This rather strange looking tidbit is actually an incredibly delicious and addictive delicacy from the sea. Or rather from the windswept tidelands of Ningbo 寧波, Zhejiang 浙江 (my 媽媽's home province!) Only here are found these little mud clams, these innocuous and plain looking burrowers of wet mud that are used to make these famous Chinese Pickled Yellow Mud Clams 黄泥螺. This Chinese delicacy can be traced all the way back to the Song Dynasty (that's around 1000 years of eating these delicious clams!)
Here are some lone gatherers of the yellow mud clam, coming back from the muddy tidelands with their precious buckets of wild clams. Look at that windswept vista, the calm grey skies, the green stretching as far as the eye can see. I would love to have a day outing like this, wouldn't you?!
After gathering these sexy little critters are then brined in a heavenly brine of salt, sugar, spices and lots of different kinds of aromatic chinese wine. And that's it! It's a pretty simple process that produces an unbelievably addictive little snack. When my 老公 brought his first bottle back from Shanghai I took one look and thought, meh, who'd want to eat slimy raw little clams with their shells still on! (They're not raw, they're pickled but I didn't know that then.) And then I watched as my 老公 popped them into his mouth one after another, crunch, crunch, as he enjoyed his beer, with a look of absolute enjoyment on his face. So of course I had to try one and, what can I say? It's hard not to be delighted and hooked by these Chinese Pickled Yellow Mud Clams!
What then do these Pickled Yellow Mud Clams taste of then? Well, first, they are juicy with deliciously scented winey brine that delights your tastebuds. You bite down and there is the most delicate yet satisfying crunch of the calm's thin shell. (I swear to you it's even more satisfying than the crunch of your favorite potato chip!) Once you bite through that crunchy shell you then encounter the very tender chewiness of the clam meat, sea sweetness soaked through with aromatic brine. With every chew the unique flavor seems to intensify. And then, alas, that little sucker is down your throat and you are left desperate for another one!
And we're not the only ones addicted to Chinese Pickled Yellow Mud Clam! Chiang Kai-shek, the charismatic Generalissimo of the Republic of China, was known to have a taste for these critters of the sea. Only thing was that, once he retreated to Taiwan, he didn't have access to them anymore as these clams are a regional specialty of Ningbo in the province of Zhejiang, China. The story goes that he got so desperate that he actually ordered a crack team of his own soldiers to sneak back to Ningbo in the dead of the night to bring him back a supply of his favorite snack. You have to realize that this meant sending your own men deliberately back into enemy territory simply for the sake of your tummy's satisfaction! (China and Taiwan were at odds after Chiang Kai-shek took over Taiwan as a republic while China established communist rule.)
What can I say? They're really that good. Try'em yourself and see!
|Chiang Kai-shek inauguration speech 1948|
Tip: You can get Chinese Pickled Yellow Clams for sure at any self respecting Shanghai food store and maybe at Asian grocery stores. We got ours at the fabulous Shanghai Lao San Yang 老三陽 in Causeway Bay. They've been around forever and have got great authentic Shanghai cuisine food stuffs. I really want to try the pickled crabs next time! My 媽媽 told me that they used to make pickled crab at home when she was a little girl. Yum!
More Fabulous Food Stuffs at The Hong Kong Cookery:
Chinese Preserved Beancurd 腐乳
Chinese Jinhua Ham 金華火腿