I got to know this recipe from an episode of the Netflix series called Flavorsome Origins (风味原产地) The 20-episode first season features dishes and ingredients from the Chaoshan region in Guangdong Province in China, a Minnan culture enclave in the predominantly Cantonese heartland. The inhabitants of this enclave are called the Teochew (潮州) and their language is mutually intelligible with that of the Hokkien people in the Minnan region of the neighbouring Fujian province.

The Teochews love baby mussels

Minnan people are a seafaring civilisation and they love shellfish. Oysters, mussels and cockles are a daily staple. In Teochew region, people are particularly enamoured with a species of baby mussels. Because the region sits on two rivers – the Hanjiang and the Rongjiang – that flow into the South China Sea, the delta is a mixture of salt and fresh waters. In these waters, people have been cultivated a species of delta mussels for thousands of years.

Called in the local Teochew dialect as “Bo-Kak” 薄壳, meaning “thin shells”, these mussels are a delicacy because of the limited season and their small size. Compared to North Sea mussels in Europe or Green shells in New Zealand, the shells of these mussels are light brown in colour and rather fragile.

Why is Thai basil called Jinbuhuan?

Unknown to many, Thai basil is eaten in sub-tropical Southeast China, especially here in the Teochew area.

Thai basil, and basil in general, is called “Jinbuhuan” 金不换 in contemporary Chinese. The name means “non-exchangeable even for gold”, reflects the value of the herb in Chinese culture.

Originally called Sanqi 三七 “three-seven”, the term “Jinbuhuan” was coined by the Ming Era herbalist Li Shizhen 李时珍 who wrote:

“The ginseng is tonic for the Qi, whilst the Thai basil is tonic for the blood. They are equals in taste and strength.” (人参补气第一,三七补血第一,味同而功亦等)

It may come as a surprise, but the Thai basil is actually one of the ingredients of both famous traditional Chinese medicines used to treat inflammation and cancer Yuannan Baiyao 云南白药 and Pianzaihuang 片仔黄.

The humble Thai basil is worth its price in gold indeed.


  • 1kg live baby mussels
  • 1 big bunch of Thai basil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Serving: 2 persons


  1. Clean your mussels of beard and barnacles in cool water and soak it with a pinch of salt to get the mussels to spit out sand.
  2. Meanwhile, clean your Thai basil and pick out the leaves and discard the branches (keep a bunch as decoration later)
  3. Peel your garlic and flatten it with the side of your knife.
  4. In a wok, heat up your oil to high heat. First stir-fry the Thai basil until the fragrance is released. Add in the garlic.
  5. Drain the mussels and add into the wok. Stir-fry until all the mussels are open, do not overcook.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, garnish with a branch of fresh Thai basil.