By: WFAE’s Roger Sarow
Our WFAE food fans recently reported on a foodie road trip to Shelby for barbecue.
I can recap a foodie road trip, extended version.
I just returned from a three-week trip to Beijing, Nantong, Suzhou, and Shanghai, China. My wife, a professor at Winthrop University, was teaching class at the University of Nantong, and I was a tag-along.
If you want to learn about a city, try visiting one of its big supermarkets. This photo (above) shows the fish supply at a major supermarket in the Henderson Centre Mall in Beijing. This was close to the main Beijing train station—as you can imagine a bustling locale around the clock.
This was my first trip to China. I was prepared to see a Communist country, replete with drab architecture, state-owned stores and drab displays of the most basic consumer goods.
Instead, in this (admittedly tourist-ready) section of refurbished Beijing, the stores were exploding with goods.
Even in a travel venue such as the Henderson Centre, very few groceries were displayed with Western texts ( but lots of photos on packaging). Unfortunately that tended to reduce the experimentation in food purchases. Even in the ultra-sanitary boundaries of a supermarket, the tourist-foodie would like to know if an item of culinary interest is a piece of fresh fruit or a sea urchin.
Which brings me to one of the most delicious Chinese dishes frequently served at multi-course meals for visiting guests: the Suzhou sweet-sour fish.
Suzhou is a huge city that in distance qualifies as a “suburb” of Shanghai, on China’s eastern coast. Restaurants took a decent-sized panfish—say 14 inches long—gutted and scaled but with otherwise fully equipped with head and tail. The side meat was left intact on the carcass, but scored to the bone in a checkerboard fashion. The fish was then battered and fried in light oil.
Here comes the clincher. The fried whole fish was served in a pool of sweet-sour source similar to the sauce served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. Some cooks garnish the plate with cooked mixed vegetables.
Because the fish was scored before frying, it tends to easily pull away from the bone when attacked with chopsticks. The result: firm white fish, delicately fried and luxuriously slathered in sweet-sour taste.
Not exactly a Southern Friday fish fry, but a delightful way to ease a traveler’s hunger.