Postcards From China: Sanitation + Xiamen Oyster Pancakes


Welcome to Postcards From China, a series of delicious snapshots from my summer in China and Taiwan.

Location: Gulangyu, Xiamen
Item: Oyster pancake, or Haili Jian
Flavor: Heavy on the oysters

In the States, some of the best Chinese food is found in the mom-and-pop shops. Spend a good day trip down Eldridge Street in Chinatown, and you’ll be sufficiently pleased with a bulk of its cheap eats. In China, however, mom-and-pop restaurants are avoided by even the locals. Sanitation standards aren’t at all what they should be. Trust me. I’ve gotten food poisoning in China more times than I can remember when I lived here last year.

My boyfriend’s aunt–who used to be Gulangyu’s health inspector (now retired)–is adamant on us eating at home. According to her, only the restaurants with government-approval plaques or Western fast-food chains, like KFC, are “safe.”

Thankfully for us, she and her husband are amazing cooks, and as Xiamen locals, they know the seafood vendors well. And in true Xiamen fashion, in every dinner we’ve had at home, we’ve had some sort of seafood. The most common item: oysters.

The oyster pancakes here are reminiscent of the Taiwanese versions. The ingredients: eggs (straight from the hens in the backyard), ground garlic, coriander leaf, pearl oysters, and sweet potato flour.

The difference between the Taiwanese version and the Xiamen version lies mostly in the types of oyster used. The Xiamen varieties use a different breed of oysters that are smaller and pearl shaped. The pancake itself is cooked with less potato starch and comes out much thinner and crispier than the Taiwanese version. And unlike in America, where the dish is egg heavy and oysters are sparingly used, the pancakes here are heavy on the oysters. Chile sauce is optional but not used often because the oyster flavor is the main highlight.

Despite the influx of Fujianese restaurants in New York City, haili jian is difficult to find. But according to Fork in the Road’s archives, this particular variety can be found in Brooklyn at Red Apple Fast Food.