Out of China: A city of dog-lovers sets traps for inexperienced eaters: True loneliness awaits the vegetarian traveller to Canton and the south in coping with Shredded Mud-Puppy and Steamed Cat

CANTON - If there was a turning- point, it probably came in Zhaoqing, a pleasant city east of Canton famous for its Seven Star Crags. Away from the tourist sites, innocently dawdling through the food market, it was all too easy for the unwary to wander into the butchers' section.

And there they lay. Whole, but completely skinned, eyes bright, flat on their backs with their death-stiffened legs pointing straight to the ceiling. Except for one poor animal which had been sawn in half, and the back end sold. An ignominious end for man's best friend.

The scene was not to be forgotten. Never again would one feel confident about what exactly was in those Spring Rolls. Nor could one trust that Guangdong Hot Pot. It was obvious what had to be done. But, fellow-traveller, be warned: few will have experienced the true loneliness of the vegetarian in Canton.

Like the Bangkok traffic, Cantonese eating habits represent one of those guide-book cliches for which reality exceeds reputation. It is said, especially by the northern Chinese, that the Cantonese and other southerners will eat everything with legs, except the table and chairs. This seems a fair approximation to the truth.

Most visitors to Canton make their way to Qingping market, just opposite Shamian Island where the old colonial foreign concessions once dominated the riverfront. At the end of the lane selling Chinese medicines is the main street of the animal market. The inexperienced could be forgiven for thinking it is a Chinese pet shop.

As well as the normal crates of tortoises and snakes, the crowded cages offer wild guinea pigs, raccoons, fluffy-haired wild cats and their frail kittens, rabbits, frogs threaded on string so that their legs can more easily be cut off, foxes and wild boars. The larger animals are usually whimpering as they lick at snapped limbs which had been caught in the traps. There were no dogs last month, my interpreter said, because dog is eaten in winter as it helps one keep warm.

In the good old days, said the locals, one could usually buy such delicacies as monkeys but now the more exotic species have to be specially ordered. It is an animal rights activist's nightmare. A Hong Kong television station a few months ago set out to film an expose about the smuggling of rare animals from Guangdong to the banquet tables of the colony. The journalistic tables were rather abruptly turned when it was revealed that, once the Western reporter was out of sight, the Hong Kong Chinese television crew had themselves cooked and wolfed down the rare species they had just filmed.

For true gluttons for punishment, Canton has its specialist dinner venues, the snake restaurant and the rat restaurant. But the middle-priced Zhenbao restaurant ('specialising in game'), full only with locals, probably gives a better idea of an average good Cantonese night out.

Delicacies included Braised Guinea Pig (Whole) with Mashed Shrimp, Steamed Cat, Shredded Wildcat Thick Soup, Dog Meat Ready to Be Cooked Earthen Pot Over Charcoal Stove at Table, and Stewed Fried Noodles with Shredded Mud-Puppy.

Faced with this smorgasbord, the born-again vegetarian has some difficulty in explaining to the average Cantonese why one would prefer not to eat meat. The Chinese view is that rice and soy sauce is 'farmers' food'. They want meat, and preferably some fairly strange bits. Invited to order what he wanted for lunch, my interpreter's first choice was pig's stomach. At a company lunch on another visit to China, of five dishes on the table, one was the roof of a pig's mouth and another the pig's Achilles tendon.

The second challenge for the vegetarian is agreeing on what counts as meat. The Chinese view is that only large pieces are really meat. So when most of the vegetable dishes come with minced pork, no one understands the problem.

Some restaurants try their best, but after the initial pot of Chinese tea, discretion proves the better part of valour. The Victory restaurant on Shamiam Island is a friendly place, one of the newly efficient quasi-private establishments in town. But it's a pig's hell; the menu includes everything from pig's ear to smoked pig's feet. And for the more adventurous: sauted sliced peacock, masked civet, sauted muntjac or just plain deer's tail. I made my excuses and left.

My visit to Canton this month coincided with the opening of the city's first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. Like all things Western, it will probably prove a success, but the menu seems a bit tame for the local palate.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own