to one of the steam trays.

To make chang fen, a large multi-layer steam rack is used. Generally they start by pouring rice paste and covering the tray with it, and then adding ground pork, a few vegetables and cracking an egg or two on top. The mixture is stirred around and sent into the steamer for less than a minute. When it comes out, it is scraped off and set onto a serving plate.

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Sending a tray of chang fen in the steamer

When it comes out, it is quite a pretty sight to behold. The taste of chang fen is interesting to say the least. The texture is sort of a thin jello-ey texture that without the sauce is not exactly bursting with flavor. Rice paste is of course made of white rice, and as we all know white rice has a fairly brand and neutral flavor. However when it is coupled with vegetables, meat, and a nice pork broth with garlic and some chili sauce on top, the flavors go a million ways! The pork broth gives a rich decadent flavor especially when you get those chunks of ground pork in the bite. Grasping some chopped chilis with your chopsticks in a bite adds a spicy aspect to this dish as well.

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Chang fen in all its steamed glory

I also blogged about chang fen back in April, you can see that post here: Chang fen: A cheap, delicious and exotic breakfast in China. Don’t forget to check out the video from this morning’s breakfast which includes video of the cooking process and tasting, from my YouTube channel! Please like/subscribe if you enjoy the content!

Chang fen: A cheap, delicious and exotic breakfast in China.

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This morning I felt like going down the street to my local laoban (The boss of an establishment in China, in this case the boss of a restaurant) and ordering a bit of Chang fen.

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Chang fen (肠粉) is a very common breakfast in China. It is made with rice paste (Rice ground up in a machine and mixed with water) eggs, meat, and vegetables. The way they cook it is by steaming it in a multirack steamer. They crack an egg on a cooking tray, mix in the rice paste, spoon in some ground pork, a couple vegetables and send it in the steamer for a very short time.

When it comes out of the steamer, they pour on top a sauce which is a mixture of soy sauce, oil and water and garlic. When served, I recommend adding a dash of chinese chilis, lajiao (辣椒) to give it a little more kick and flavor. When I came in the restaurant with my girlfriend this morning, the laoban gave us 2 complimentary drinks of dou jiang, 豆浆, or hot soybean milk!

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dou jiang, 豆浆, hot soybean milk. Sweet creamy and delicious!

The soybean milk is probably the most common drink at breakfast for Chinese people. It can be served hot and cold, and is very refreshing either way.

When you bite into chang fen for the first time, it might seem a bit plain. It is a breakfast food that can be done very poorly, or very graciously! I have had terrible chang fen, and mind blowing chang fen. This restaurant is up there with high quality, but not quite the best. However, the cost is just amazing. One order of chang fen at most places in the city runs for about 4 ¥, or ~.64 USD! I got two eggs with mine, so mine was 5¥, about .80 cents. For the two of us it was only 9¥ total, ~$1.50! The soybean milk was complimentary but normally costs around 2¥, .32 cents.

To describe the taste, think of rice. The base of this dish is a rice paste, so think of rice but in sheets instead of rice grains. The texture is different, but the flavor is a bit plain and the same as eating white rice. This is why they have the sauce served with it to give it more flavor, and also adding lajiao or cilantro on top is a good way to bring out the flavor.

Overall I definitely recommend trying chang fen if you are in China, or even recommend it as a daily breakfast if you live here. It is cheap, delicious, and relatively healthy compared to most foods on the street. I’ll leave you with a recipe for two bean spicy beef chili, which is episode 5 on my cooking show (The lighting in this episode is not very good, I apologize for that, but in all episodes after the lighting issue is fixed 🙂

Eating Guangdong food at Wuhe, Shenzhen

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Yesterday I went down to Wuhe, an area near the Bao’An district in the city of Shenzhen. Wuhe is a cool place, there are a lot of street food and restaurants there and the area has a very homey feeling to it. Instead of opting for ultra-cheap street food which I have done in the last couple articles, I thought we would kick it up a notch and go to more of a full service Guangdong restaurant. This was nothing fancy by any means but we had a number of dishes  and the total bill was still only 57 RMB (A little less than $10 USD)

While looking at the menu, my girlfriend propositioned me and told me that I should try a century old egg, also known as a pi dan, 皮蛋. I was very intimidated and worried that the food was unsafe to consume. After doing relatively thorough research on whether the food was safe to eat, I discovered that despite its various nicknames, it is not actually one hundred or a thousand years old. The eggs are preserved and fermented using ingredients such as wood and ash for weeks, or months. After confirming that the food was “perfectly safe” to eat, we decided to order that and some other dishes as well. Here is the picture of the entire, modest meal.

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A photo of our 57RMB lunch (Less than $10) from a Guangdong restaurant in Wuhe, Shenzhen.

So let me describe the rest of the dishes for you. On the far right is zhu rou zheng mi fen, 豬肉蒸米粉, which is a steamed rice noodle dish with pork covering the top. Directly next to that is jian jiao (煎餃子) also known as fried dumplings. These particular dumplings were filled with mushrooms and pork. In the smaller dish to the left of the jian jiao is the pi dan (The century old egg I was just talking about) and above that dish is tang cu yu kuai (糖醋魚塊) which is fried and battered fish covered in a sweet and sour sauce. Not pictured here is ji zhua, also known as chicken feet (鸡爪) as the waitress was taking a long time and hadn’t served that dish yet. I guess I forgot to capture the picture when it finally did come. Oh well. However, you can definitely see it in the new video I just uploaded to my  YouTube channel talking about this very lunch! Check it out here:

The steamed pork noodles were good – the noodles were sort of chewy and the meat was nice and fatty. No complex flavors, but it’s also not a very complex dish. The fried dumplings were great, as they always are, and I love how when dumplings are fried, though it isn’t good for you, it always makes the outer part of the dumpling nice and crispy. Coupled with that lajiao that had vinegar in it turned it into a wonderful, sour yet spicy flavor. I am not a huge fan of chicken feet because of the bones but this chicken feet was very good. It was also covered in pickled peppercinis, a feature I really enjoyed. The fish was the only lacking dish out of the rest. The fish was full of bones when they told us there weren’t any (Pretty typical in China, though) the fish wasn’t crispy at all, and honestly didn’t have that much flavor. It wasn’t terrible, but not very good. And finally, the moment of truth came when I would sample my first pi dan, the century old egg!

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A close up of the century old egg, the pi dan

 

I was more nervous than anything to take my first bite of this aged egg. I felt better when I learned that it is not actually years old but only weeks to months. When I took my first bite (Video linked to my YouTube channel!) I was pleasantly surprised. What I tasted was much more pleasant than I had ever believed it would be. It tastes a lot like a salted duck egg but (Thankfully) not nearly as salty. I also noticed it had a very creamy texture, that is actually very delicious. It sits in a broth with soy sauce and vinegar and is covered in diced red chiles, and sliced green onions. The sauce gives quite a bite to the egg overall. In conclusion, I was very surprised that I didn’t wince at the first bite!

That’s all for today, but I’d also like to leave you with Episode 4 of my cooking show, The Laowai Chef. On episode 4 I made some Mexican food, Steak Nachos with Guacamole. Check it out!

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Steak Nachos with Guacamole, a recipe from my YouTube channel.