Shenzhen has experienced an explosion in mid- to high-end restaurants specializing in international cuisines, including French, Italian, Thai, Indian, Russian and pretty much everything in between. But you didn't come to China for foie gras, did you? We turned our backs on the big-name restaurants and hit the streets for some simple, amazingly cheap and often surprisingly good street fare. Walking Street, aka DonGmai Beilu, Eastern District Rice balls At the top of this busy street of shoppers, electronic merchants, government buildings, schools and small shops is a tiny but very friendly little old lady who sells pork glutinous-rice ball infused with rich, salty bone stock. With nothing but a steam tray and a few bags of cooked rice, pork, sauce and little bags to hold the rice balls, she presses these little nuggets into shape for just US$0.25 each. Verdict: Amazing. I had few expectations until I bit into the rice ball, then... magic. I was totally taken aback by how rich and delicious this little wonder managed to be. Get more than one. Sunny Seeds Just down the street a young lady in a big smiley shirt to match the big smile on her face sells toasted sunflower seeds for US$0.80 a kilo. She toasts the seeds in a huge wok over a makeshift metal cooking tray standing on a base of stray bricks. Verdict: Compared with the first stall, US$1 for a big bag or US$0.80 for a small one seemed a touch pricey, but we sprung for a bag anyway. Fresh and flavored with a touch of salt, either bag will easily last you all day. Spitting out the seeds is more local sport than legal offense. Dumpling stall Behind the school on Cuizhu Nanlu St., near Cuiahu Park, a friendly couple serves up nothing but dumplings and boiled eggs, but still manages to attract a lively crowd at teatime. We joined them and tried two varieties of xiao long bao dumplings, one with pork filling and one with mutton, two eggs and took a seat at a plastic table and chairs along with a gang of locals. Verdict: The first dumpling (pork) was Cantonese in flavor and style, but the second had a mutton filling and was quite different - rich, a bit gamey, a touch oily, but overall very good. The stallholders were a hoot and kept trying to get us to buy more dumplings, and soon a gang of schoolkids joined us to practice their English. Not-so Sweet Corn In a side street off Cuiahu Nanlu St. are a few stalls located outside supermarkets and restaurants. One holds a huge stack of bamboo containers filled with corn, and nothing but, and appears to be a small-time operation, much like a lemonade stand, run by a bunch of cheerful but shy teenagers. They serve cobs in a plastic bag for US$0.50. Verdict: Sadly this gang, though friendly and efficient, seemed to have skipped the "How To" manual for their bamboo steamers. No salt, no seasoning, and apparently blasted with steam for hours, the corn tastes like a rubber shoe, erasers, old squid, tires, gum under your desk... Meat Frenzy A bit further up the street, join the queue at a little eatery that serves generous portions of goose, duck, barbecue pork, ribs and roast suckling pig for US$3.50-$5.80. You can cram into the non-air-conditioned shop, dine alfresco on the patio chairs or eat on the go. The shirtless butcher is quite a character with his Genghis Khan mustache, shouting orders and giving you more than you asked for with a healthy charge-up and a steely eye that brooks no argument. Verdict: The goose was salty, oily and unnervingly fragrant, but the suckling pig was amazing, with crispy skin and succulent meat, almost like wild boar. HuaQuiang St., Central Shenzhen Many cheap streetfare options lie in the warrens and alleys around this popular shopping street. The most memorable was the open-air eatery run by lovable ruffians on San Hao Rd., just off the main street. They had about 18 Hakka-style dishes on offer from spring vegetables with onions, leeks and garlic, to stir-fried beef with strong chilies, and roast duck marinated in wine sauce and served with rice. Each dish is US$0.80 for a huge portion, or you can mix a few smaller portions together. It's a family run joint, with dad busy at the mahjong table out back, leaving his lads to cook up dish after dish in large metal trays over a steamer. The food is rotated from time to time, with the exception of the nuclear-orange chicken, which seemed good to go until the next millennium at least. Verdict: The roast duck was a bit cold, the rice a bit soggy, but the price is right and a Kingway beer helped wash it down. The crowd is a mixture of gangster types, students looking for a cheap meal and of course the lads, who despite their lack of hygiene standards had such a friendly spirit and open attitude I'm planning to make a return trip.