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Munching with the Miao


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Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.

 

First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.

 

So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


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This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.

 

Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.

 

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Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:

 

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As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.

 

The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.

 

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The children don't get spared either

 

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This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.

 

After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.

 

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Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.

 

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The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.

 

Then you have the ritual hand washing part.

 

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Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.

 

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On a nearby table is this

 

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Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.

 

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with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.

 

This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.

 

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L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.

 

Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.

 

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Let the eating, finally, begin.

 

In no particular order:

 

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Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato

 

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Bamboo Shoots

 

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Duck

 

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Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.

 

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Egg pancake with unidentified greenery

 

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Stir fried pork and beans

 

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Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)

 

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Pig Ears

 

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This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs.

We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.

 

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Stir fried Greens

 

Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).

 

 

 

 

Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.

 

Roll on dinner time.

 

On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Wow!  I am otherwise speechless. Thank you so much for sharing with us. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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What an amazing adventure to be taken on.  Silly questions but do you know what the tufts are on the women's dresses are?  It looks too smooth to be raw wool, goat hair or maybe a fiber of some sort?  The beauty of the clothing just amazes me. I was bitching to my husband about how I hate wearing my winter jacket because it is so heavy.  Compared to them, I have it easy!   Am looking forward to more of your photographs.

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On 02/12/2017 at 7:44 PM, IowaDee said:

What an amazing adventure to be taken on.  Silly questions but do you know what the tufts are on the women's dresses are?  It looks too smooth to be raw wool, goat hair or maybe a fiber of some sort?  The beauty of the clothing just amazes me. I was bitching to my husband about how I hate wearing my winter jacket because it is so heavy.  Compared to them, I have it easy!   Am looking forward to more of your photographs.

 

There is no such thing as a silly question. This is going to be a guess answer, although I will try to have it verified next time I'm there.  It won't be wool or goat hair. No sheep anywhere within thousands of miles of here. And few goats. I'm guessing cotton as I know they do grow limited amounts of that. I'll get back to you if I hear any different.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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After lunch, we relocated to 双龙沟 (shuāng lóng gōu), twin dragon gorge, a sort of protected area of natural scenic beauty (they tell me). It is basically sub-tropical mountain forest. We passed through the gate and climbed slowly up the mountain.IMG_6378.thumb.jpg.484b3463b04b886783e1f6f6d892d5dd.jpg

The gate.  The name at the top reads 双龙沟 (shuāng lóng gōu), but in the older traditional script (traditional Chinese characters) - 雙龍溝

 

We passed through many bridges over the streams trickling down the mountainside. This one is called "Lucky Bridge.

 

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But mostly we we just went up and up, till we reached the top. Here we found a glass bridge across the gorge, high above the treetops. I am not at all good with heights - standing on a chair to change a light bulb terrifies me, so this I was not looking forward to. But I made it.

 

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On the other side we headed back down. Apart from the bridge, I really enjoyed the fresh  air and the trees.

 

Then, we headed to Yubu,  a Miao village where we would have dinner and spend the night.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Yubu village (雨卜村 yǔ bǔ cūn) is tiny. One street and surrounding fields. A four dog village. But deep in the heart of Miao territory.

 

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Village Gate

 

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The Street

 

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The Dogs

 

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Houses

 

But enough of this , I'm hungry after all that mountain climbing lark.

 

So to dinner in the village's only restaurant, which specialises in local freshwater fish.

 

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Fish and Tofu Soup

 

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Purple Potato

 

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Braised Chicken

 

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Deep fried fish stuffed wonton-like things.

 

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Duck

 

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Pumpkin

 

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A different kind of fish fritters

 

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Daikon Radish

 

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Pickled Bamboo

 

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Steamed Fish - this was GOOD.

 

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Beef with Green Chilli Peppers

 

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Another egg and vegetable pancake - this time with a vinegar and soy sauce chilli dip.

 

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Vegetation

 

Again, everything we ate was grown, raised or produced in the village's surrounding countryside..

 

More to come....

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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After dinner, we crossed this bridge to a silversmith workshop where they make the elaborate hats and necklaces worn by the women.

 

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The man on the left is hammering a piece of silver to make into fine thread which the man on the right slowly and carefully presses into a small mould to make the petals of the flowers which decorate the hat.

 

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When the sun set, almost all the villagers came out to entertain us with singing and dancing.

 

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The woman in the centre was the compère, but also the check-in person at the hotel we were staying in.

 

 

This video ends rather abruptly because the young woman walking towards me was about to hand me a cup of rice wine which etiquette demands I accept with both hands, so I had to put the camera down.

 

We were also treated to the best lion dance I've ever seen and I've seen hundreds.

 

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After the show was over, we headed back to the hotel and bed. In the morning we partook of a typical Miao breakfast. Again we had oil tea, but there was also boiled eggs, steamed bread, fried noodles, pickles and rice porridge.

 

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After breakfast we left on a three hour journey further north, leaving behind the Miao people and moving into Dong territory.

 

to be continued...

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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6 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

IMG_6436.thumb.jpg.91ea504dd11a7a11672cab1d4e431af6.jpg

 

 

Time ago, on the Dong people thread, you wrote they are famous for their wood-only bridges (no metals, no concrete, no screws, just jointed wood). This seems like one of them, right? Do you have a picture with an overall view of the bridge? Thanks.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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54 minutes ago, teonzo said:

 

Time ago, on the Dong people thread, you wrote they are famous for their wood-only bridges (no metals, no concrete, no screws, just jointed wood). This seems like one of them, right? Do you have a picture with an overall view of the bridge? Thanks.

 

Teo

 

 

Yes, It is similar to the bridges I mentioned before. Unfortunately, access to the side of the bridge wasn't really an option so I don't have an overall view. The Miao aren't particularly known for their bridge building skills, but the Dong certainly are. I'm working on sorting pictures and will be posting pictures of one of their bridges, probably tomorrow.

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8 minutes ago, Anna N said:

 Just awe inspiring. 

 

Indeed. I've been working and living alongside these people for 21 years and still, every day, my awe overwhelms me. The most awe-inspiring is still to come. It makes my eyes well up every time. Hopefully, I'll be able to post that one tomorrow. China has blocked access to Youtube and I have to use all sorts of trickery to get round their censorship which slows me down.

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3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

Indeed. I've been working and living alongside these people for 21 years and still, every day, my awe overwhelms me. The most awe-inspiring is still to come. It makes my eyes well up every time. Hopefully, I'll be able to post that one tomorrow. China has blocked access to Youtube and I have to use all sorts of trickery to get round their censorship which slows me down.

I, for one, greatly appreciate the effort involved. You really bring the people you meet to life, for those of us who are unlikely to get to the places you go.

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I am beyond astounded in the workmanship of those silver headdresses. And more than a little bit amazed at how strong those women's necks must be!

 

The history and culture of China, come to life through your photos and words, continues to amaze me. Thank you for taking us all along.

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I too am grateful for these in-depth tours.  The food looks wonderful, the serving and greeting (and clothing) traditions are amazing.  It's fortunate for us that you are willing to post, and that your subjects are not camera-shy!

 

It occurs to me to wonder whether peanut allergies are heard of over there? In the USA there has been rising concern about food allergies of all types - including peanuts.  It looks as though it would be nigh-impossible to avoid peanut products in your part of the world.  I do not wish to derail this discussion, but if you can address it quickly I'd be interested to know more.

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Oh thank you so much for this!!!!!!

 

Those silver hats are so intricate and amazing.  I could stare at them for hours.  Any guesses on how long it takes to make one?

All of the women are so beautiful.

 

All of the food looks so good.  The color of the purple potato is so vivid.  

 

The dogs!!!  The one on the far right --I love him.  I love all of them.  But his coloring is so different!

 

You would have to sedate and carry me over that bridge.  Good thing we don't live together.  Our lightbulbs would never be changed lol.

 

 

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5 hours ago, Smithy said:

It occurs to me to wonder whether peanut allergies are heard of over there? In the USA there has been rising concern about food allergies of all types - including peanuts.  It looks as though it would be nigh-impossible to avoid peanut products in your part of the world.  I do not wish to derail this discussion, but if you can address it quickly I'd be interested to know more.

 

Good question. The food allergy problem seems to me to be confined to the more "developed" countries. I've never heard of anyone here being allergic to peanuts (or any other food) here . As you say, peanuts are very difficult to avoid - peanut oil is the cooking oil for example.

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4 minutes ago, Shelby said:

 

Those silver hats are so intricate and amazing.  I could stare at them for hours.  Any guesses on how long it takes to make one?

 

I'm not sure exactly, but certainly days, if not weeks. I have watched that young man spend an hour just making one flower petal.

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2 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I have now added the entertainment videos to my previous post.

 Oh my what can one possibly say. That lion dance is breathtaking. I don’t think I could’ve watched it in real time because my heart would’ve been in my throat. Thanks so much for sharing this. 

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

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      Fresh ginger, 6 coin sized slices

      Garlic.  5 cloves, roughly chopped

      Sichuan peppercorns,  1 tablespoon

      Whole dried red chiles,   6 -10  (optional). If you can source the Sichuan chiles known as Facing Heaven Chiles, so much the better.

      Potatoes 2 or 3 medium sized. peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

      Carrot. 1,  thinly sliced

      Dried wheat noodles.  8 oz. Traditionally, these would be a long, flat thick variety. I've use Italian tagliatelle successfully.    

      Red bell pepper. 1 cut into chunks

      Green bell pepper, 1 cut into chunks

      Salt

      Scallion, 2 sliced.
         
      Method

      First, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate in 1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce, 3 teaspoons of Shaoxing and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside for about twenty minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

      Heat the wok and add three tablespoons cooking oil. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. Fry on a low heat for a  minute or so. If they look about to burn, splash a little water into your wok. This will lower the temperature slightly. Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Continue frying until the meat is nicely seared, then add the potatoes and carrots. Stir fry a minute more then add 2 teaspoons of the dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the light soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of the Shaoxing wine along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium. Cover and cook for around 15 minutes until the potatoes are done.

      While the main dish is cooking, cook the noodles separately according to the packet instructions.  Reserve  some of the noodle cooking water and drain.

      When the chicken and potatoes are done, you may add a little of the noodle water if the dish appears on the dry side. It should be saucy, but not soupy. Add the bell peppers and cook for three to four minutes more. Add scallions. Check seasoning and add some salt if it needs it. It may not due to the soy sauce and Shaoxing.

      Serve on a large plate for everyone to help themselves from. Plate the noodles first, then cover with the meat and potato. Enjoy.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Beef with Bitter Melon - 牛肉苦瓜
       

       
      The name may be off-putting to many people, but Chinese people do have an appreciation for bitter tastes and anyway, modern cultivars of this gourd are less bitter than in the past. Also, depending on how it's cooked, the bitterness can be mitigated.
       
      I'll admit that I wasn't sure at first, but have grown to love it.

      Note: "Beef with Bitter Melon (牛肉苦瓜 )" or "Bitter Melon with Beef (苦瓜牛肉)"? One Liuzhou restaurant I know has both on its menu! In Chinese, the ingredient listed first is the one there is most of, so, "beef with bitter melon" is mainly beef, whereas "bitter melon with beef" is much more a vegetable dish with just a little beef. This recipe is for the beefier version. To make the other version, just half the amount of beef and double the amount of melon.

      Ingredients

      Beef. One pound. Flank steak works best. Slice thinly against the grain.

      Bitter Melon. Half a melon. You can use the other half in a soup or other dish. Often available in Indian markets or supermarkets.
       

       
      Salted Black Beans. One tablespoon. Available in packets from Asian markets and supermarkets, these are salted, fermented black soy beans. They are used as the basis for 'black bean sauce', but we are going to be making our own sauce!

      Garlic. 6 cloves

      Cooking oil. Any vegetable oil except olive oil

      Shaoxing wine. See method

      Light soy sauce. One tablespoon

      Dark soy sauce. One teaspoon

      White pepper. See method
      Sesame oil. See method

      Method

      Marinate the beef in a 1/2 tablespoon of light soy sauce with a splash of Shaoxing wine along with a teaspoon or so of cornstarch or similar (I use potato starch). Stir well and leave for 15-30 minutes.

      Cut the melon(s) in half lengthwise and, using a teaspoon, scrape out all the seeds and pith. The more pith you remove, the less bitter the dish will be. Cut the melon into crescents about 1/8th inch wide.

      Rinse the black beans and drain. Crush them with the blade of your knife, then chop finely. Finely chop the garlic.

      Stir fry the meat in a tablespoon of oil over a high heat until done. This should take less than a minute. Remove and set aside.

      Add another tablespoon of oil and reduce heat to medium. fry the garlic and black beans until fragrant then add the bitter melon. Continue frying until the melon softens. then add a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine and soy sauces. Finally sprinkle on white pepper to taste along with a splash of sesame oil. Return the meat to the pan and mix everything well.

      Note: If you prefer the dish more saucy, you can add a tablespoon or so of water with the soy sauces.
      Serve with plained rice and a stir-fried green vegetable of choice.
       
    • By Drew777
      I'm a Brit. I'm also a closet Frenchman.  To cap it all, I'm happily retired in Bangkok, the city of a street food culture that's second to none. The Thais are healthy and slim. I'm just this side of alive and far from slim. Lockdown has me fantasizing about my days working in London, Paris and New York, an existence, if one could call it that, revolving around gastronomy of one kind or another. They paid me, not so very much as it happens, to do what I enjoy doing most in life. We all get to do it, but I was one of a fortunate few who made it his metier. Well all that's in the past now, but I still dream of my time in Paris when lunch was a tad short of 2-hours, little-known local bistros remained affordable until the day they were discovered by La Bible (Michelin Guide) and the students were revolting - this was the summer of '68, for heaven's sake. Someone should open bistro here in Bangkok with a table d'hote of Soupe a l'Oignon gratinee, Blanquette de Veau, a stinky Epoisses and Tarte Tatin to finsih with creme fraiche. Ah, it's back to lockdown and pad Thai. 
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