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Guangxi Gastronomy


liuzhou
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I'm certainly not finished with chronicling Guangxi cuisine, but I do have to pause while the quacks once again try to restore me to what passes for normal. Mainly, being in hospital prevents me from going out and getting pictures of what I am trying to decribe. Often essential for the less usual ingredients and dishes. Random sudden visits to obscure corners of the hospital to be plugged into some machine as a test or to be injected wth some witch's potion also ruins the flow of any narrative.

 

I shall continue at some point, in the meantime here is a gratuitous picture of the favourite fish in these parts - the grass carp.

 

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16. 螺蛳 (luó sī),田螺 (tián luó), 海螺 (hǎi luó)

 

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According to research reported in this 2003 article from China Daily, pottery was invented in Guangxi between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago for the express purpose of cooking today’s favourite ingredient, the snail. More recent discoveries have pushed that date for pottery back even further to an incredible 20,000 to 26,000 years ago. At least, that is the date for pottery. I have seen nothing to confirm or totally refute the connection with snail eating.

 

But we do know that neolithic man consumed freshwater snails in large quantities. After all, snails don’t run away or bite back like other prey. The neoliths also left the shells behind in dumps we know they used. The earliest known human remains in east Asia are those of 柳江人 (liǔ jiāng rén) ‘Liujiang Man’, discovered in Liujiang, Liuzhou in 1958. and believed to be about 68,000 years old. He lived in some of the karst caves south of Liuzhou city and snail shell dumps have also been found in the region.

 

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Liujiang Man

 

Whatever the truth, and it is disputed, the locals haven't abandoned their snail eating. Tons of them are consumed one or another every day, most often in the form of 螺蛳粉 (luó sī fěn), Liuzhou’s now famous river snail noodle dish, but I’ve written about that above so I will say little today on that subject. That is not to misrepresent luosifen’s economic and gastronomic importance to the city, but to show there’s more to snails than just that. One thing is sure; snails were eaten for millennia before anyone thought to turn them into soup for noodles.

 

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Preparig Snail Brth for Luosifen

 

Of course, many cultures eat snails, but I have never seen so many in markets or supermarkets anywhere else. Huge steaming pots of them, red with chillies and full of gastropods are set out to tempt you. These are 螺蛳, literally, spiral shell snails, the famous river snails, a type of Viviparidae, although no one seems to know the exact species. They are found in huge quantities in the Liujiang, the river that runs through the city as well as in the local rice paddies and ponds. They are usually eaten as a snack or as beer food with the diner using a toothpick to extract the tiny, but delicious, morsel within. Always, it seems, sold with compulsory chillies.

 

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Often they are enhanced by including ducks’ feet or chickens’ feet, euphemistically known as 凤爪 (fèng zhǎo) or ‘phoenix claws’, more the locals like to gnaw on.

 

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Snails with Phoenix Claws (Chicken's Feet)

Snail meat is also extracted raw from the shell and sold to be added to soups, hotpots etc. I like that they include some chilli and ginger in case you forget.

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Raw snail meat

 

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Cooked snails

These snails are sometimes called 田螺 (tián luó), literally 'field snail' but it's a useless descriptor as it is also applied to many other species large and small, including Cipangopaludina chinensis Gray, aka the Chinese apple snail or Chinese mystery snail, an invasive species causing havoc across the USA and Canada.While ir can be delicious, it is also highly prone to hosting parasites including the human intestinal fluke Echinostoma cinetorchis.

 

Larger snails of other species are sometimes served stufed with pork and baked but are nowhere near as popular as the little spirals.

 

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River Snails with Pork

 

Sea snails are shipped in from southern Guangxi and often served with other seafood such as clams

 

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Sea Snails with Clams

river snails.jpg

snails3.JPG

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17. 螃蟹 (páng xiè), 大闸蟹 (dà zhá xiè), 三斑蟹 (sān bān xiè)

 

I had a notion to do a seafood piece for this topic, but quickly realised that would stretch too far. There’s a lot of it about. So, I’m splitting it up. Today, my favourite. Always a good place to start.

 

But first. We are lucky here. Unlike most Chinese provinces, we are not landlocked, so have access to the sea. 409 km / 658 miles to the south of Liuzhou (4 hours by road, 2 by train), is the coastal city of Beihai, Guangxi’s seafood central. This city lies on the Tonkin Gulf, close to the border with Vietnam. Fresh sea food is shipped daily to local restaurants and to my local markets and supermarkets. Near my home is the excellent 北海渔家风味 (běi hǎi yú jiā fēng wèi) restaurant, literally ‘Beihai Fishing Family Flavour’ and there are many others.

 

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Beihai Fishing Family Flavour

 

As with most of these restaurants, seafood is displayed live in tanks, you make your selection and they cook it. One place has an ‘all you can eat’, fixed price menu with a twist. If you order the food, you have to eat it. They fine extravagantly for any leftovers.

 

So, I can get what want, whether I recognise it or not. And what I want most is crab. Well, what I can afford and want is crab. Some species are crazily priced.

 

We mostly get 兰花蟹 (lán huā xiè), blue swimming crabs Portunus armatus. These have leapt in price recently – don’t know why, but are still just about affordable.

 

1749894344_Bluecrabs.thumb.jpg.676649fefa8df1aba101a4f5b3a6df09.jpg

 

I usually cook these at home. Either stir-fried with garlic and black fermented beans or my late wife’s favourite, with garlic, chilli and oyster sauce – Ken’s Killer Krab. Restaurants tend to go more for the former – the Cantonese influence. The proudest moment in my life came when mother-in-law asked me to cook the crabs for a big family dinner as I “do it better!” A rare compliment from a Chinese housewife!

 

1231343935_KensKillerCrab.thumb.jpg.1dd12812d00e585860800e6030086f13.jpg

 

Although most famed in Shanghai, 大闸蟹 (dà zhá xiè), Eriocheir sinensis, mitten crabs, aka hairy crabs are also very popular here, if expensive.

 

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An August* treat, these small crabs are most highly prized if from 阳澄湖 (yáng chéng hú) - Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou, about 100 kilometres / 60 miles north-west of Shanghai. Such was the amount of fraud regarding these prized specimens in the past, that today, all genuine Yangcheng crabs are laser etched with a trackable serial number. These can fetch up to $100 / kilo wholesale price. In a restaurant, the sky is the limit.

 

1725411235_hairycrab2.thumb.jpg.80011b1c7b4053380fa112ce3ecf42d4.jpg

 

Cheaper versions from other waters (previously passed off as Yancheng) are available in my local supermarket when in season. These and the real ones from Suzhou are separated into male and female and priced quite differently. The females, marked (mǔ) come in at a significantly higher price as they contain the roe, considered quite a delicacy. The males, (gōng) also have good meat, but obviously lack the roe. I have only had the Yangcheng version once – in a 5 star Liuzhou hotel restaurant, both genders – and can happily confirm that they are better, being sweeter, meatier, and with a certain 我不知道, Chinese for “Je ne sais pas.”

An odd crab that sometimes turns up my supermarket is 三斑蟹 (sān bān xiè), the three-spot swimming crab, Portunus sanguinolentus. Slightly larger than the above two crabs, these are fun to look at when raw, but lose their colouring when cooked. The flavour is OK, but inferior. They are cheaper, though.

 

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3-spot crab fried rice. You can see the uncooked shell top right.

 

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Cooked 3-spot Crab

 

Large crabs of undetermined** species are apparently reserved for the city’s Cantonese restaurants, something I try to avoid. Not only are they wildly expensive places; I find the food bland and ultimately boring.

We also get largish crab claws, but always frozen. I only bought once. I prefer fresh at all times. And when It's so available, why go frozen?

 

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Crab Claws

 

* Hairy crab season falls in the 6th month of China's traditional solar-lunar calendar. This usually happens in August by the Gregorian western calendar.

** undetermined by me.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Crabs on the runway! @liuzhou, where do I order the  polka dot tops and blue leggings? 

One question. I must be dense, but how do you commit fraud with a mitten crab? Give them a matching fuzzy scarf? That would be a give-away, indeed; But if you can pull it off I can see how they would command haute prices.  

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50 minutes ago, Katie Meadow said:

how do you commit fraud with a mitten crab?

 

By claiming it's a Yangcheng crab when it was actually raised in your kitchen sink. It's all about terroir.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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18. 蛤蜊 (gé lí), 车螺 chē luó)

 

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One difficulty about living, or even travelling, in China is an often overlooked linguistic phenomenon. Many foodstuffs and dishes have radically different names in different parts of the country. Many have different names on different stalls in the market! I know several different names for the simple potato, for example.

 

I first lived Xi’an and made the effort to learn food names. After a year, I moved to faraway Hunan and was baffled. Everything seemed to be different, including food terminology. I started over and finally managed to order my dinner - usually successfully. After another two years, I decided to move to the neighbouring province of Guangxi thinking it wouldn’t be so different. My first attempt to order lunch in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant was a fiasco. I did finally manage to get something to eat, but had to learn a new language in five minutes, first.

 

The first time, though, that I noticed this phenomenon was in my first year, on a trip to Qingdao (home of Tsingtao beer). This seaside city has great seafood and I mostly ate at a family run, outdoor place opposite my accommodation. Here, I discovered a great dish of what that they called ‘gala’. I searched for this for ages elsewhere only to find that ‘gala’ is the Qingdao dialect for 蛤蜊 (gé lí), the accepted Mandarin.

Now I am I Guangxi, where they are called something different again—车螺 (chē luó)!

 

Whatever you call them, I like them – clams! With there being over 15,000 types of these bivalves in the world to choose from, I’m not short of choice. But I’m not going to even try to say what species 99% of them are. I don’t even know the local names (and neither do the people selling them).

 

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Clam and Mustard Greens Soup

 

By far, the favourite dish locally is 车螺芥菜汤 (chē luó jiè cài tāng) or Clam Soup with Mustard Greens, so much so that in many supermarkets it’s only possible to buy the clams and mustard pre-wrapped together. I don’t buy mine in those supermarkets, although I often make the soup.

 

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Prepacked Clam and Mustard Greens for Soup

 

The soup is the only dish most people know it's possible to make and I regularly surprise friends by cooking them different preparations. I remember one friend being delighted seeing the clams all pop open when I cooked her clams with fermented black beans. That was years ago and she still talks about the dish.

 

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Black Bean Clams

 

I also use the local clams in Asian dishes such as

 

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Red Curry Clams

 

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Clams with Scallions

 

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Clam and Noodles with Shichimi Togarashi

 

or pair them with seafood such as

 

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Clams and Sea Snails in Oyster Sauce

 

Apart from the clams above, in my favourite seafood vendor's place, I get more choice although this is unpredictable, depending on the catch, the season and the weather.

,

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Huajia Clams

 

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White Clams

 

I also see dried clams, used in stocks, soups and hotpots for their umami.

 

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Dried Clams

 

Finally, we can occasionally find these large clams grilled in the night markets - known locally as 'purse clams' as they supposedly resemble that essential accessory.

 

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Grilled 'Purse Clams'with Garlic and Chilli

 

 

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On 11/6/2022 at 3:12 AM, liuzhou said:

15. 海藻 (hǎi zǎo)

 

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Walk into my local supermarket and in one corner you are met by piles of what appears to be large sheets of distressed leather with a funky smell. This regularly baffles newcomers, as it did me. This ancient cow hide is on sale and there are even people buying it.

 

In fact, this stuff has never been wrapped around a cow. What you are confronted with is seaweed (海藻 (hǎi zǎo), specifically dried kelp 海带 (hǎi dài), literally 'sea belt', one of about 30 genera in the order Laminariales. These grow in the cold seas in the north east of China and is shipped here in various forms.

 

Kelp needs clean water at a temperature between 6 and 14℃ / 43 and 57℉. It takes its nutrition from the sun and so requires clear coastal waters that allow the sunlight to penetrate. Note that not all kelp species have the float bladders found in the North American variety.

 

In ideal circumstances, the kelp forests can grow to 45 metres / 150 ft tall, with some species growing 27 to 60 cm / 10 to 24 inches per day.

 

Not only do the kelp forests provide us with highly nutritional fodder, they offer protection and a diverse ecosystem to the many life forms which shelter within. Algae, fish and shrimp all take advantage, some living there all their lives. Others only use them as nursery areas for their young.

 

So how is kelp used? Much more than you might think. Even if you’ve never knowingly eaten it, you probably have ingested some at some point. It is used in toothpaste as a binding agent. You may have washed your hair with it! And if you are a fan of ranch dressing or common breakfast cereals, you’ve eaten it. It is used as a binder there, too. It is a good source of calcium for us oldies and vitamin K doesn’t go amiss either. It is also low in calories and, most importantly, it tastes good!

 

Kelp forests are under threat from rising sea temperatures and storms like El Nino wreak huge damage. Australia, for example, has been reported as losing more than 60 miles of forest to rising temperatures.

 

Back in the supermarket, besides the sheets of leather we can find kelp in more manageable pieces – both fresh and dried. Short pieces are tied into very popular kelp knots which are used in soups, hotpots, and cooked salads. It is also sold cut into strips like noodles.

 

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Fresh Kelp Knots

 

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Dried Kelp Knots

 

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Kelp Knot Salad

 

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Kelp "Noodles"

 

Kelp is also pickled and sold in small packets as a snack food.

 

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Pickled Kelp

 

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Pickled Kelp

 

But, kelp isn't the only seaweed on offer. We also have 紫菜 (zǐ cài), literally 'purple vegetable'. This is what you probably know as 'nori' - 海苔 or のり, in Japanese or 'laver', in English.  Again there are several varieties, but they all belong to the Porphyra family.

 

Laver is often sold dried in sheets for use with sushi (or just to snack on) but we also get it in its fresh natural state. This is what should be in your seaweed and egg drop soup and in the best Chinese restaurants is your crispy seaweed, although that is nearly always fried cabbage. Here is is often sold dried in these circular packs from which we break off what we need. I always have some in the pantry.

 

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It is also used in a number of manufactured goods such as imported instant soups from Japan,  my favourite crackers and even Lay’s have got in on the act with laver flavoured chips, or to use their correct name, crisps. 😂

 

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Seaweed.thumb.jpg.c8e4f976a4b8aa8ad8184d41b6718b16.jpg

 

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Instant Laver Soup from Japan

 

I have been known to crumble dried laver into beer batter for my fish and chips. A very versatile and healthy ingredient. I've also subbed it for furikake, the Japanese rice flavouring, when that has been unavailable.

 

Then we have my favourite of all the sea vegetables (seen in my first picture) . This is 海草 (hǎi cǎo), seagrass. Unlike kelp or laver, which are algae, these are true plants sharing characteristics with land-bound plants. In fact the approximately 60 different seagrasses are the only plants which can survive total, permanent immersion in water. They have flowers, fruit and seeds and form underwater meadows. Seagrass lawns also offer protection for young shrimp and other species. I've only ever seen this sold fresh.

 

I like this with almost everything.  Always with fish, especially sushi or sashimi...

 

1281295518_salmonsushiandseagrass.thumb.jpg.40ae9e0894cd424f565e4b43379f3275.jpg

 

... but even with cheese.

 

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There is one more seaweed in the supermarket, but I've never been able to identify it. It is labelled 海石花 (hǎi shí huā) in Chinese. That literally translates as 'sea stone flower'. A yellowish fawn coloured dried weed. It doesn't appear in any of my dictionaries or other sources. If anyone wants to hazard a guess, or even find a reliable source, I will be delighted. Of course, it's possible the store mislabelled it. They often do misidentify stuff.

 

Scientists tell us that future generations may have to rely on seaweed and seegrasses as a food  source, but at the same time tell us the same species are under threat. Seagrasses are also endangered by coastal 'development', by floods which  disturb the sediment and by outboard motors etc. I won't be here to see it and I ain't religious but I pray for sense to prevail.

 


Wow, thanks very much for this very informative post. And your photos are fabulous and so helpful. This is a topic that really interests me. 

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19. 鱼子 (yú zǐ), 飞鱼籽 (fēi yú zǐ), 蟹黄水 (xiè huáng shuǐ), 虾子 (xiā zǐ) , (ér),

 

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Flying Fish Roe

 

Although I mentioned it in passing, when looking at crabs, I deliberately left out any details of one important aspect, as it fits more comfortably with other issues and products. I am talking about the ladies’ roe, 鱼子 (yú zǐ).

 

Unlike in many Western countries where lumpfish roe tends to be the choice for cheap substitutes for the good stuff, here the choice is much more likely to be flying fish roe 飞鱼籽 (fēi yú zǐ). This took off about ten years ago, when there was a craze for Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, which often features flying fish roe (とびこ - tobiko in Japanese, or in the less honest places, the cheaper 雅子 – masako, which is actually smelt roe.) Naturally orange in hue, tobiko is often recoloured, using squid ink for black, beet for red, yuzu for yellow, or ‘wasabi’* for green.

 

I have, too, come across capelin roe, but only what I have found inside the raw fish. Even that is rare and capelin are not well known.

 

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Undyed Capelin Roe

 

Somewhat more expensive and tastier is 蟹黄水 (xiè huáng shuǐ), crab roe. This red roe is particularly valued in China due to the fame of Yangcheng hairy crabs. Crab roe, too is often dyed other colours, especially black.

 

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Black Dyed Crab Roe

 

Be careful if ordering it however, no matter the type of crab. The locals like to eat the ovaries, roe and digestive tract of the crab. This combination is known as 蟹黄 (xiè huáng), whereas the roe alone is 蟹黄水 (xiè huáng shuǐ). I don’t mean you shouldn’t eat it, but not unwillingly.

 

Real caviar (ér), from sturgeon is not thought of as Chinese but, in fact, China is the world’s largest producer by far, with one company, Kaluga Queen accounting for 60 tons a year, one third of all the caviar produced. They claim that twenty-one of France’s twenty-seven restaurants holding three Michelin stars serve their caviar as do Per Se and the French Laundry in the USA, among others. It is also sold domestically. The sturgeon are raised in Qiandao Lake, 355 k / 220 miles south of Shanghai. More information here. I don't know how much caviar makes its way to Guangxi apart from the three x 10g tins in my fridge.

 

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Kaluga Queen Caviar and Smoked Sturgeon

 

Here is a  selection of local dishes using the various roes.

 

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Scrambled Duck Eggs with Flying Fish Roe

 

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Baked Egg with Goose Liver and Caviar

 

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Shrimp with Orzo, Wakame and Crab Roe

 

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Hake with Black Crab Roe

 

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Avocado and Crab Roe

 

Whole roes from freshwater fish, probably carp, are available in one store I frequent. I've never bought one. So cheap they can't be great. Or am I missing something?

Other roes from non-native species such as cod, salmon and herring are available oline at import prices.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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6b 雪蛤 (xuě gé)

 

Something I forgot to mention when discussing frogs.

雪蛤 (xuě gé), hasma is the oviducts and surrounding fat of a type of frog, Rana temporaria chensinensis, the Asiatic Grass Frog or Forest Frog. This part of the frog, believe it or not, is considered a delicacy and used in a number of desserts and sweets.

 

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20. 生蚝 (shēng háo), 牡蛎 (mǔ lì), 海蛎 (hǎi lì), 蚵仔 (é zi)

 

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Thousands of 生蚝 (shēng háo) oysters are eaten every day across Guangxi. Every day two women sit in the main seafood market shucking the molluscs. Yes they deliver to the restaurants pre-shucked losing all the internal juices. The other names listed above are alternatves in different parts of China.  The last is only used in Taiwan.

 

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Oyster Shuckers - Liuzhou

 

Very few, if any, of those oysters are sold as I like to eat them. The general Chinese reluctance to eat anything raw goes into overdrive at the mention of oysters. Restaurants refuse to sell me raw oysters, fearing lawsuits when I surely drop dead after the first one. That is when they finally realise I’m being serious. They think I’m joking when I ask for them raw with a lemon. Only once, have I managed to persuade a roadside stall holder to serve me a plate and he watched very nervously, then was amazed to see me still alive the next evening, when he refused to repeat the experience.

 

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Grilled Oyster Vendor in Laibin, Guangxi. His oysters are farmed in 湛江 (zhàn jiāng) in neighbouring Guangdong.

 

So, I have to eat them at home. No hardship. I can buy them easily enough to take home. I get both wild ‘caught’ and farmed and can also save money by buying them in bulk boxes. They keep well wrapped in a damp towel in the fridge.

 

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The locals like to bury them in finely chopped garlic and grill them or, in restaurants, often cover them in fake fake cheese and grill that. By “fake fake” cheese I mean they use local copies of Kraft slices which, in my book, isn’t cheese in the first place. I’m surprised you call it American cheese; most countries would be ashamed to admit it!

 

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Fake Fake Cheese

 

Anyway, I wouldn’t put good cheese on oysters either. I am a firm believer in the cheese and seafood don’t mix rule! But then, I am also the kind of person who thinks that the same cheese on a burger ruins the burger. I’m a cheese lover.

 

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Sacrilege

 

I treat them with respect, shucking them myself immediately before eating, always careful to keep the internal juices, then hold them momentarily on ice until they are all ready.

 

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Unshucked

 

oysters3.thumb.jpg.3a2df222ae3e06839d9622729b92a2ef.jpgShucked and on Ice

 

I then eat them with a little lemon or lime juice or with nothing depending on my mood. I did manage to persuade one young friend to try one. She didn't die, found the experience pleasant enough, but is still reluctant to repeat the experience. Pity.

I have been eating these oysters here, every week in season, for over 20 years and never got sick once. (He writes from hospital, although my current condition is non-oyster related. They aren't on the hospital menu app, that I have noticed. In fact it's an exclusion zone for seafood of any kind. 😭 )

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Thanks @liuzhou, this has been a remarkable thread. Love it! Not that I would ever wish you a hospital stay, but this one has been incredibly productive! I hope you can go home soon--those oysters must be lonely in the fridge. Technicolor roe? I can't quite get my head around that, but it can't be nutritionally beneficial. I hope tobiko is really red, because I've eaten my share.

 

The forest frog thing, well,  chacun a son gout, as my dad would say in his dreadful French accent. I'll have the creme brûlée, hold the oviducts.

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21. 南宁中山路美食街 (zhōng shān lù měi shí jiē)

 

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In case anyone is concerned about my sore lack of seafood, let me take you on a trip to 中山路美食街 (zhōng shān lù měi shí jiē), Zhongshan Road Culinary Delicacy Street, the most popular food street in Guangxi's capital, Nanning. Every night from around 6 pm, it is packed with people snacking on freshly cooked seafood.

 

I have captioned nothing and present it in random order, which is how it goes in the street.

 

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and many more...

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22. 油茶 (yóu chá)

 

I’ll probably lose my honorary citizenship if I miss out this culturally important part of the local cuisine. In 2008, 油茶 (yóu chá) or oil tea was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Guangxi. All of the ethnic minorities claim it as their own and the Han majority are known to sometimes indulge. Depending on where you find yourself, you may hear it referred to as Dong Oil Tea; elsewhere Miao Oil Tea or Yao Oil Tea. Yao oil tea made headlines in 2019 when it set a Guinness World Record with 2,019 people making oil tea simultaneously.

 

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Oil Tea Ingredients

 

The tourist trap city of Guilin even falsely claims it as its own. It isn’t exclusive to Guangxi either. Cross into Hunan and the Miao and Tujia there also claim it. Same in Guizhou. I’ve never heard of the Zhuang claiming it, but they certainly use it. All these groups’ oil tea is basically the same and they all agree on the name 油茶 (yóu chá) when using Chinese.

 

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Oil Tea Awaiting the Tea!

 

I have written about this before, so some of you may have read parts of this on other topics. Sorry.

 

Despite the unappealing name, I’ve grown to look forward to oil tea and its culture. It is essential for these ethnic minorities to welcome guests with the dish. I say dish because it ain’t a cup of tea. Instead it is more like a soup. And it isn’t oily.

 

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Oil Tea

 

Camellia tree seeds are pressed to make tea seed oil, which is used both as a cooking oil and as the basis for the oil tea. This oil is used to fry regular tea leaves, green or black according to preference. I find black tea (which the Chinese call ‘red tea’) is the more common. The fried tea leaves are then used to make tea in the usual manner, by adding hot water and leaving it to steep. When the tea is suitably done, the leaves are scooped out using a bamboo scoop (see below).

Green onions, ginger, garlic and salt are usually added but not so much by the Miao. Sometimes, pork offal is cooked in the tea, then discarded.

 

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Cooked glutinous rice is dried in the sun then fried in the same tea seed oil which causes it to puff up in a similar manner to popcorn. Peanuts and soybeans are also stir-fried. It is then served as shown above. It is considered polite to partake of a minimum of two bowls of the tea. Your host will keep replenishing your bowl until you make it clear you are definitely done. The tea tastes a little bitter on first tasting, but then the rice and peanuts etc kick in and mellow it out.

 

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Oil Tea Scoop

 

It certainly keeps social life flowing among these minority people.

 

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Preparing Oil Tea in a Restaurant

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23. 八宝饭 (bā bǎo fàn)

 

八宝饭 (bā bǎo) is an expression you quickly get used to seeing and hearing in China. It literally means ‘eight treasures’ and is applied to all sorts of things, especially foods. Eight treasure congee may or may not contain exactly eight ingredients. Neither might eight treasure soup or eight treasure picked vegetables or eight treasure tea. It generally just means a selection of ingredients. Eight is just their favourite lucky number.

 

I first met today’s offering in a Miao peasant farmer’s home in the middle of nowhere in the Guangxi countryside. I’ll never forget it.

 

Basically it was (is) a dessert dish of glutinous rice flavoured with unrefined cane sugar, peanuts, lotus seeds, sesame seeds, fox nuts, wolfberry (goji), jujubes etc. It is a favourite at the luni-solar New Year festivities.

 

It certainly reinforced in my mind that glutinous rice is often called sticky rice. This was like eating mouthfuls of superglue. I couldn’t get my mouth open and could feel the rice lying on my stomach wall for hours after I ingested it.

 

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It is usually home-made, but occasionally can be bought pre-cooked in the market. Bundles can be seen in my picture.

 

You may take it that this is not a recommendation – unless you have a crush on your orthodontist.

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24. 血肠 (xuè cháng)

 

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血肠 (xuè cháng), blood sausage is made and consumed in most parts of China from Hunan to Xinjiang (horse blood sausage a speciality) to the ethnically Korean community in Jilin province. I’ve tried most of them, but my favourite are from right here in Guangxi.

 

宜州 (yí zhōu) is a small city in Guangxi’s Hechi prefecture which borders Liuzhou. Movie fans may have seen it. The river scenes in The Painted Veil, directed by John Curran and starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton were filmed in Yizhou. In fact, most of the movie was filmed in Guangxi, but not Guilin as many suppose.

 

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Yizhou, Guangxi - 广西宜州市

 

Liuzhou to Yizhou is approx 100km / 62 miles – about 1¼ hours by car. Every morning in the cool months, this lady travels here with her trolley which contains a gas tank and burner. She sets up and sells her steaming 宜州血肠 (yí zhōu xuè cháng) - Yizhou Blood Sausages, a local speciality, to office workers and passing foreigners. Her wares are made from fresh pigs’ blood and glutinous rice and taste remarkably similar to good Stornoway black pudding from Scotland, although they don't use rice and the spicing is different. The sausages freeze well if you remove the casing (it hates the cold).

 

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Yizhou Blood Sausage

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25. 黄姚古镇 (huáng yáo gǔ zhèn)

 

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Movie Poster - Fair  Use

 

As I mentioned in the last instalment, the 2006 movie The Painted Veil was largely filmed in Guangxi. Only the Shanghai and London scenes were not – they were both shot in Shanghai. As I noted the river scenes were shot in Yizhou, leaving only the town where the couple lived and the hospital where they worked to be accounted for. These were shot in 黄姚古镇 (huáng yáo gǔ zhèn), Huangyao Ancient Town, which is in Hezhou (贺州 - hè zhōu) prefecture of eastern Guangxi. Many movies and television shows have been shot in this picturesque old town.

 

The historic part of the town is around 1,000 years old and has changed little in that time. Today, it is quite a tourist destination, charging ¥100 per adult to visit (¥50 per child between 120 – 140 cm tall. Over 80s and kids 120 cm and under accompanied by a ticket holding adult go free.) More information here.

 

Apart from the historical and general sightseeing attraction, the town is also of some culinary significance. The stuffed tofu I mentioned in the first post is considered to be a local speciality and the town is known for high grade soy beans and especially fermented black beans 豆豉 (dòu chǐ). But two products in particular stand out.

 

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Huangyao Fermented Black Beans

 

黄姚豆腐 (huáng yáo dòu fu)

 

This literally just means ‘Huangyao Tofu’ but refers to a rather special type of fried then braised bun. Tofu made using water from the local well is crumbled and mixed with half-fat minced pork. This mixture is shaped into buns and half-fried. It is then braised in fermented bean sauce. It is claimed the Song Dynasty poet praised the dish in his writings, although no one seems able to quote the passage although he was known as an early travel and food writer. The Hangzhou dish, Dongpo Pork is named in his honour. Almost every restaurant and café in the town serves the dish.

 

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"Huangyao Tofu"
 

Hangyao Lobster Sauce

 

In Chinese, “lobster sauce” is not a sauce made using lobsters, but a sauce suitable for serving with lobsters. Miles from the sea, there are not many lobsters in the town. A similar phenomenon can be seen in the Sichuanese “fish-flavoured” dishes, none of which include fish, but do contain ingredients often cooked with fish. Huangyao lobster sauce is only sold locally. It is made from fermented soy beans, the local speciality. It does not appear to be sold commercially but is widely available in the town.

 

I do recommend the movie, but the original 1925 novel by W. Somerset Maugham is much better. The story was not originally set in Guangxi (or Shanghai). Although fictional, the historical and social background is realistic.

 

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26. 漓泉啤酒 (lí quán pí jiǔ)

 

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Beer is not, of course, traditional in China’s culture but its use and production has grown exponentially over recent years. 青岛啤酒 (qīng dǎo pí jiǔ) Tsingtao (Qingdao is the modern transliteration) is at least the spiritual home of beer in China. Set up by the Anglo-German Brewery Co Ltd, in 1903, during the time of foreign control known as the Unequal Treaties period. The brewery fell into Japanese hands between 1914 and 1922 when it became Chinese owned until World War II, when Japan took control again until 1945. The company was eventually nationalised by Mao after the communist takeover in 1949. It is now largely owned by the Chinese state and Asahi Beer. First exported in 1954, it is China’s most widely exported beer, being available in 90 countries. It remains very popular domestically, too.

 

But it isn’t the only beer by a long shot and it isn’t the most popular in Guangxi. That is, without question, 漓泉啤酒 (lí quán pí jiǔ), Liquan Beer, brewed in Guilin and named after the River Li which flows through that city. It has an 80% market share in Guangxi. Like almost all beer in China, it is a light lager, coming in various strengths from 5 - 11% alcohol. Originally operated by a joint venture Chinese-Austrian company, it is now owned by Beijing Yanjing Beer Group, China’s largest. Until recently, the brewmaster was a German national.

Probably the most popular in their range is ‘1998 Liquan’. This is not a vintage, but the beer is so named in honour of a certain Bill Clinton, who visited Guilin in that year. Liquan beer is considered to be the only suitable beer for Yangshuo’s beer fish dish, with both the water for the beer and the fish coming from the same river.

 

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When I first came to Liuzhou, there was a local brewery making 鱼峰啤酒 (yú fēng pí jiǔ ), named after a local landmark. The stuff was foul, weak and smelled of formaldehyde. I heard one person rudely and disparagingly refer to it as ‘peasant’s beer’ meaning only a poor peasant would buy it. It was very cheap. The peasants have better taste. The brewery closed twenty plus years ago.

 

The main problem I had in the early days was getting a chilled beer. Chinese men are happy to drink the brew lukewarm. With summer temperatures heading for the 40 ℃s, I need my beer ice cold. Fortunately, after years of training, they are catching on and I have no trouble scoring some chilled refreshment. That said, I mainly drink beer at home. I don’t like drinking in Chinese company. Most people treat beer drinking as a competitive sport with drinking games and endless toasts. The first question you will be asked is “How many bottles can you drink?” I now refuse to play.

 

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27. 牛筒骨 (niú tǒng gǔ)

 

I was thinking about this and the fact that, although very popular, it only ever appears in restaurants; almost never home cooked, never available in the stores. And I was wondering why when the ‘don’t be an idiot; you know why’ light came on.

 

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牛筒骨 (niú tǒng gǔ) literally means ‘beef tube bone’. It is, of course, marrow bone. And the locals love it – as do I. What we are talking is roast bone marrow. And the reason it’s restaurant only, is that so few people have ovens. Almost no one. I do, but for a long time I was unable to source the bones. Seemed they were all reserved for the restaurant trade.

My favourite mini-chain 哈尔滨架子王 (hā ěr bīn jiǎo zi wáng)  - Harbin Jiaozi King restaurants serve up steaming plates of marrow and dispense plastic gloves for the handling of bones. They do mean jiaozi (dumplings), too.

 

Recently, I have been able to acquire the bones online (750 grams / $3.59 USD). The essential parsley is more expensive at $3.77 for a mere 250 grams!

 

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28. 祭礼 (jì lǐ)

 

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孔子 (kǒng zǐ) - Confucius Statue in Liuzhou

 

During Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976 approx), 儒学 (rú xué) -Confucianism was derided as a backward superstition and followers of the philosophy were imprisoned or even killed. Yet its influence remained everywhere. Around 2010, the powers that be in the Chinese Communist Party decided that Confucianism’s paternalism and filial piety was exactly what they needed some of, so they co-opted the philosophy for their own ends, remembering that

 

Quote

Positing a parallel between the nature of reciprocal responsibilities of individuals in different roles in two domains of social organization, in the Analects Confucius linked filial piety in the family to loyalty in the political realm:

 

"It is rare for a person who is filially pious to his parents and older siblings to be inclined to rebel against his superiors… Filial piety to parents and elder siblings may be considered the root of a person. Analects (1.2)
 

Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, "Confucius", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2020/entries/confucius/>. “

 

So they duly started being Confucian, opening Confucian temples all over China, including this one in Liuzhou. They claimed it was built on the site of a former temple, destroyed in the 1960s, but no one believes that and certainly no one remembers it.

 

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They held a grand opening ceremony in September 2010 The Confucian disciples were students from the nearby university dressing up for the day, but we did get the surreal sight of the Liuzhou Party Chief sacrificing his dignity by bowing to the superstition that would have had him killed 40 years earlier.

 

The ritual of dedicating the temple also involved non-voluntary sacrifice, known in Chinese as 祭礼 (jì lǐ) – ritual sacrifice. A pig is slaughtered and its head put up for Confucius to presumably dine on from beyond the grave. In case the pig gets lonely, a cow is given the same treatment.

 

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Pig’s heads (猪头 - zhū tóu) are not uncommon. Millions of pigs are slaughtered every day in China and they all have heads. Usually parts of the head, cheeks, brain, ears, snout, lips etc. are sold separately (some members may remember Cameron’s face), but at festivals such as New Year etc, a whole head may be braised and served for a feast. I’ve never seen the cow’s head served up in a similar fashion.

 

The head is shaved, blow-torched,  washed and blanched, then a slow braise with copious spices and aromatics: ginger, chilli pepper, bay leaf, cassia bark, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, 13-spice powder, rice wine, sugar, salt, light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. After about an hour, it is ready to eat, but the meat is often removed and fried with other ingredients.

 

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 An earless* 3 kg / 6 lb head costs around $10 USD.

 

Ears are sold separately.

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On 11/10/2022 at 10:54 PM, liuzhou said:

21. 南宁中山路美食街 (zhōng shān lù měi shí jiē)

 

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In case anyone is concerned about my sore lack of seafood, let me take you on a trip to 中山路美食街 (zhōng shān lù měi shí jiē), Zhongshan Road Culinary Delicacy Street, the most popular food street in Guangxi's capital, Nanning. Every night from around 6 pm, it is packed with people snacking on freshly cooked seafood.

 

I have captioned nothing and present it in random order, which is how it goes in the street.

 

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and many more...

 

Dazzling! 

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29.食油 (shí yóu)

 

In some people’s minds, Chinese food is too oily or greasy. I suggest they have never had real Chinese food. Yes, some parts of China favour a more oily preparation – Shanghai for example but I don’t find it excessively so. Other areas are far from greasy.

 

The Chinese are generally unafraid of animal fats, it’s true. The famous Hangzhou dish, 东坡肉 (dōng pō ròu), Dongpo Pork is made from from pork belly that is nearly all fat. However, when well made, it isn’t greasy at all. The fat is meltingly soft and packed with flavour.

 

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东坡肉 (dōng pō ròu) - Dongpo Pork

 

The pork of choice is almost always 五花肉 (wǔ huā ròu) - literally ‘five flower meat’ so named because five layers are visible – two pairs of fat and flesh and finally the skin.

 

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五花肉 (wǔ huā ròu) - Five Flower Pork Belly

 

Even when buying say a piece of pork tenderloin for a lean meat stir fry, it will come with fat. This will be removed and cut into pieces then rendered out to be used to stir-fry the dish and any accompanying vegetables etc. The veg do not pick up any porcine flavours. I have only once seen lard (pig fat) in a supermarket – everyone renders their own.

 

241878773_porktenderloin.thumb.jpg.b014c991fe22e92b450ead1714366ea5.jpg猪里脊肉 (zhū lǐ ji ròu) - Pork Tenderloin

 

High quality leaf lard (猪板油 - zhū bǎn yóu) from the kidneys is available on-line at reasonable prices of around $2 USD for 500 grams, just over 1 lb.

 

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猪板油 (zhū bǎn yóu) - Leaf Lard*

Besides pig fat, various vegetable cooking oils are used. The generic term is 食油 (shí yóu), literally ‘food oil’. The preferred choice is very regional. Although my local stores all carry 大豆油 (dà dòu yóu) soy oil, 葵花油 (kuí huā yóu) sunflower oil, 菜油 (cài yóu) rapeseed oil/canola,, 玉米油 (yù mǐ yóu) cØrn oil and 植物油 (zhí wù yóu) blended anonymous ‘vegetable’ oil, by far the favourite locally is 花生油 (huā shēng yóu) peanut oil. Other areas differ.

 

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化身有 (huā shēng yóu) - Peanut Oil*

 

I differ, too. I prefer the neutral taste and high smoke point of 稻米油 (dào mǐ yóu), aka 米糠油 (mǐ kāng yóu), which is rice bran oil.

 

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稻米油 (dào mǐ yóu) - Rice Bran Oil

 

橄榄油 (gǎn lǎn yóu), imported olive oil has become available in recent years. I was so excited I took my first selfie holding a bottle just to show friends who had left China appalled at the previous lack of the Mediterranean delight. Unfortunately, what is available is generally of very low quality and is mainly used as a cosmetic by my lady friends. Chinese food never uses it!

 

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橄榄油 (gǎn lǎn yóu)

 

I should also mention 麻油 (má yóu) / 香油 (xiāng yóu) / 芝麻油 (zhī ma yóu), three names for the same thing - sesame oil. This refers to toasted sesame oil and is only ever used as a finishing oil, off the heat, immediately applied to a dish before serving. It is never used for cooking or marinating. It is valued for its scent and favour, both of which are highly volatile and rapidly lost when heated.

 

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芝麻油 (zhī ma yóu) - Toasted Sesame Oil

 

There was a scandal a few years back when some unscrupulous turds were collecting used cooking oil from restaurants and canteens etc, “purifying” it and selling it back to the same restaurants etc as being new. This trade in what is known as 地沟油 (dì gōu yóu) or gutter oil was stamped upon from a great height and people imprisoned for lengthy times and is now thankfully extremely rare.

 

加油 (jiā yóu), literally ‘add oil’ is yelled at players by sports fans and is the equivalent of ‘Go Go! Go!’ or whatever you shout to encourage your team or favourite sporting star.
 

* Marked  images from advertisements on Meituan shopping portal - fair use, but I will replace

 

 

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

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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11 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The Chinese are generally unafraid of animal fats

North Americans on the other hand…

Supermarket meat is now trimmed to the point where very little flavour remains anywhere. What most of us forget is that we are still paying for that fat (and flavour), which we no longer have!

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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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30. 酸嘢 (suān yě)

 

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Mixed Pickles

 

Don’t go looking for 酸嘢 (suān yě) in a dictionary; you won’t find it. It is from an undocumented Guangxi dialect and like Guangxi cuisine is a hybrid. The first part (suān), comes from Mandarin and here means ‘acid’, ‘sour’, ‘tart’ or ‘pickled’. The second (yě) is Cantonese and means ‘things’, so together we have ‘pickled things’ or just ‘pickles’.

 

Internet travel guides tell you these are a speciality of Guangxi’s capital, Nanning and while that’s not exactly untrue, they are in fact popular across the whole area. All the pictures in this post were taken here in Liuzhou, for example.

 

I’ve already mentioned pickled meats and fish but 酸嘢 (suān yě) is used to refer to pickled vegetables and fruits. These are sold everywhere by itinerant merchants to supermarket chains. The roadside guys and gals are the most popular and everyone has their favourite.

 

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Itinerant Pickled Salesman

 

The pickles are even served as an appetizer at wedding banquets.

 

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Wedding Pickle Jar

 

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Wedding Pickles

 

So what vegetables and fruit are pickled? What do you fancy? Almost everything can be pickled. The veg or fruit is soaked in rice wine with sugar and chilli pepper to give a sweet, sour and spicy result. Everywhere, you can see people snacking on these delicacies. So, to illustrate (literally) I’m just going to post images of examples of 酸嘢 (suān yě). I will identify most of those I know, but many are a mystery. They often don’t look like they did, once they’ve been processed

 

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Pickled Selection

 

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Pickled Selection ( I can see figs and daikon radish)

 

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Bottom right is pickled cucumbers

 

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Supermarket Selection

 

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Pickled Cowpeas

 

590480355_2.thumb.jpg.1b3ce940e538ca976761e7acd457bd1b.jpgPickled Garlic Shoot Bulbs

 

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Pickled Peanuts with Green Chilli

 

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Pickled Daikon Radish

 

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Pickled Long Beans

 

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Pickled Lotuus Root

 

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Pickled Chillies

 

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Neither vegetable or fruit, but algae - Pickled Kelp

 

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Pickled Chicken Skin Fruit

 

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Soy Pickled Garlic

 

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Pickled Mustard Greens

 

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To my surprise, I don't seem to have a picture of my favourites - pickled mango or papaya. Later!

 

 

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

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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