Gallery: Snapshots from China: The Best Things I Ate in Xiamen

Xiamen Cuisine
Xiamen Cuisine
Xiamen cuisine puts an emphasis on light, fresh flavors. Because of the city's proximity to the ocean, seafood dominates the table.
Shark Ball Soup
Shark Ball Soup
Surrounded by water on three sides, Xiamen is all about seafood. Fish balls are a local specialty, but even more unique is the shark ball soup. The texture and taste is similar to fish ball soup, but this particular variety is made from finely pulverized shark abdomen and stuffed with grounded pork. The shop Yuanxiangkou has been around since 1821.
Steamed Shrimp
Steamed Shrimp
Shrimp can be found around the world but the ones from Xiamen are especially sweet and juicy. Dipping sauces are optional and completely unnecessary.
Oyster Pancake
Oyster Pancake
The Xiamen oyster pancakes, called hailijian, are thin and crispy but heavy on the oysters on top. Ingredients: egg, potato starch, oysters, coriander leaf, and a sweet and sour sauce. Unlike their Taiwanese counterparts, hailijians require less potato starch and sauce. The oysters are also significantly smaller but pack in a lot of flavor.
Sea Worm Jelly
Sea Worm Jelly
Made from sipuncula marine worms, sea worm jelly (tu sun dong) is a dish exclusive to Xiamen. The worms are considered a delicacy and are served in an agar-like jelly. The verdict: slimy and a bit bland. Dip it in the soy-based chili sauce for flavoring.
Taro Rice Bowl
Taro Rice Bowl
Also known as yu bao, the taro paste is made with taro slices, starch, and salt. The stuffing consists of pork, dried shrimp, mushrooms, and tender bamboo shoots. Though the taro flavor isn’t really obvious, the dish doubles as a filling and portable lunch.
Meat Bowl Cake
Meat Bowl Cake
Similar to the taro bowl, this dish is a rice paste bowl filled with shredded pork, green onions, and pickled vegetables. The rice paste is made by steaming rice, water, and meat sauce together. The Chinese name: you cong guo.
Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls
Xiamen spring rolls, also known as bao bing, are a welcoming snack in the blistering, awfully humid weather. Keeping in the culinary traditions of the city, the spring rolls are seafood-based. They’re wrapped in a thin wheat pancake and stuffed with various fillings...
Inside the spring roll
Inside the spring roll
This particular version contained cabbage, carrots, bean curd, mushrooms, bean sprouts, diced pork, peanuts, shrimp, and oysters.
Lotus Cake
Lotus Cake
My favorite dish of the bunch. The lotus cake is simple. It’s lotus seed paste embedded in a pastry crust. They come in little cubes. Vendors sometimes use green bean as a substitute because lotus paste is much more expensive.
Zongzi
Zongzi
I happened to be in town for the Dragon Boat Festival, during which zongzi consumption is prolific (bordering on excessive). In short, I ate more than enough zongzis to last me a lifetime. These wrapped sticky rice triangles came in two flavors, both savory and sweet. The savory ones contain pork, mushrooms, and egg yolk. The sweet ones are smaller and need a dip in honey.
Squid Tofu
Squid Tofu
I waited a good half-hour to get my hands on this dish. For the equivalent of $1.50, I got the store's signature dish: squid tofu. It’s stir-fried fresh squid with tofu, bean sprouts, green beans, shacha sauce, and chili. Although it was uncomfortable eating such a spicy dish in the middle of the street, the shacha and chili combination was irresistible.
Vermicelli
Vermicelli
Of course, vermicelli in Xiamen wouldn’t be complete if it weren’t for the mixed-in seafood. This version had dried anchovies, assorted vegetables, and diced pork.
Clams
Clams
Who knew clams could be so versatile? I had them three-ways: in winter melon soup, stir-fried plain, and stir-fried with chilies.