Cyprus Mail
Food and Drink

What’s eaten where: Hebei province

You’re probably not going to like this – or possibly even believe it – but the official dish of China’s Hebei province is the Donkey Burger. At first we thought this was a joke; surely nobody eats donkey? But it’s not, and they do. In Hebei, Cyprus’ most beloved beast of burden becomes a burger…

A coastal region in northern China, Hebei completely surrounds two of the nation’s largest cities, Beijing and Tianjin. Mostly flat, the province lies within the North China Plain, though the western part of Hebei rises into the Taihang Mountains, and the Yan Mountains run through the north.

With its continental monsoon climate (cold, dry winters, and hot, humid summers), Hebei is known for its agricultural produce: wheat, maize, millet and sorghum. And 40 per cent of the labour force is employed in the agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry sectors. Which brings us back to donkeys, and the donkey burger…

Actually, it’s more of a sandwich than a burger, and it’s been around for ever: the dish is said to date back to the Ming Dynasty, and there are records of donkey being consumed as early as the 1400s. Two cities in Hebei, Hejian and Baoding, claim to be the original home of the donkey burger; the former hosts a festival in honour of their favourite fare each spring, and the skill of cooking an authentic Chinese donkey burger is officially listed under Hebei province’s intangible cultural heritage.

Today, such is the demand for donkey that thousands of the animals in developing countries are being killed to fuel the industry, according to a report from the global Donkey Sanctuary organisation. The Hebei donkey burger is said to be tender and delicate, juicy and rich in flavour, and consists of well-cooked meat and a few green chillies in a bread pocket.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked; horse and dog are eaten worldwide. But this loveable beast of burden is an animal so inextricably linked with Cyprus, that a donkey burger feels almost akin to eating a precious pet. Perhaps we should re-examine our western sensibilities. Or, at the very least, respect another nation’s traditional cuisine.

 


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