Los Angeles. Circa 2008.
Sitting alone in a dingy Mexican eatery off Palms with vinyl tablecloths and Spanish soaps on the television. A small flour tortilla in the palm of my hand. I fill it up, top it off with bits of cheese, a squeeze of lime. Wrap. Eat. The first time I tried Oaxacan chupalines (crickets). And it was awesome.
Shenzhen. Present day.
Browsing through the extensive menu at dad-recommended Yu Mi Zhou (literally, “Fish Congee”). We were pretty much enticed by the sound and pictures of everything. Midway through the menu though, I saw something I knew I had to try – bug larvae stir-fried with Chinese chives. Fun.
But first up was the restaurant’s signature “crunchy-skin” cha xiu. This was…pretty dayam amazing. The cha xiu was actually two parts of already-tender pork, sandwiching a thin piece of fat to make the whole thing a bite of wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. A little bit of honey sweetness to bring out the natural flavors of the barbecued pork and a crunchy exterior to balance the suppleness of the meat. We all fell in love with this dish. The hugely-portioned pork, pear and pig’s lung soup was next. A very light, cleansing respite to the fatty meat we had happily consumed just a few minutes prior.
And then the bugs came. Tiny wormy things mixed into a sea of green. The taste was almost like a non-crunchy soft-shell crab – a bite saw the crab-roe tasting innards. Protein-packed. Not awe-inspiring by any means but not bad. And probably would order it cooked with spicy salt next time instead of stir-fried. Or, maybe like the chupalines, they needed a squeeze of lime... The bugs were followed by my absolutely favorite dish of the night – braised eggplant and minced meat pot. I could eat these tender, beautifully-flavorful pieces of eggplant (a.k.a. the king of vegetables) all day and all night and never get sick of it. This dish was a star.
We ended the meal with dad’s childhood favorite – chicken innards (heart, kidney, etc. etc.) and pan-fried fresh oysters. The chicken was nice but, personally, I still prefer cow innards with their stronger earthy taste. The oysters were also good – big fatty things with a slighty charred, crispy exterior and a nice, creamy inside.
So, needless to say, food was good. The three of us managed to polish off 90% of our six dishes, and the menu still had a whole list of things we wanted to try (especially the desserts). My only complaint would be about the oiliness of the dishes. The bugs and eggplant were literally shining with cooking oil. Though, that was probably to be expected, being that Yu Mi Zhou prides itself on serving authentic, village, homestyle cooking. The service was top-notch and the prices were laugh-worthy reasonable. I felt like I was robbing them blind, almost. Wasn’t surprised at all that the place was packed to the brim by the time we were leaving and won’t be surprised at all if we find ourselves back here the next time we drop by SZ.
YU MI ZHOU (SHENZHEN) ($$)
2/F, Chunfeng Road