People are sometimes a bit surprised to discover that although Shenzhen is firmly in Guangdong Province, Cantonese food is rather hard to come by. The fact is that just about everybody comes from somewhere else so ubiquity is not a characteristic of Cantonese food.
There are exceptions. One of the nicest ones is in Bagua First Rd. This is one of the earliest eat streets in Shenzhen. It owes its origins to nostalgic Hong Kong businessmen who, in the early days of Reform and Opening, congregated in this area. In those days the area around Bagua Rd and Bao’an North Rd was the industrial centre of the city. A labyrinth of railway lines snaked through the areas serving the factories that were largely Hong Kong owned. The factory owners, who had been brought up on the Hong Kong tradition of daai pai dongs or open air restaurant stalls, patronised similar stalls in Bagua Rd and brought their favourite dishes. The whole area became Cantonese in flavour and the tradition persisted.
It’s not the biggest eat street in town but to us it’s the most consistently good. We have a secret vice. We love Cantonese winter cooking above all other kinds of Cantonese food. As the days get shorter and colder, Cantonese food changes, people cluster around the bouchai, clay pots with bubbling stews in them. We love bouchai fan, rice cooked in the bouchai with pieces of flat preserved duck, Chinese sausage and preserved pork steamed on top and soy sauce mixed into it.
But most of all we love snake. Don’t eat your favourite cobra out of season. Winter’s the time; otherwise dread things will happen to you. Is there anything better than a steaming thick snake soup with chrysanthemum petals and crispy tortilla chips floating on the top? We always add a little white pepper. In our estimation, the snake at Hui Ji 8249 9298 is just as good as you’ll get anywhere. Don’t stop at the snake soup; try the snake rolls with special salt and the cold snake’s tail. And that’s not the only masterpiece at Hui Ji either. We love Cantonese roast pigeon too and theirs is the best we’ve ever eaten as is their bouchai fan.
We should also mention game which is a speciality of Cantonese winter cooking and therefore of this area. People have differing views about this sort of stuff and it has to be said that sometimes in their search for the exotic restaurateurs do slip onto the wrong side of the law. We have seen tiger claws peeping from below the covers of dishes in the Delta area over the years and we read of police raids from time to time. If this worries you, you should take some care to get a local guide to interpret for you. But remember, many people won’t have the slightest idea of what you’re talking about, or if they do, why you’re worried about it.
Apart from Cantonese food, there is food from all over China. The Uighur are omnipresent with their kebabs and lamb dishes as are the Sichuanese. We should particularly mention the Bawang Fu’s Manchu style clad waitresses although their food is nothing particularly special.