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Xia Zao (Shrimp Ball 虾枣)

What is it?
Xia zao is a type of deep-fried shrimp ball from Chiu Chow (or Chaozhou in Mandarin) in Guangdong Province. Made from fresh shrimp that’s been mashed, diced water chestnut, minced pork, (an unhealthy amount) lard, eggs, salt and pepper, the mixture is then rolled into a ball – sometimes rolled in a beancurd sheet – before it is deep-fried to a golden brown. The shrimp balls are traditionally served with a tangy tangerine sauce to balance the greasiness.

Why is it famous?
In the past, the rugged, sheltered bays and islands of Chiu Chow made its economy heavily reliant on the sea. Its cuisine became famed for its chefs’ dexterity (in the popular TV show about food A Bite of China it featured prominently).

Being surrounded by water, seafood is a main staple in Chiu Chow. Xia zao, however, was a dish reserved for special occasions like the Lunar New Year because fresh shrimps were hard to come by. The old idea behind mincing meat and rolling them into balls was also to make the most of those scarce shrimps. Even though the dish requires few ingredients (five, if you don’t count salt and pepper), it requires a lot of preparation and technique to transform those ingredients into something spectacular.

In Chiu Chow, it’s not only shrimp balls that are famous. The region is also famous for beef balls. Like xia zao, beef balls also require a lot of technique (and strength): using two iron rods – each weighing about two kilograms – the chef hammers the meat repeatedly and forcefully until it reaches the right texture. The mixture is seasoned with salt and pepper and cornstarch before being rolled into balls. Chiu Chow people like to boil the beef balls in beef broth to enhance the flavour.

Where to eat it?
In Hong Kong, Carianna is one of the oldest and most authentic Chiu Chow establishments. While you are there, be sure to try the simmered yellow croaker that is braised in fish broth and celery. Address: 1/F, 151 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; Tel: 852-2511-1282.

In Guangzhou, Hai Men Yu Zi Dian is a popular restaurant that serves authentic Chiu Chow cuisine. Egg omelette with Diced Oyster is a must-order here too. Address: 4/F Huihua Commerce and Trade Building, 80 Xianlie Middle Road, Guangzhou; Tel: 86-20-8776-6618.


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