So I’ve had a friend or two comment that, although I’m living in China, I don’t really show China that much on my blog.
As any traveler knows, the longer you are in a place, the harder it is for you to differentiate between the ordinary and the culturally diverse. I am so accustomed to seeing people spitting on the streets, watching children run in split seam pants, and witnessing Ikea dates that none of it really seems that noteworthy.
But I’m going to try to remember things that excited me the first time I saw them. And what better place to start than shao kao?
Shao kao is Mandarin for “ridiculously delicious (and possibly spicy enough to render you unconscious) barbecue.”
Restaurants and street vendors open and close all the time here in China, but when I moved to Chengdu over a year and a half ago, there were many shao kao places within a five minute walk. This led me to having it about once or twice a week, often after a night at the bar or after dragging a late-working friend away from his desk. Alas, most of these places are closed now, but there are still some street vendors that set up shop around dusk to serve this Chinese treat.
Shao kao starts with you grabbing a basket. You fill it up with meat, thinly sliced potatoes, lotus root, tofu, eggs, and whatever else you see that grabs your attention. Permanent shao kao establishments usually have a refrigerator to house these while street vendors often just lay these choices out on their cart. It’s all so delicious looking that you never really think about how long food has been sitting out. That being said…I have yet to get sick from shao kao.
After loading up your basket, you hand it to the man or woman behind the grill. They will cook your food to crisp perfection, usually pouring an insane amount of spices (if you order it “la”) over your food. Sometimes, if you are as foreign looking as I am, however, they assume you can’t handle the spiciness and tone things down for you.
Regardless of whether your food is “la” or “bu la,” shao kao pairs very well with a cold beer (which, in China, is pretty much flavored water*)
While you sip your watery beer, your food is brought to you as it is prepared.
Sit back and enjoy, one skewer at a time!