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Fujian food fantasies

( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-09-03 13:53:18

Fujian food fantasies

Squid on the grill is only one of the many seafood delights from Xiamen's street-food outlets. Photos by Mike Peters / China Daily

Fujian food fantasies

The Westin Xiamen serves up a cool summer dessert in a dragon-fruit boat, delivering local ingredients in a sleek presentation. A scoop of ice cream made with Chinese herbs adds a licorice flavor.

Fujian food fantasies

Xiamen's signature oyster omelets can be found at almost any local eatery in Fujian province.

Mike Peters had never been to Xiamen before, but he's pretty sure he will be going back very often. Why? He lists all the delights that will draw him back to this coastal city in the south.

When I told friends I was about to make a trip to Xiamen, Fujian province, one and all were full of advice.

Related: A bite of Zhejiang

"You have to find the food street right away," one said. "It's amazing."

"Pies! You have to bring back some of the pies. They have great pies!" another said.

"The tea is quite special there, you will like it."

"You know they have great seafood, right?"

"You've got to find the worm jelly."

"There's a special kind of noodle"

It was beginning to seem like there was nothing to do in Xiamen but eat. But this may say more about my friends than about Xiamen. I did know about the great seafood. As a United States native who had grown up on the Texas Gulf Coast, I was already salivating at the prospect of "eating an oyster omelet every day".

Beijing-based chef Max Levy had earlier told me he'd made a food pilgrimage just to sample that delicacy. He says he ate four or five oyster omelets every day, but I was hoping to leave room for other delights, too. (Worm jelly? Hmmm.)

My own food odyssey started on the street, where I was spellbound by glistening red fruits sold kebab-style, three to a stick, each shaped like a tiny bell. These turned out to be rose apples - slightly tart, faintly perfumed and unexpectedly crunchy compared to other tropical fruits hawked on the island.

Related: And in Shanghai, they got bored

Since it was 33 C on that summer day, our group of visitors loved the watery freshness of this fruit as we strolled. Other street hawkers provided similar chances to munch and cool off, offering chunks from monster-size jackfruits, pineapple stuck on sticks and coconuts so full of sweet, milky juice I found it hard to resist grabbing another every time I finished one.

If you haven't fallen in love with street food elsewhere in China, Xiamen may be the place you finally succumb. On the nearby island of Gulangyu, we awoke to the smell of oysters on the half-shell, bubbling merrily on a grill with a big dollop of garlic. O breakfast divine ("Can I have two, please?")

Local cuisine isn't just about street food - it's right at home in upscale restaurants, too.

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