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Auspicious Moss Stays on Menus Despite Ban

South China Morning Post
By staff reporter in Guangzhou
Jan. 31, 2006

Guangzhou diners are still consuming the banned fa cai black moss, with restaurants and seafood shops cashing in on the belief that eating it gives an auspicious start to the Lunar New Year because its name is a homonym for "get rich".

The harvesting and export of the hair-like plant called fat choi in Cantonese was banned in 2000 to protect the environment. Fa cai grows in the thin arid soils of Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qingha and Gansu, and harvesting damages the environment because topsoil is raked loose, leading to soil erosion and desertification.

Staff at Guangzhou's Ting Cheng Restaurant said fa cai with oysters was one auspicious dish on its menu. Seafood shops along Yide Road were also stocking the moss and asking customers what grade they wanted, leading some consumers to wonder whether some of the produce could be corn silk dyed to pass as fa cai.

While one shopowner acknowledged the ban, he said he was selling stock bought before it was implemented. "It's not allowed to be harvested any more. My suppliers in Xinjiang are giving me stocks harvested before the ban," he said.

Teacher Shu Chang said she paid 230 yuan for 250 grams of fa cai. "I can't really tell the real stuff from fake fa cai, but it must be real because it is expensive. If you soak it and the dye comes off, it must be fake," she said.

Excessive harvesting has turned millions of hectares of pasture into desert. Before the ban, 40,000 sqkm had been laid to waste in 20 years in Inner Mongolia alone.




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