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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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      To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
       
      There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
       
      Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
       
      To be continued
    • By liuzhou
      It is possibly not well-known that China has some wonderful hams, up there with the best that Spain can offer. This lack of wide -knowledge, at least in the USA, is mainly down to regulations forbidding their importation. However, for travellers to China and those in  places with less restrictive policies, here are some of the best.
       
      This article from the WSJ is a good introduction to one of the best - Xuanwei Ham 宣威火腿  (xuān wēi huǒ tuǐ) from Yunnan province.
      This Ingredient Makes Everything Better
      I can usually obtain Xuanwei ham here around the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, but I also have a good friend who lives in Yunnan who sends me regular supplies. The article compares it very favourably with jamon iberico, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.



      Xuanwei Ham
       

      Xuanwei Ham
       
      more coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      I have just returned home to China from an almost two week trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. To get there I first travelled by train to the provincial capital, Nanning. The local airport only does domestic flights, whereas there are direct flights from Nanning. The flight time required that I stay overnight at the Aviation Hotel in Nanning, from which there is a regular direct bus to the airport.
       
      The trip to Nanning is about an hour and a half and passes through some nice karst scenery.
       
       
      After booking into the hotel, I set off for my favourite Nanning eating destination. Zhongshan Night market is a well known spot and very popular with the locals. I had forgotten that it was a local holiday - the place is always busy, but that night it was exceptionally so.
       

       

       
      It consists of one long street with hundreds of stalls and is basically a seafood market, although there are a few stalls selling alternatives.
       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       
      Filled myself with seafood (and some of that blood sausage above), slept soundly and, next morning, flew to Ho Chi Minh City.
       

       

       
      The rest of my trip can be seen here:
       
       
    • By Lisa Shock
      Years ago, when I visited Tokyo, I ate in a small but fascinating restaurant called 'It's Vegetable' which is now, unfortunately, closed. The chef was from Taiwan, and he made Buddhist vegetarian and vegan dishes that resembled meat. During my visit, several monks wearing robes stopped in to eat dinner. The dishes were pretty amazing. I understood some of them, like using seitan to mimic chicken in stir fry dishes, others used tofu products like yuba, but, others were complex and obviously difficult. One very notable dish we enjoyed was a large 'fish' fillet designed to serve several people. It had a 'skin' made of carefully layered 'scales' cut from nori and attached to the surface. Inside, the white 'flesh' flaked and tasted much like a mild fish. Anyway, apparently Buddhist fake meat meals are very popular in Taiwan and many places, cheap through to fine dining serve them. Yes, if I worked on it for a while, I could probably refine one or two dishes on my own, but, I am wondering if there's a Modernist Cuisine type cookbook for skillfully making these mock meats from scratch? (I have heard that some items are commercially made and available frozen there, much like soy-based burgers are in the US.) I am willing to try almost any offering, even if it's entirely in Chinese. And, I know how to use remailers to purchase regional items from the various local retailers worldwide who do not ship to the US.
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