Tiny kebabs: A bite of Zhaotong on bamboo sticks
Among Yunnan snacks, barbecues have been quite popular. In northwest Yunnan’s Zhaotong, locals love roasted tiny beef kebabs a lot, so they usually order tens of kebab strings at a meal. Each mouthful consuming a string, they swallow the spicy but tasty kebabs ravishingly.
Unlike other barbecued kebabs, the Zhaotong kebab is characterized by its tininess: tiny slices of fine beef are strung on a slim bamboo sticks. The tininess makes the kebabs easy to grill and give off the tastes.
Eight years ago, Ma Ronghua, a Zhaotong native, moved to Kunming, making a living by running a barbecue shop. And it is the tiny beef kebab, which is the most popular dish of the shop, that makes Ma’s shop enjoy ever-thriving business. “To keep the original local flavor of the tiny kebabs, we only use the beef that is imported from the plateau areas in Zhaotong,” said Ma.
Over the years, Ma disclosed, he has relied on his family members to purchase the special Zhaotong beef, which is cut into pieces and strung onto sticks before sent to Kunming. Besides beef, Ma also has his family to buy the homemade sauce and chili powder from Zhaotong, both of which are essential in making tiny kebabs.
Before barbecue, Ma puts the beef-loaded skewers into a special sauce in advance, so that the beef can give off an immense aroma during roasting. When the charcoal is hot enough, Ma takes out the fully-soaked kebabs and lays them evenly on the barbecue grill. During the grilling, the kebabs are turned over frequently so that they can be heated evenly.
As the temperature rises, the beef kebabs sizzle with oil drippings, giving off thick smoke or bursting into flames. At the stage, the turning actions are quickened to stop beef from over-burnt, while allowing fat drips to be partly absorbed by lean meat on the same string.
When the beef kebabs are almost ready, Ma sprinkles sesame seeds, cumin and pepper power onto the strings. After another grilling period that lasts a little more than seconds, the chili power was sprinkled to form the tiny kebab strings that are of pleasant color and appetizing aroma.
“The homemade sauce arouses the beef aroma, while the chili power improves the taste. The seemingly plain steps can make the beef appetizing.” Ma does all he can to preserve the original flavor of the Zhaotong kebabs.
Ma said his tiny kebabs are usually sold in great numbers, tens or hundreds of strings at one time. As they enjoying the beef, most diners get talkative, chatting with each other with more goodwill and frankness.
"Tasting the beef kebab with friends is something pleasant, which can satisfy our taste buds and increase the friendship." For Ma Ronghua, the taste of tiny kebabs reminds him of his childhood, relatives and the hometown.
By Xu Hualing (Xinhua); trans-editing by Wang Shixue