Try “Lion Head” Meatballs

There are many Chinese dishes rather exotic, even horrifying, to expats. How do lion heads sound to you? Relax, it has nothing to do with a lion but is a meatball dish. A military officer in Tang Dynasty named this dish lion head to demonstrate his valor, and the meatball is thought to resemble the head of the Chinese guardian lion, or foo dog. People across China have developed different cooking styles.

Original Yangzhou Lion Head

With 30 percent fat and 70 percent lean meat, this marbled pork meatball is the best. The chef minces the meat into a fine paste and adds a little salt, black pepper, chopped water chestnuts and chives before making it into a giant meatball. To take it up a notch, a chunk of crab roe is added for a smoother texture. Then the meatball is slow cooked for three hours with soup and vegetables. Yangzhou lion head in general has a sweet and savory taste.

Braised Lion Head

Braised lion head comes from the northern part of China and is known as the four happiness meatballs, with four smaller ones instead of a big one. They are made from soy sauce, eggs, chopped ginger, lotus root (or water chestnuts) with minced meat before making the paste into meatballs. The meatballs are deep fried until the outside turns golden-brown then braised in a broth gravy. Usually the four meatballs are well presented on top of green leafy vegetables. They are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, making it quite popular.

Vegetarian Lion Head

It may sound a little odd, but a trendy variation does not involve meat at all and is made of mashed yams and tofu (adding minced mushrooms and carrots delivers a richer taste). Soy sauce gives the paste its brown color before making the mixture into a big ball. The ball is deep-fried until golden brown then steamed in a bowl with a little water, salt, soy sauce and dried scallops for about an hour. It has a smooth and delicate flavor.