烧烤 (Shāokǎo). Noun – Delicious Chinese BBQ, purveyed by everyone from migrant workers at unsanctioned construction rubble camps to Barack Obama’s half-brother in fancy restaurants, and enjoyed by all. Shāokǎo is best eaten fresh, at night, sitting on a tiny plastic stool, and shirtless.
The origins of Chinese barbecue tradition, according to one reliable source, sprouted from a public “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” execution that lasted three days in which onlookers paid to slice hunks of meat off the unpopular offender and grilled them up at home. The same source also describes how Life Magazine got the American male to believe that outdoor cooking on Ford(tm) grills was manly, unlike other cooking, and that wearing an apron doesn’t necessarily make you a sissy.
Today’s BBQ is arguably less violent, but just as delicious. The zesty sauce consists of some combination of the following: salt, ginger, green onion, sugar, sesame oil, chili powder, sweet potato starch, chicken powder, and a lot of MSG (99% fresh, or better, of course).
Street-style Shāokǎo is great for the illiterate traveler because you often get to grab a basket of ingredients yourself, but you should still expect the unexpected. Common fixin’s include: green beans, cabbage, potato slices, tofu hammocks, beef, chicken, lamb, long thin mushrooms, short fat mushrooms, squid bits, fish balls, mystery cubes, and who knows what else.
Pretty much everything we’ve had has been excellent, but the main course for me is always the eggplant. To eat it properly with chopsticks, simply peel out the insides in long strips and stuff it into your mouth while it’s still far too hot to eat, making sure to drip hot oil all over your nice clothes. Pairs well with Tsingtao.