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liuzhou

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

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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)

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I have edited the first post to add a couple of relevant videos. Working on dinner.

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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 climbing mountain 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 Parsnip

 

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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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I'm loving this, both pics and your commentary. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us!

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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:

 

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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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 Just awe inspiring. 

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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. 

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The rest of the trip follows on this topic. I have separated the trip as the two ethnic groups involved, while sharing some things, are mainly quite different.

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Wow wow wow. I haven't seen many lion dances, but if this was the best, I'm spoiled. Thank you for posting!

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    • By liuzhou
      Today is 小年 (xiǎo nián) which literally means 'little [new] year', but is something more. It takes place approximately a week before Chinese New Year (February 16th this time round - Year of the Dog) and is the festival for the Kitchen God
       
      In traditional animist Chinese thought, there is a god for everything and the kitchen god is responsible for all aspects of, you guessed, the kitchen. Once a year (today), the kitchen god pops back  to report to the god of heaven on the happenings of the last 12 months. Therefore we have to placate him so he makes a good report.  My neighbours are busy preparing offerings of sticky rice and assorted sugary confections for the god, so that when he eats them, his teeth and lips will stick together and he will be unable to report any bad behaviour. An alternative theory suggest the sugary stuff will sweeten his words. Then we'll be OK for another year!
       
      This is  the fellow


    • By liuzhou
      These have been mentioned a couple of times recently on different threads and I felt they deserved one of their own. After all, they did keep me alive when I lived in Xi'an.
       
      Rou jia mo (ròu jiá mò; literally "Meat Sandwich") are Chinese sandwiches which originated in Shaanxi Province, but can be found all over China. Away from their point of origin, they tend to be made with long stewed pork belly. However in Xi'an (capital of Shaanxi), there is a large Muslim population so the meat of choice is more usually beef. In nearby Gansu Province, lamb or mutton is more likely.
       
      When I was living in Xi'an in 1996-1997, I lived on these. I was living on campus in North-West University (西北大学) and right outside the school gate was a street lined with cheap food joints, most of which would serve you one. I had one favourite place which I still head to when I visit. First thing I do when I get off the train.
       
      What I eat is Cumin Beef Jia Mo (孜然牛肉夹馍 zī rán niú ròu jiá mò). The beef is stir fried or grilled/BBQd with cumin and mild green peppers. It is also given a bit of a kick with red chill flakes.
       
      Here is a recipe wrested from the owner of my Xi'an favourite. So simple, yet so delicious.
       

      Lean Beef
       
      Fairly lean beef is cut into slivers
       

      Sliced  Beef
       

      Chopped garlic
       
      I use this single clove garlic from Sichuan, but regular garlic does just fine.
       
      The beef and garlic are mixed in a bowl and generously sprinkled with ground cumin. This is then moistened with a little light soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. You don't want to flood it. Set aside for as long as you can.
       

      Mild Green Chilli Pepper
       
      Take one or two mild green peppers and crush with the back of a knife, then slice roughly. You could de-seed if you prefer. I don't bother.
       

      Chopped Green Pepper
       
      Fire up the wok, add oil (I use rice bran oil, but any  vegetable oil except olive oil would be fine) and stir fry the meat mixture until the meat is just done. 
       

      Frying Tonight
       
      Then add the green peppers and fry until they are as you prefer them. I tend to like them still with a bit of crunch, so slightly under-cook them
       

      In with the peppers
       
      You will, of course, have prepared the bread. The sandwiches are made with a type of flat bread known as 白吉饼 (bái jí bǐng; literally "white lucky cake-shape"). The ones here are store bought but I often make them. Recipe below.
       

      Bai Ji Bing
       
      Take one and split it. Test the seasoning of the filling, adding salt if necessary. It may not need it because of the soy sauce. 
       

      Nearly there
       
      Cover to make a sandwich  and enjoy. You will see that I have used a bunch of kitchen paper to hold the sandwich and to soak up any escaping juices. But it should be fairly dry.
       

      The final product.
       
      Note: I usually cook the meat and pepper in batches. Enough for one sandwich per person at a time. If we need another (and we usually do) I start the next batch. 
       
       
      Bread Recipe
       
       
      350g plain flour
      140ml water
      1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

      Mix the yeast with the flour and stir in the water. Continue stirring until a dough forms. Knead until smooth. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise by about one third. (maybe 30-40 minutes).
       
      Knead again to remove any air then roll the dough into a log shape around 5cm in diameter, then cut into six portions. Press these into a circle shape using a rolling pin. You want to end up with 1.5cm thick buns. 
       
      Preheat oven to 190C/370F.
       
      Dry fry the buns in a skillet until they take on some colour about a minute or less on each side, then finish in the oven for ten minutes. Allow to cool before using.
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