Explore & experience Sanya rich history through its food
Over the past ten years, Sanya has come from being a beach resort known only to domestic Chinese tourists and few Russians to a city that competes on equal footing with other major tropical island destinations in Asia and the world.
Apart from Sanya’s stunning scenery and expanding resorts presence, there’s something else drawing crowds to this tropical paradise — its food — that celebrates both its authentic history and newfound global stature.
From its five-star resort restaurants to its side-alley street vendors, Sanya’s food culture is both quaintly local and strikingly global. This article delves into the city’s colorful culinary history, uncovering everything from markets to teahouses and modern eateries.
Preserved in time
Before Sanya was a rising tourist city or a popular winter escape resort, the territory was primarily inhabited by fishermen.
The tradition of selling dried goods began here about 30 years ago when salted fish was the main product on offer. An array of dried seafood shops and stands in Sanya are often found in seafood markets and in fishing villages along the coastline. Each shop displays its range of dried seafood in transparent jars, crates, on tables, and hanging from the ceiling. You can see dried scallops, shrimp, jellyfish, abalone, salted fish, sea cucumber, seaweed, and even slugs.
The deep-rooted dried seafood industry is still omnipresent today, especially in the wet markets where travelers go to visit the source of Sanya’s flourishing seafood industry.
A Laoba tea experience
An often overlooked experience that is essential to any Sanya culinary adventure is Laoba (or “old daddy”) tea.
According to the Hainan Island Chronicle, people from Hainan were seasoned seafarers, so many of them spent time living abroad. Most resided in Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. During their stays in these places, people ran hotels, wine shops, teahouses, or made shoes and sewed for a living. When these emigrants earned enough money and returned to Hainan, they brought back habits acquired in British Colonies such as Singapore and Malaysia. Drinking English afternoon tea was one habit that reminded them of their overseas stays. Thus, “old daddy tea” could be considered a variant of the English afternoon tea.
This kind of traditional Laoba tea can often be found on Sanya’s streets today, usually in front of shops, where you can see groups of three or four people sitting with a pot of tea and some snacks on a table, chatting with each other.
Nowadays, visitors can also savor Laoba tea at the city’s luxury resorts. The Royal Begonia, a Luxury Collection Resort, Sanya, a luxury resort nestled on the sparkling ivory beaches of Haitang Bay, is creating a new version of Laoba Tea – the “Laoba Afternoon Tea” at its stylish Buganvillas Lobby Lounge to provide guests with an authentic taste of this traditional Laoba tea while enjoying delicate snacks and desserts.
Modern Hainanese food
Sanya’s culinary story wouldn’t be complete without a taste of contemporary Hainanese cuisine.
Four signature Hainan dishes: Wenchang Chicken, Dongshan Lamb, Jiaji Duck and Hele Crab at Pin Ju Hainan Restaurant of MGM Grand Sanya
Over the past five years, the Hainanese food landscape has never been more exciting.
Many five-star hotels and accompanying facilities in the city and the surrounding region reflect this food scene.
Hainan Seafood Hot Pot Buffet at COVE – All Day Dining Restaurant of InterContinental Sanya Haitang Bay Resort
That brings us what is now known as “Modern Hainanese” — a new breed of eateries found in luxury hotels in the city that pays tribute to age-old recipes, updating them with premium ingredients, unexpected flavor combinations, and playful presentations.