This is the second post that's part of a larger series about my trip to Xiamen, China. Other posts in this series include A Weekend Trip to Xiamen China
Hello Xiamen STREET FOOD!
Xiamen is known most for its fresh seafood, abundant tropical fruits, and lively street food scene. The warm climate, clean beaches, and lush gardens draw vacationers from all over China. Hot weather during the day means outdoor night markets and street food stalls don't come alive until around sundown.
There are many places where you can get street food in Xiamen. The most famous one is Zhongshan Road, which is huge, crowded, and has tons of different eateries. However, there are many others as well, such as the smaller and cuter "Cat Street" or Ding 'ao zai Street, Longtou Road on Gulangyu Island, or Zeng Cuo An Village, a former fishing village turned trendy artsy neighborhood with a vibrant nightlife.
There are all sorts of crazy street food, from barbecued meat on skewers, black stinky tofu, oyster pancakes, and even worm jelly (!) to sweet cold bean soups, tropical fruits, and the locally famous shā chá noodles. Xiamen definitely reminds me of Taiwan in some ways, which is not a surprise, considering that the two regions are just across the Taiwan strait from each other and they both speak the Minnan dialect.
We tried many different types of street food during our trip. Here's a look at some of the most interesting ones!
Sa Cha Mian 沙茶面
This flavorful Fujian seafood noodle soup is made with Chinese satay (沙茶 /shā chá) in a laksa style broth. There's usually plenty of seafood, as well as curry, shrimp paste, and Chinese satay sauce, which all contribute to the intensely rich and flavorful pork or chicken based broth. We enjoyed ours on "Cat Street" or Ding 'ao zai Street, a popular and buzzing place filled with various shops and casual street eateries at night.
One of the most unusual things I tried was the Sipunculid worm jelly (!) (土筍凍 / tú sǔn dòng). It some ways I'm glad I didn't know what I was eating when I tried it, because I think I would have been grossed out! These sea worms, when boiled, give off a lot of collagen, which solidifies into these nice gelatinous cakes which you can serve with soy sauce, vinegar, cilantro, and hot sauce! I was tricked by the euphemistic name for these worms, which literally translates to frozen dirt bamboo. I thought I was eating some sort of land bamboo . . . heh . . .
Xiamen is on the other side of Taiwan just across the strait, so the two sides share many types of food. The Xiamen version of oyster pancake or oyster omelet, which is a very popular street snack, is very similar to the Taiwanese version and also quite tasty. These were all over the city and were a super popular item.
I had many of these while in Xiamen, though my favorite ones are still from Taiwan.
Another quintessential and famous dessert sold at various street stalls in Fujian Province is 四果湯 / sì guǒ tāng, literally means four fruit soup. It includes a mixture of “fruits” (your choice of mix-ins include things like mung bean, red bean, mochi balls, nuts) mixed with this jelly shaved off this huge block.
The final step involves pouring in either coconut milk, milk, or milk tea. Add some ice, and it is a fantastically refreshing way to cool down on a hot day in southern China! This was definitely one of my favorite things that I got multiple times while in Xiamen.
Tofu pudding in the US is typically plain or served with a simple sweetened ginger sauce. In China, tofu pudding comes with all different types of toppings and flavors (even exotic ones like mango and mint!). In Xiamen we tried one topped with red bean, which was deliciously refreshing.
Some of the best food we had were at off-the-beaten path places away from tourist areas. This pan of simply stir fried clams in an ocean-side village at a cultural heritage park honoring the women of Hui’an was simply astounding. There are a lot of places in Xiamen that just take fresh seafood (often in tanks right in front of the restaurant!) and cook it for you. Fresh, simple, and delicious.
Food in Xiamen
I can't claim to be an expert on Xiamen food. After all, I only spent a few days in the city. However, my general impression is that food in Xiamen is unpretentious, fresh, and simple. My favorite meal was actually a home cooked meal of Xiamen favorites at Bryan's uncle's home (next post!). The ingredients available locally (especially the seafood!) are top notch, and when cooked right, are hard to beat.
The Xiamen street food is famous (and most English language blog posts will talk extensively about the same few famous food streets). Interestingly, locals told us they tended to stay away from these touristy places. They opted instead eat at more local places or just cook their own fresh food from the market. They said eating street food all the time was bad for your stomach (ha ha, I guess I wouldn't be surprised), and touristy places tended to be expensive and not that great. One local guy even asked, "why are you eating here? the food in Hong Kong is so much better . . . "
My personal impression is that the street food in Xiamen is fun and quite tasty, but doesn't necessarily stand out from other similar areas in other parts of China. Sure, there are some local snacks that are special and worth trying (ha ha, hello worm jelly!). All kidding aside, I did enjoy the fresh cut tropical fruits (so cheap!), cooling down with four "fruit" soup dessert, and eating freshly fried oyster pancakes. All in all, though, Xiamen street food and night market scene still doesn't compare to Taiwan's, which I think is amongst the best in the world.
Still, Xiamen holds a special place in my heart. It's small, friendly, and approachable. I loved how GREEN the place is, with so many gardens and tree lined boulevards. It was so fun trying to talk to the locals using the Minnan dialect (Taiwanese), which worked with varying success, ha ha. They were super friendly, though. The biggest reason, of course, was that we found Bryan's roots there. We discovered and visited the home that his grandfather bought 70+ years ago. It hasn't really changed and is STILL being occupied by family members.
My next post will be about this special experience - the happenstance discovery of Bryan's family roots PLUS the best meal I had in Xiamen: a home-cooked feast of local specialities from Bryan's uncle who is an absolutely phenomenal cook!
A Weekend Trip to Xiamen - Trip Overview
Tour of Top Taiwanese Street Dishes from Night Markets
Street Food of Bangkok - Part I
Street Food of Bangkok - Part II
Jiu Men Xiao Chi - The Best of Beijing Street Food
Jalan Alor - Kuala Lumpur's Most Famous Street Food
Newton Hawker Stall - Singapore Hawker Stalls
"Street Food" in Tokyo