In summer,
dog meat
too yang

The Chinese are not vegetarians but they don’t feed their
soybeans to animals, as we do in the West. In Guangzhou (Canton)
Jane Parry talks to Kenny and to Mr Lau about the beneficent bean.

‘Soya: what a wonderful food!’ mocks Kenny, a young Cantonese man, euphemistically labelled by the Government as ‘a youth waiting for work’.

‘No, but seriously, it’s a great thing. You name one other plant that you can make so many things from. We Chinese don’t eat much meat, that’s why we are so healthy!’ he says with a grin. ‘It’s everybody’s food, beancurd, no matter whether you are rich or poor. Even the emperor ate it.’

Though poor, in 1990s Guangzhou, Kenny is in a position to demand a more varied diet and he finds the taste of plain dofu is boring. ‘I prefer it fried. First it’s dried, then steamed and fried in oil. The only problem is that in the summer it’s too yang (yin and yang: believed to stimulate the body’s cool and hot humours respectively). So it’s better to cook it in soup with a little salt-dried fish head and a pork knuckle. This is a very popular dish in the summer in Guangzhou and it’s not quite so yang that way,’ he explains.

Bean-curd is available in many forms at the markets. Red and white dofu are preserved and sold in little jars; chou dofu (literally ‘stinking bean-curd’) is a winter food often used as a snack; while dofuhua – sweetened bean-curd – is very yin and therefore refreshing in summer. And it’s cheap: a portion for one person costs just over one yuan (about 20 US cents).

People like Kenny buy their vegetables in the Qingping market. The market has become a tourist attraction for Western visitors, as it provides evidence of the maxim that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs except a table, and everything with wings except an aeroplane.

You walk through a long covered lane of stalls selling ginseng and other Chinese medicinal herbs, as well as dried goods, including beetles and wasps  – not to mention the lizards, dried, flattened and tied in pairs to sticks. Near the meat market there is a strong smell of droppings and blood from the freshly killed animals, intensified by the steamy humid air.
In the winter the tourists can find what they are looking for: dogs, a breed similar to Staffordshire bull terriers, crammed into cages, or freshly slaughtered for a favourite southern Chinese delicacy. It is said that if Western squeamishness about animals as pets can be overcome, dog has a taste that is so good it is addictive.
In the summer dog meat is considered to be too yang, and goes off the market. Still, there is a range of endangered species and cuddly animals on offer instead: raccoons from Guangxi province, selling for 45 yuan each ($9). There is one already skinned, waiting for a buyer. Another is shivering and staring from its cage with listless eyes. One of its front legs is missing.


 A song of the strong


The control of girls

Bitter, bitter sweet


Yellow perils

A legacy for my (23) children

World Food

This article is from the NEW INTERNATIONALIST November 1991


Soya Beans



Most shoppers are regular buyers from particular stalls, like that of Mr Lau, the beansprout seller. ‘Today, business is OK, not too bad, not too good,’ says Mr Lau. ‘On a good day I can sell 10 barrels of bean sprouts – each one holds 30 jin (15 kilos).’ Mr Lau is very shy and speaks in soft halting country Cantonese. Like most Cantonese, he can’t or doesn’t choose to understand Putonhgua (Mandarin, the official dialect of China) and even in his own dialect he takes time to warm to the subject of his business. Too many people in China ask too many nosy questions.



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