Barbecued Euphoria in Shenzhen

Cabin BBQ

Mark Ndesandjo, Barack Obama’s half-brother, is a talented guy. After graduating from Stanford and Brown, he moved to Shenzhen, where he gives piano lessons to orphans. Just the other day, he released his first novel — inspired partly by his troubled relationship with his father — and he’s now working on an autobiography.

But out of all of his achievements, the one that pleases me most is the success of Cabin BBQ, the chain of laid-back outdoor barbecue restaurants Ndesandjo started with Chinese partners in 2003. The original Cabin BBQ sits in a restaurant hub not far from Xiangmihu metro station in Shenzhen, four stops away from the Lok Ma Chau border crossing with Hong Kong. There are now ten branches across China, the farthest of which is in Yinchuan, Ningxia.

For anyone used to dining in Hong Kong, where the air conditioning is always on full blast and the lack of space forces elbows onto your dinner plate, Cabin BBQ is a relief. Somehow, despite being just 35 kilometres from the skyscrapers of Central, Shenzhen, with its mild air and abundance of palm trees, always feels more tropical. This is a smoky, outdoor dining paradise where street vendors sell coconuts next to the parking lot and people wander in to eat lots of meat and drink copious amounts of beer until the darkest hours of the night.

Cabin BBQ

The key here is excess: bring lots of friends and order as much as you can. The best way to start off the meal is with charred bulbs of garlic, cauliflower and cold cucumber salad doused in vinegar. After that, it’s all about the meat. Chicken, pork, lamb, fish, beer … if it’s got legs, Cabin BBQ has chopped it up and grilled it to a state of crispy, juicy perfection.

Everything is covered in a spicy seasoning that singes the wimpy palates of Hong Kongers. Don’t be afraid — after the tenth bottle of beer, it doesn’t hurt so much. Drinking at Cabin BBQ is a competitive sport: big buckets are placed next to each table to collect (and show off) all the beer bottles after you have consumed.

The last time I visited with friends, there were six of us and by the end of the night there were 25 big, empty bottles of Tsingtao under the table. I can’t quite remember how many courses of meat we went through, but by the time we stumbled out of the restaurant, five hours after entering, we were in a kind of euphoric trance that lasted all the way back to the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border.

Cabin BBQ

Cabin BBQ

Another version of this story was originally published on CNNGo.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday November 05 2009at 11:11 pm , filed under Asia Pacific, Food, Society and Culture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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