Basi Digua (Golden Thread Sweet Potato 拔丝地瓜)
What is it?
Even though basi digua uses only a handful of pantry ingredients – white sugar, water, oil and sweet potato – it is incredibly difficult to master. First, sweet potatoes are cut into cubes before they are deep-fried to a golden crispness. Sugar is added to the oil on a low heat before it completely dissolves. A bit of water is then added to the syrup to further caramalise it. Sweet potatoes are added with every piece coated thoroughly. The reason for the name is because when the dish is hot, taking a piece from the plate will drag out strings of amber thread that will harden in the air.
Why is it famous?
It should hardly come as a surprise that Dongbei’s most popular dessert is made from sweet potato. The Manchurian region in the northeast is known for its potato dishes because it is the biggest potato grower in the country. Sweet potato, too, is very popular.
But as simple as the dish appears, it really tests how well a chef can master the heat in a pan. In fact, it is believed that the dish is one of the challenges every Chinese professional chef must master to be certified. That’s because if the sauce is too runny, it is impossible to create the beautiful gold threads. But if the syrup is caramelised for too long, the dish becomes too sticky and bitter. Timing is also critical. As soon as the sweet potatoes are out of the deep fryer the sauce needs to be ready otherwise the sweet potato goes soggy. The most experienced chefs can make threads that stretch even two to three metres long.
Where to eat it?
In Beijing, Lujia Xiaoguan is a very popular restaurant for Dongbei cuisine. While you are there, make sure to try the pork and sour cabbage stew. Pickled cabbage (also known as suan cai in Mandarin) is hugely popular in Dongbei because harsh winters and relatively short growing seasons have made pickling a common way to preserve food in Dongbei. Address: No 2 Block C, Fuliyouyicheng, Beijing; Tel: 86-10-5964- 1138. In Shenyang, capital city of Liaoning province, the best place to eat the dessert is Fengtian Xiaoguan. The restaurant is also known for its steamed Shandong flower roll. Shaped like a delicate flower, these buns are steamed and then served alongside the heavier flavoured Dongbei dishes. Address: Tuanjie Road, 5/F Huafu Tiandi, Shenyang; 86 24 3180 4565.
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