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The bounty of the sea on your plate

BARBECUED squid, stewed crabmeat, broiled lobster and scallop soup - Sanya City in Hainan Province is heaven for seafood lovers.

Dining in a fancy restaurant by the sea is definitely fun. But for those willing to explore, there is the local way to enjoy the fresh seafood at more reasonable prices.

If you can brave the smell, noise, filthy ground and the pestering of peddlers, it's highly recommended that you buy seafood at No. 1 Food Market.

Then take the seafood to Chun Yuan, or Spring Garden, a famed area crowded with seafood restaurants, and ask one to cook the food. The restaurant only charges for food processing and cooking.

"Doing it this way is about 50 percent cheaper than ordering dishes and dining in a restaurant. The waitress can also buy drinks for you from nearby shops," tour guide Tang Yu says. "It is becoming a popular practice among tourists in Sanya."

Located on Hongqi Road near Quejin Road, No. 1 Food Market is home to all kinds of local produce, including seafood, fruits and vegetables. It's recommended because the market is both for locals and tourists with reasonable prices.

Wandering through the market requires patience. Just ignore the peddlers. They often claim that they can offer you a free ride to some cheap seafood restaurant. Don't talk to them and don't even think about taking them up on their offer.

Bargaining in the market is a must. But generally speaking, prices in the market are much cheaper than outside. Take red fish for example. It is 17 yuan (US$2.5) per 500 grams while in a restaurant the price soars to 98 yuan. A sea urchin is 1 yuan to 4 yuan in the market but sells for 8 yuan in a restaurant.

Also, try going further inside the market. The booths at the entrance often have higher prices than those inside.

In addition to seafood, you can also buy local fruit and vegetables such as papaya, jackfruit, wild herbs only grown on Wuzhi Mountain and square-shaped Sijiao beans, among others.

After buying what you need, take a taxi to Spring Garden.

You can also bargain with taxi drivers in Sanya. It is around 6 yuan to 8 yuan from No. 1 Market to Spring Garden.

The garden is at the northern tip of Hexi Road, about 300 meters from Sanya City Paradise. Be sure you arrive at the true Spring Garden as there are other food streets that claim to be Spring Garden.

Many restaurants in the garden offer the cooking service. You can, of course, order dishes at restaurants in Spring Garden, but it's more expensive than just asking them to process and cook the seafood you've bought.

The price for steaming and saut??ing is 6 yuan per 500 grams. Seafood is mostly steamed or quick saut??ed as they are the best ways to keep the freshness.

Hotpot, or dabianlu as it is called by locals, is another popular form of dining in Sanya. The cooking service (basically washing and cleaning the seafood you've bought) is 3 yuan per 500 grams, plus 15 yuan for the base soup.

Locals don't put any ingredients or seasonings into the pot. "We want the seafood to have the most original flavor, the flavor of the sea," Tang says.

As a rule, shrimp and fish should be put into the pot first after the base soup is boiled because they cook easily and they are best eaten when the flesh is tender.

Follow this with squid and crabs as they need more time to cook and absorb the flavor of the broth. The conches and scallops are last because they may have some sand in the shells, which can spoil the soup.

Abalone, sea cucumber and sea urchin are the top dishes in Sanya while blue crab, red clam, lobster and oysters also get the thumbs-up from diners.

In addition to seafood, some local snacks are good to try.

The coconut rice is a must. The glutinous rice is first put into the coconut after the juice is drunk up. Then it is steamed for one hour with the coconut flesh. You can add sugar if you like it sweet, or you can put in a pinch of salt to make it taste like the sea.

If the coconut is fresh enough, the flesh tastes just like jelly after stewing. The most ancient cooking method is still practiced in some rural villages. In these areas, farmers will mash the coconut meat and steam it with the rice on a clay oven.


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