There are a lot of eats that I miss when not in China. It’s a fantastic country to be in if you like zoos. And forks. And if those zoos had forks at each exhibit, I’d say you’re getting a bit ahead of yourselves. Chopsticks are the medium.
Increasingly (auspiciously?), you can find a wider array of mainland delights (no, that’s not the name of a dish) in the US. I won’t brush upon my disdain for sugared chum frequently found at take-outeries, but at least Cantonese food is getting much needed competition from its northern Chinese cousins. I’d be glad to team up with someone to get some 串儿 chuar (skewer) stalls out somewhere in NYC, at least for the milder months. The brilliant aroma of cumin, garlic and starfish notwithstanding, there’s one food, one frequently evasive yet always curmudgeonly food, that I long for: Matang.
What’s that garbled mass above me? Oh, well that’s matang 麻糖, possibly better known as 切糕 (qiegao). If you’d like to disobey the previous post, you’ll directly translate that as “hemp sugar.” But let’s take a gander at its dossier-
What?: A mangled mess of nuts (peanuts, almonds and walnuts generally) with dried apricots and raisins. Depending on the maker, it can also have jellied fruit and whatever the heck is on top of the one in the picture, as well as plastic bag chiffonade. It may taste like peanut butter and jelly, it may pack a wallop of legumed goodness, and it may cause a chipped tooth.
Who: sells it? Ornery cusses from Xinjiang, a Chinese territory in the northwest of the country. Very fun to get into a shouting match with them. One of them twisted my arm, and then gave me a bag for free. Actually, I get along with the Uighurs, the Muslim ethnic group that vends matang, and learned a bit of their language too. Rachmatin!=Thanks. Try to bargain with them when they aren’t in a team. Although I have yet to make it to Xinjiang, their cuisine is delicious. Uighur women are also a nice change of pace to chat with, and their accent is music to my ea儿s.
When: The tricky part. They are always getting chased away by the cops, or the small law enforcement trucks, but in the quieter times, it’s still hard to tell. Muslim sections of cities might be a good guess (if you happen to be in/going to Shenzhen, the area between A and B is a fine bet) but in Humen district of Dongguan, I saw along the highway a line of eighteen of them. (Link courtesy of google maps) A marvel indeed! Setting themselves up for guff.
How: do I buy it? The Uighurs use a rusty scale to ambiguously weigh the amount, but just repeat a price ad nauseum and you’re good. Beware the Han who decide to become onlookers and tell the Uighurs to raise the foreigner’s price.
How:do I digest it? Good point.
I’d try to have a carton of milk or something to wash it down, as it can be very dry, corase or sticky, or more commonly, very rich, but let’s face it, the contents and texture are inconsistent at best, and similar to spreading peanut butter on sandpaper at worst. That said, whenever I’m back in China, it’s one of the first eats I aim for; if anyone has a google map of usual matang locations, sign me up.