SHENZHEN HUBEI VILLAGE
You’ll find this area in books referred to under various names including Fenghuang Rd, Phoenix Rd and Leyuan Rd but they’re so close to each other that we prefer the name of the original village on the site, Hubei village. Hubei Village is a Hakka village. It is one of the oldest villages in Shenzhen and other than Dong Men itself, the closest to the skyscrapers of the city centre. It was settled by the Zhang clan in the seventeenth century and still retains a lot more traditional residences than most Shenzhen urban villages, including the clan hall of the Zhangs.
The eat street runs over four streets. Fenghuang Rd, has the name but when you look at it there aren’t so many restaurants any more. Cantonese and Chaozhou food predominate as is fitting in an area pioneered by Hong Kong factory owners. We quite like the Tian Tian Yu Gang, a typical Hong Kong seafood restaurant and the Xin Yun Chaozhou Zhou. The Xin Yun serves zhou, the famed Chinese rice gruel which many Chaozhou people eat instead of plain rice. Nice if a little watery for our taste. Try their roast goose, another Chaozhou speciality.
We prefer to go back down the street and over Wenjin Rd where the street name changes to Hubei Rd. Our favorite here is a hole in the wall called the Xi’an Halal Restaurant 8218 5548. This is very authentic Moslem food from the ancient capital of China, Xi’an. Put yourself in Mrs Ma’s hands. She’s welcoming and helpful and will put together a hearty meal for you. Our last trip was on a cold winter night and we were very prepared to be warmed. A large group was crowded around the plain but clean white tablecloths. Their swarthy faces with slightly hooked noses suggested that they were Chinese Moslems nostalgic for a taste of home. Soon our table was groaning. A plate of cucumbers in sesame oil and vinegar prepared with just the right amount of sour. A dish of mai cai, one of those Chinese greens which have no real name in English. The cook had done it a Cantonese style sauteed with lots of garlic and it was delicious. We had also asked for a dish of lamb kebabs, something that we always like, but we were a little surprised to find not long skewers but little pieces on toothpicks. And instead of the usual Sesame seeds the meat was covered in very tasty herbs and spices with cumin predominating. Yummy. A large dish of naan bread toasted with chili powder and drizzled with sesame oil and our satisfaction was total. The bill of $77 didn’t seem excessive.
If you want to go a bit up-market, go to the restaurants and hotels in Wenjin Rd. Ming Chuan Lou serves pretty good Sichuan food and Xifeng Lao Bei Fang has good Beijing food. But experiment. There’s plenty here and none of it will break the bank.
The last street, Leyuan Rd, is a classic street of Hong Kong style seafood. You know the drill fish, prawns and lobsters swimming or rather struggling in tanks of water. The theory is that it keeps them fresh but we always look a little askance at this practice. Even in the best places there are often fish clearly short of oxygen or floating upside down and sometimes we’re a little dubious about the source of the water they’re floating in. But if you like this sort of stuff then Leyuan Rd’s the place for you. Go and pick your fish and specify how you want it cooked. Try the Fu Man Jiu Lou and the Hua Cheng Yu Gang. The Wei Gang Hai Xian refers to Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. If you’re familiar with the general state of that body of water you’ll be reasonably wary but reports are good of its food.
After you’ve finished, take a little time to wander round the old village. It’s mainly the squat eight or nine storeys around narrow alleys that characterize Shenzhen’s urban villages. But at night it’s full of life. There are street after street of barbers and hairdressers. This goes back to the Qing dynasty when the Manchu rulers decreed that all Chinese should wear the queue with a shaved front of the head. This meant a trip to the barber once a week. Barbers became important meeting places and even, in Taiwan, centres of the sex trade. Maybe we’re just ignorant but these seem too open with too much hair on the floor to double as houses of ill repute. In Taiwan the questionable ones are known as no hair barbers.
But there’s always something going on. A group of brides going to a mass wedding, all tarted up in identical white satin dresses and beflowered hair, attended by fussing friends. It’s a cold night and it rapidly becomes clear that several of the brides are keeping warm by wearing jeans under their dresses we glimpse this as they lift their skirts to cross a gutter. A group of boys in an alley playing billiards at seven open-air tables, it’s as much fun for you as it is for them.
Address: Hubei Village Luohu District
Buses: 2, 10, 29, 104, 205, 220, 223, 311, 312
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