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[Eat It]: Cantonese Grilled Oysters

Xiao Hei Hao Qing on Dingxi Lu does some of the city's best Cantonese-style grilled oysters. Seriously. This place totally shucks.
2011-04-05 10:10:21

Eat It is a regular feature that cuts to the core of a given restaurant's menu, highlighting a specialty, favorite, or otherwise good thing to eat.

Before they gentrified it into a sterile strip mall, I used to hit up Wujiang Lu Food Street all the time and for one reason only: the grilled oysters. But lets face it, if you eat in a place where you have to stand ankle-deep in litter and your food is prepared by some guy with a tubercular-sounding cough and a cigarette with a precarious length of ash hanging off of it, you’re really just playing a game of gastro-intestinal Russian roulette. Indeed, the odds eventually caught up with me. I learned my lesson and I swore off domestic oysters for quite a number of years. Then I found this little Cantonese-style oyster shack on Dingxi Lu called Xiao Hei Hao Qing. This is what has turned me around...

Huge, plump, meaty oysters grilled to a custardy perfection. They’re farm-raised and totally fresh, if you have any doubts, just prick up your ears and listen. The entire restaurant resonates with the incessant scrape of metal on nacre. They’re shucking them non-stop. For seasoning, you can choose between a paste of garlic, scallions, and green peppers or spicy fermented black beans. Both are delicious, so go half and half. A half dozen will set you back 42rmb.

Oysters come in other forms here, too, like this..

Hao Zai Bing (蚝仔饼), or the oyster omelet. There are a few regional variations on this dish. In Fujian, where the dish is believed to have originated, it looks like a plate of scrambled eggs. Just across the Strait, the Taiwanese starch it up to a plasticky sheen and drown it in a day-glo ketchup-like goo (cf. Charmant or Bellagio). If you ask me, though, the Cantonese have perfected it: just some fresh baby oysters, minced celery and pork, a little bit of white pepper and just enough potato starch to bind it all together like a frittata. Price: 25rmb.

So what about raw oysters? They do that too. For reasons already implied, though, I just can’t bring myself to eat raw domestic oysters in China yet. That said, the operation here seems clean enough. Just as many oysters come out of the kitchen raw as do cooked. They’re quite popular here, and I’m guessing they’re eaten without any repercussions the following day. So, odds are, you’ll be fine.

Even if you don’t dig on oysters there are still plenty of other reasons to come here, like this one…

This is Zhanjiang Beer Chicken (啤酒鸡). It’s another house specialty. True to Cantonese form, it’s beautifully simple – just a pot filled with chunks of raw chicken marinated in soy sauce and tossed with slender stalks of Chinese celery and ginger slices. The server cracks open a bottle of Tsingtao, pours it in, fires up a portable range, and it all cooks up at your table in a matter of minutes. It’s fantastic and here’s an added bonus: after the chicken’s gone, you’ve got yourself a tasty beer-flavored chicken soup. Price: 42rmb.

Then there’s this…

Niu Wa Bao (牛蛙煲), or simply translated, bullfrog pot. It’s not a terribly descriptive title, so here’s what’s going on with it: you’ve got loads of sweet, tender chunks of bullfrog braised in a cast-iron pot with some soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine along a heaping handful of whole garlic cloves. It’s kind of like a close cousin to the Taiwanese classic San Bei Ji, or “Three Cups” Chicken. If you’ve got a frog phobia, let this dish be the one to convert you. It’s only 39rmb.

Take note: Xiao Hei Hao Qing fills up fast. If you lack the foresight or the Mandarin skills to reserve a table for dinner, then get there before 5.30 or after 9pm. Otherwise, expect at least a 30 minute wait during peak hours.

For a listing, click here.