reporter in Guangzhou
Jan. 31, 2006
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.