Being Trendy is Trendy

Not a city known for five-star international cuisine, Dongguan restaurateurs often try to stand out in their own way. These four eateries are doing their thing just foryou.

Making your ice cream smoke at Lab Made.

Making your ice cream smoke at Lab Made.

If you’re anything like me, you’re hungry right now. You’ve just snacked, and the meal before that was mildly sufficient, but a stop at the coffee shop for a chat and a nibble still sounds like a good idea. Eateries are where it’s at; they’re a place to be, to be seen and to keep up to date on the happenings in your friends’ lives and on the latest in trends.

Sharing a good meal with people worth feeding is an age-old tradition pretty much everywhere. In China these days, the topic has gone viral from San Francisco’s Chinatown to Dongguan’s Weibo and WeChat accounts. Ask your local pal about chīhuò, and you might discover a world of foodies.

The term characterizes food lovers with a craze for edibles and a nose for trendy restaurants. Those places on the cutting edge (or those that can profitably market a gimmick) will quickly enter their ‘diner’s radar.’ What, you ask, might be the new dining trends in Dongguan in the eyes of local chi huo’s?

Follow us and take a look.

0815_DINE&DRINK_2… and Dim Sum-thing Special

You may heal your homesickness by looking for hamburgers in fast food or Western-style restaurants, or by stepping up to the real thing at foreign-run bars around Dongguan, but what you won’t imagine is to order one at a Cantonese dim sum restaurant.

When Natalie Siu opened her dim sum shop in Dalang last year, she decided to go beyond the traditional restaurant-styled dim sum and be a little more creative.

In her shop you can order mini hamburgers as well as enjoy the traditional Cantonese dim sum varying from shrimp dumplings to steamed rice rolls. East and West, together is best, is their motto. The crab leg-like fried spring roll is right now the best seller, with its ironically fun name: This is not a spring roll.

“We wanted a different style—something trendy—other than the traditional dim sum,” Natalie said as she discussed creating new dishes with the chefs every other month.

It’s not only the creative food that helps the shop stand out. If you ever go yum cha (drink tea) with your friends in Dongguan, you’ll find that dim sum is always served with tea. But in Natalie’s shop the dim sum can go with modern-style lemon tea, milk tea and coffee. While the traditional restaurants serve dim sum in the morning and close at around 2 p.m., Natalie’s shop opens from 6:30 to 12:30 a.m. every day. “When I opened the shop, I thought, ‘when anyone has an impulse to grab a dim sum or two, they can get to us at any time.’”

This concept of dim sum specialty shops has been quite trendy in Hong Kong. One of them in Hong Kong named Tian Hao Yun Dim Sum Specialty Shop has been added to the list of Michelin star-rated restaurants.

As technology takes on more roles, mobile apps at the shop offer the convenience to pre-order your meal before arriving, or order for a delivery.

Tian Xi Dian
Address: No.51 Xinshi first street, Dalang Town

0815_DINE&DRINK_3The Big Cheese of Asian Cuisine

As fads come and go, the craze for all things South Korean have lost little in terms of intensity among Chinese youth and the soap-opera crowds of the past few decades. This is also true of its food culture. After Korean barbecue and rice bowls sprang up, their rice cake hot pot is building a buzz in Dongguan, especially among young diners.

This newly popular dish can be a good choice for not only South Korean fans but also cheese lovers. What? Yes. They boil rice cakes, beef and vegetables in the Korean chili soup, similar to the Chinese hot pot. Then add the stringy goodness of cheese.

The cheese is boiled with the sweet and spicy Korean chili in the hot pot, turning soft and thick. The rice cakes are stuffed with cheese for added flavor as well. With rice cakes in the mouth, Korean songs on the ears and pictures of South Korean pop stars in front of your eyes, it feels like travelling to South Korea.

According to Zhang Liang, the shop manager, the rice cake hot pot, already popular in South Korea for a long time, was brought to cities like Shanghai years ago, and has gained some popularity since last year in Dongguan. “Such dishes are most loved by young ladies and couples here,” said Zhang.

Legend has it that back in time of war, South Korean soldiers who lacked meat created the hot pot to kill the hunger by boiling the sausages and ham leftover in the soup with chili sauce.

Ao Sai Ao
Address: Wal-Mart Building, Hongfu Rd, Nancheng

0815_DINE&DRINK_4I Scream for Spicy Ice-Cream

If you are tired of eating the same thing followed by the same old desserts, maybe a salty or spicy flavored ice-cream made to order in a ‘lab’ could add a little novelty to your dates.

As I watched the waitress pour some liquid nitrogen into the milk sauce in a chemical apparatus, lots of smoke came out. Then the ice-cream was made and served in just one minute.

Dongguaners are lucky enough to be able to experience a new stage in cooking methods—the molecular ice-cream. With liquid nitrogen, the milk and sugar are turned solid in a flash, making it very smooth without ice crystals. Careful though, it melts very fast.

The one I ordered was crisp and salty, yet not so overpowering as to cover the sweetness of the cream. Spicy, peanut-chocolate and the caramel sea-salt are the most special. They even have a crispy toast flavor and change new flavors every other month.

The brand was founded by Zheng Kanghong in Hong Kong. The first Lab Made chain store opened in Shanghai in September of 2014. This shop in Dongguan is one of the only three in Guangdong Province; the other two are in Shenzhen. The owner of the Dongguan shop studied in Hong Kong and found the shop in Hong Kong interested crowds of customers queuing in long lines.

Lab Made
Address: One Mall near H&M, Nancheng

0815_DINE&DRINK_5Sandwich Shop Mocks Little Eaters

If you don’t keep watch, life can become boring sometimes. A challenge, however, could change that. Have you challenged yourself to find a challenge? Will a food challenge do?

In one of two cafes with Portuguese-styled dishes in Dongcheng, you have an opportunity to challenge your stomach and get a free meal. OK, the rules are simple. You have to finish the Portuguese-styled Parto, a big four layer sandwich-like dish, in 15 minutes. If you can’t, you can roll the dice to see how much discount you can get.

I went to the restaurant with a friend who was hungry and brave enough to take the food challenge. She conquered three layers of bread and three strong sausages confidently and gracefully. In the last three minutes she was too full to eat any more, with one last layer of fat bread smiling cunningly on the plate.

Chef Ricardo said the original Parto is three layers with only meat in it, such as ham and bacon. It was covered all by cheese. He added corn, tomatoes and boiled eggs to suit Chinese patrons’ needs. He also made it bigger to suit the challenge. The food here is simple, but if you’re in the mood for something different, who cares.

Address: Global Plaza, Dongcheng