An Insight into Bangbangwa Dragon Beard Five-Spice Flavoured Yak Beef (棒棒娃 五香味 龙须牛肉)
So we've all seen them—plastic wrapping in an array of different colors, flavors and sizes with screaming Chinese characters glaring out at you in a technicolored bombardment of the senses. Do we dare put their contents in our mouth? I'm talking about those not-so appetizing packaged foods we see littered around Chengdu's market stalls, subway shops and street vendors. The endless shelves of packaged foods Chengdu has to offer can sometimes be overwhelming. This column will reveal, one snack at a time, what is available, and invite you to brave the unfamiliar.
Anyone for more Yak? This week I am reviewing Bangbangwa Dragon Beard Five-Spice Flavoured Yak Beef (棒棒娃 五香味 龙须牛肉) produced by Chengdu Bangbangwa Industry Co. Ltd. (成都市棒棒娃实业有限公司 中美合资)— a Sino-US joint venture created in Chengdu. I purchased the snack from a small provisions store located at the Remin Nan Lu end of Lingshiguan Lu, opposite the US consulate.
Curiously, the front of the package displays a cartoon of a shocked ninja/sumo wrestler blushing at the cheeks from surprise or perhaps even anger. I am not sure what has caused him to adopt this expression. Maybe he ate the food? Maybe he's astonished that I purchased this product?
Inside the pack are four pocket-sized plastic sachets with small, mouth-sized parcels of yak beef that are swimming in a dark-brown sauce filled with sesame seeds. At first I was not sure of the correct technique for eating one of these snacks. But after four attempts I perfected a method of ripping the top off the sachet and pushing the meat from the bottom of the packet directly into my mouth. This minimized the mess involved in eating what is quite a runny and sticky snack.
After emptying the contents of the first sachet into my mouth, I immediately understand how this snack got the description 'Beard'. The yak beef is shredded into fine spindly strips, like thick beard hair, which have formed a tangled ball of stickiness inside the pack. The sensation of eating the beef is certainly similar to what I imagine eating a beard must be like. The meat is tough and has a rough texture, plus it is extremely chewy; it takes a few minutes of intense grinding and shuffling around your mouth to form a manageable portion to swallow.
The taste? I found the taste to be quite pleasant, if a little intensely flavored. The sesame seed oil provides the overriding flavor, but it has been sweetened with sugar, which complements the yak beef well. There is also a slight hint of those familiar Sichuan spices that leave a tangy aftertaste. Unusual for a food product produced in Sichuan, there is very little spiciness to this snack, much less than I was expecting from a snack named 'Dragon Beard' with an angry Bangbangwa ninja on the front of the pack. This is slightly disappointing as I feel the yak beef would benefit from some heat to make the eating experience a bit more exciting.
It may not live up to the name 'Dragon Beard'— perhaps they could rename it 'friendly kitten's whiskers'— but I do enjoy the taste, so as long as you think you can handle the beard-like texture on your tongue, they may be worth a try.
Serving suggestion? Why not try adding them to a bowl of noodles. The noodles will soften the texture of the beef, and the sesame-seed sauce will liven up their flavor. But fans of spicy food should season the dish with some chillies or Tabasco sauce to avoid disappointment.
Bangbangwa Dragon Beard Five-Spice Flavoured Yak Beef (棒棒娃 五香味 龙须牛肉)
Chengdu Bangbangwa Industry Co. Ltd. (都市棒棒娃实业有限公司 中美合资)