Fast Food

Gold Coin Chicken (Jin qian ji)

Fatty food born of poverty in the South


This auspicious-sounding dish from China’s south is savoured by some and dreaded by others. Some have called it an artery clogger or a cholesterol sandwich, for its deceptively dainty appearance belies the fatty, meaty filling within. Gold Coin Chicken, or Jin qiuan ji in Mandarin, is made with alternating layers of tender barbecued pork, charred pork fat and pork or chicken liver slices heavily slathered with a glaze of rose wine and maltose. It gets its name from the morsels’ round coin-like shape, and their glistening appearance. They are sometimes served on or sandwiched between pieces of thin steamed Chinese buns.

How did it originate?

Despite its lavish name, Gold Coin Chicken was in fact born of poverty. It is said to have been created by impoverished people from the town of Shunde in China’s southern Guangdong province. Reluctant to let any food scraps go to waste, they would save any excess trimmings of roast pork, chicken livers and pork fat from Cantonese roast meat shops, skewer them onto long metal barbecue stick and then baste them with the same marinade used in Cantonese barbecue pork. To save on the use of utensils, the resulting, cholesterol-rich melange was traditionally eaten with steamed buns.

As society became more prosperous in recent decades roast meats were no longer a rarity at the dinner table. The population also became more health conscious and fat-averse, so the dish gradually lost its popularity and is sometimes still viewed as a poor man’s meal and served with a sense of shame or embarrassment.

Where to find it?

The dish is all but forgotten in its hometown, but variations live on in neighbouring Hong Kong and Macau.

In Hong Kong a good place to try is Manor Restaurant, though it will need to be ordered ahead of time (Shop F-G, 440 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, Tel: +852 2836 9999).

If you want an ‘upgraded’ version served in pristine Michelin-lauded surrounds, try the three-starred The Eight in Macau’s Grand Lisboa (2/F, Grand Lisboa, 2-4 Avenida de Lisboa, Tel: +853 8803 7788). Their version gets a deluxe upgrade, with French foie gras taking the place of chicken liver.

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