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Tan Xiaofeng has transformed the traditional cultural heritage of making yanqiu, or "banquet balls", into a roaring commercial success, Yang Feiyue reports.

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-15 06:01
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A staff serves  yanqiu. [Photo provided to China Daily]

If you drop by Chang'an town as a guest, residents are mostly likely to serve yanqiu — a special type of meatball — to show the best of their hospitality.

According to local folklore, the origin of the dish dates back to a visit by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Qianlong to the town in Haining city, Jiaxing, in the northern part of East China's Zhejiang province.

"He was on a secret patrol of Haining, and tasted the local delicacy made from fish, pork and pork skin at an ordinary farmhouse," says Tan Xiaofeng, a local who has made a business out of selling yanqiu.

"Because it tasted so good, he named it yanqiu, meaning 'banquet ball', suggesting that the dish could be served at official functions," Tan explains.

Ever since, yanqiu has become an indispensable local dish to celebrate festivals and is also a popular gift for friends and relatives, as, in China, the circular shape represents completeness and a sense of safety.

At Tan's production facility, workers dressed in white uniforms work in groups of three, with one skillfully scooping out the meat paste from a large basin with his left hand. As if performing a magic trick, he shapes it into a meatball in a split second, tosses it onto a spoon in his right hand, before throwing it onto a large plate.

The other two workers then gently roll the meatballs, evenly coating them with a layer of shredded pork skin, and a yanqiu is created. They are then delivered to customers, who steam them for eating.

They can make 400 yanqiu, each weighing 40 to 60 grams, in 10 minutes.

"Business has been very good," Tan says.

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