Clams with XO sauce, and the life story of my uncle from TaiShan 台山

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These lovely New Zealand clams reminded me my first clam experience, a dish made by my uncle’s family from the countryside of TaiShan, GuangDong province in China.

Clams with XO sauce

My mother and her brother were children of a concubine who married an elderly man returned to China after years of hard laboring in Malaysia. During the second sino-Japanese war, both parents died as the family ran out of money. For some reasons unexplained to me, the family offended some important locals with considerable power. My uncle, at the age of about 7, was sent to prison as a Japanese traitor. When he was released, he was so weak & sick that he was carried out.  He was never the same again.

During one school holiday I was sent to stay with TaiShan uncle and his family in the village. My uncle was a man with very few words, not smart, worked a lot, and always smiling.  He was very skinny and looked sickly. With money sent by another uncle from Singapore, he was able to get married. He married a kind, strong, capable and hardworking woman and they had 3 children. As rice farmers, they did not have sufficient rice for me to eat. So I brought them food stamps, some money and some old clothes which they treasured.

Taiishan village - the lane way leading to the house my uncle's family once lived
Taishan village – the lane way leading to the house my uncle’s family once lived

The eldest boy, Zhong, who was a few years younger than me, was responsible for providing ingredients for lunches and dinners. Some days we went to the rice field with some threads & small potato pieces – we fished out frogs from the water. Some days, we went to the creek, searched through mud to find tiny little clams. The frogs were small and we chewed the bones as well as whatever little meat on it. The clams, half of a bowl to share among us, was so very delicious and moreish.  I still remember the satisfied looks on the children’s faces at the end of each meal. They never complained about wanting anymore or anything else.

A run-down traditional house at the ThaiShan village
A run-down traditional house at the village

When economy improved in the 80s, the rice field was sold to make way for factories. There was no more farming to be done. My uncle figured out that if he collected soft drink tins and bottles, he could sell them for money to buy snacks. Reportedly, he was the happiest soft drink bottle collector around town.

I felt happy and sad when I cooked & enjoyed this delicious New Zealand clam dish with XO sauce.

Cooking method is as follows:


  • 500g clams in shells, cleaned
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp XO sauce
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 10g shallot, sliced
  • 10g coriander, sliced
  • 2 red chilies, sliced
  • cooking oil
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • Heat up some cooking oil in a frying pan (high heat), add sliced onion & a spoonful of xo sauce; saute until aromatic
  • Add clams and half cup of white wine; put a lid on for 2 minutes
  • Check if all the clams are open; add sliced shallot, coriander, chopped chilies, salt & pepper to taste; toss; ready to serve.

XO sauce



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