Shantou: Going Home


Some girls are Daddy’s little princesses — as for me, I was more like Daddy’s little eating partner.

My dad and I, our obsessions are numerous. But the one dish that we find ourselves constantly craving is ta meepok (also known as meepok ta), a tagliatelle-like Chinese noodle that’s tossed with bits of crunchy, fried pork lard in a chili-soy-black vinegar sauce and topped with fish balls, fish cakes and bits of minced or sliced pork.

It’s a simple dish by the Teochews, an ethnic Chinese group, that we’d eat for breakfast in Singapore every day if we could. (More important, if our bodies could handle it.)

So the moment I landed in the Teochew city of Shantou, China, for our trip back to the village where my great-grandfather was born, I knew what we had to eat right away.

The noodles are not hard to find in Shantou, as you can imagine.

Just half a block from our hotel, the Golden Gulf, we stumbled upon a promising display of fishballs on the sidewalk.


When we peeked in, we spotted another promising sign: a massive banner that proclaimed its fishballs and noodles a “famous snack for long history in China.”

Now, I’m not one for hyperbole — but I do admire chutzpah.

So we sat down for an afternoon snack and the dishes began arriving.

First, there was an assortment of fishballs that we’d picked out in the display case. They generally tasted the same — which was to say they were all good — but mainly varied in degrees of springiness and density. (I prefered the lighter, springier ones.)

We also had a few lovely fish “dumplings” in which the dumpling wrapper was made out of minced fish pounded with flour and then rolled out flat. These were cut into squares, filled with scallions or minced pork, rolled up and boiled — just delicious.

Next up, we had regular dumplings filled with minced pork and chives and topped with a vinegar-pepper sauce that was slightly peanutty.

And, of course, there was ta meepok.

Now, this version tasted very different from ta meepok you’ll find in Singapore. Instead of a salty, vinegary sauce, this was tossed in a peppery peanut-based gravy that was similar to satay dipping sauces.

Not that we were complaining — the noodles were tasty and very comforting. The perfect panacea for a rather long flight.

As the eating wound down and we gauchely licked our spoons and chopsticks, I thought about the days ahead — we would travel to my ancestral village, take part in a ceremony commemorating the first Tans from centuries ago. We would meet our very distant cousins.

We would be going home.

But first, there were other pressing matters at hand. We paid our bill and wandered out into the gray Shantou streets.

Somewhere out there, a good dinner was to be had.

Jing Hua Yu Yuan, located on Mei Shi Jie (which means “beautiful food street”) near Chang Ping Lu, about half a block from the Golden Gulf Hotel in Shantou. Tel. No: 88369739.

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7 thoughts on “Shantou: Going Home

  1. Gosh I sure could do with a bowl of that right now….ta meepok, mmmmm! Did you like the Shantou version with the peanut sauce? I can’t imagine how it would taste but I’ll bet the fishballs were delicious :)

  2. Hi!
    I am writing on behalf of Jetstar Asia. I work for Jetstar Asia in-flight magazine, and we are currently looking for people to help us with our section called ‘Destination Guides’ where we get locals/frequent travellers to answer a few questions about Shantou. It will appear in our next issue together with a picture of you. Would you be interested in helping us for Shantou?
    Please email me at regarding your interest.
    I look forward to your reply.
    Thank you!

  3. I tend to think that the best thing about traveling anywhere is the food! :)
    Danielle…I liked the peanut-sauce version fine but I prefer the savory, spicy version you get in Singapore. I guess you’ll always love what you grew up with.

  4. Hi Cheryl,

    I chanced upon your blog when I read about your book, and I’m so glad I found it! I am also a Singaporean Teochew female now living in New York (albeit upstate), and it’s so great to reminisce while reading your stories! I went back to China with my grandparents (also Shantou) and I was horrified to find out that Teochew food we had in Singapore tasted nothing like the original Chinese dishes. Char kway teow, gu ba kway teow, and all these other dishes had evolved almost beyond recognition in Singapore within a really short period of time, and that to me was really interesting!

    I also concur with your about Taste Good. Every time I make it down to NYC I try to eat at Taste Good. Strangely, I never knew that the owner was Teochew! Next time I’ll give it a shot.

    Anyway I’m going to keep following your blog so keep writing please for people like me!

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