At 3:30 p.m. each day, a small group of young Chinese men gather at the Fei Xia Lao Er Meatball Shop. Sticks in hand, they come ready for the beating that lies ahead. Their target? Fresh hunks of just-trimmed brisket, still warm from the butcher.
Each worker rhythmically executes a two-handed pounding and folding maneuver for 25 minutes per cut of beef, steadily softening the meat until it reaches a paste-like consistency. Once the brisket is thoroughly tender, a cook adds starch and seasoning, then squeezes the mixture into meatballs.
By 7:00 p.m., the dinner shift is in full swing. Diners slurp down hearty bowls of fragrant soup, studded with the refreshingly light meatballs. Some might even reach inside, pluck out a ball, and bounce it across the table. The meat has a distinct springy texture that lends itself equally well to chewing and playing.
These savory morsels are a signature dish of the Chaoshan region, located in the eastern part of China’s Guangdong Province. Restaurants in the area stick to the hand-pounding technique not only to maintain tradition, but because automated meat tenderizers destroy the animal’s muscle fibers. Ultimately, this affords the finished meatball its characteristic springiness. Turns out, there are still some things machines just can’t do—and making bouncy meatballs is one of them.
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Need to Know
Vendors across the region prepare Chaoshan-style meatballs, often served with fresh herbs in a clear, fragrant broth.
Where to Try It
This family-owned restaurant sells about 3,200 of their legendary meatballs every 24 hours.