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The legendary chicken and the neglected fish

Shanghai Star | Updated: 2014-11-14 16:38
The legendary chicken and the neglected fish

Luxury: The Mandarin Oriental Sanya hotel.[Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

The three-story building in downtown Sanya looks just like a miniature of the Colosseum in Rome - if not more weather-beaten.

Inside the concrete building however, it’s a whole different story. Shellfish, shrimp, crabs of all sizes and freshly caught fish are piled up in stalls. The smell is strong and invasive: a mix of spices, herbs and fresh and dried fish.

It attaches to your scalp, skin and the fabric of you clothes the second you set foot in the territory: Sanya No.1 Market.

"It’s perhaps the most stinky and bloody place in the city," says Chef Duan, from Mandarin Oriental Sanya, our tour guide of the market.

It’s not like we are going to get lost inside the indoor market, which is slightly smaller than a football field, if we tour it without a guide. But with Chef Duan, whose kitchen work means he visits the market at least twice a week, we get to rediscover "something that has been long overshadowed by the legendary chicken".

If you can handle the smell, for an hour or so, the reward is "a sea of delicacies", as Duan puts it.

"Everyone comes here and comes to me for Wenchang chicken. It’s just a drop in the bucket," he says, squeezing his chubby frame between the narrow lanes of food stalls.

The hourlong tour feels more like a lesson in marine biology. Chef Duan briefs us on creatures like Mantis shrimp, or what the locals call “peeing shrimp”, as it is so juicy that it feels like the shrimp is peeing in one’s mouth. It’s also a sweat-pumping and appetite-whetting exercise, getting you fully prepared for the feast served from Pavilion, the western restaurant run by Chef Duan at Mandarin Oriental Sanya, or Yiyang, the Cantonese restaurant helmed by Duan’s mentor.

Recommended eateries for a seafood bite: The number of eateries offering what the locals call "seafood processing" is beyond count in Sanya, and the level of services and "processed results" vary greatly. Some exceed the offerings from the five-star luxury hotels in the city and charge a much lower price. Others make you feel thankful for culinary inventions like sashimi.

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