Easily found by the billowing smoke and strong smells that trail its coal burners, shāokǎo/chuàn’r (Chinese: 烧烤 / 串儿) street stands corner nearly every street as soon as the sun begins setting until the early hours the next morning. Whether they’re found inside a hole-in-the-wall or pitched on a wooden tricycle, their stands are always easily spotted for the colorful array of skewers that lay side by side on display. Everything from skewered vegetables, sliced baozis, different types of tofu, chicken gizzards, whole fish or mutton pierced onto bamboo sticks sit in open air or under plastic-wrapped for customers to customize their selection. Skewers are heavily seasoned with a brush of oil and chili sauce and a sprinkle of a variety of spices such as spices like cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried chili pepper, paprika, pepper, and MSG. Locals typically pile on order of shao kao to accompany a beer while playing games of Chinese dice. Prices range per skewer, with vegetables, baozis, and tofu for 1 kuai, meats and poultry from 2-3 kuai, and seafood for up to 8 kuai.
The variety of skewers/kebabs can range from vendor to vendor. It typically includes poultry (gizzards, kidney, hearts, skins, seasoned white and dark meat, and wings), beef chunks (each varying with amount of fat chunks and tendon), pork (seasoned meat, intestine, fat chunks), fish, scallops, octopus, squid, different types of bean curd or tofu, eggplant, sliced potato, broccoli, squash, cauliflower, scallions, chives, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, quail eggs, baozi, and korean rice cakes. The skewers are brushed with sesame oil, chili sauce, and sprinkled with a variety of spices such as spices like cumin, coriander, cayenne, dried chili pepper, paprika, pepper, and MSG.
You can usually differentiate shao kao stands to chuanr stands because the latter is usually sold alongside round flatbreads or xiànr bǐng 馅饼 that serve as a mechanism for the kebabs to rest on or placed inside. These breads are also placed onto the grill and seasoned before being served.
The skewers/kebabs are lined up over long, narrow charcoal grills, brushed with oil and chili sauce, and seasoned with a variety of spices. They are constantly churned and fanned until cooked and ready to be served.
According to the Chinese classical text, San Zi Jing (Three Character Classic), early ancestors would hunt animals by spearing them. As a means to help his people, emperor Fuxi made a net and taught civilians how to fish and hunt birds and animals. Another issue arose when people were forced to eat their game and catch raw, which not only tasted terrible but also caused people to become sick. To save the day, Fuxi stole fire from the heavens and taught people how to barbecue shaokao so that people could become healthier.
The term chuanr is derived from the Xinjiang province of China, classified as a type of kebab traditionally made from lamb meat. It is a product of the Chinese Islamic cuisine of the Chinese Muslim population, specifically Uyghurs. They are just one of the many different types of food that reflect a deviation from chinese cuisine and a closer resemblance to that of Middle Eastern cuisine, such as halal food, that migrated over to China by the arrival of Islamic heritage.