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Chinese Islamic Cookery


chefzadi
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When I first met my wife she took me to a couple of Chinese Islamic restaurants around Los Angeles. This was when I was first trying different "ethnic" foods for the first time in my life really so I was in bit of a daze during at both restaurants. Now it's almost 8 years later. I recall the the steamed bread with scallions and sesame seeds.

What are the other specialties?

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

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Lamb and mutton. Lots of different ways to prepare them. I had ground lamb wrapped around a skewer once that I am still trying to duplicate. It is what is commonly called shashlik. Chinese Muslims are still Chinese of course (with the stomach to match), so they'll use any and all kinds of ingredients, except the obvious non-halal things and cook them Chinese style.

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In Beijing, near the Asia Hotel, there was a hutong with a bunch of different restaurants that (at least in season, which included August) specialized in crawfish in a hot-and-Sichuan-pepper sauce. I think a couple of them were Muslim and halal (evident from the Arabic inscriptions, which I can read), and the rest weren't. The scallion flatbread was made on the street all over Beijing and also in Changchun (and doubtless, many other Northern Chinese cities and towns I haven't visited). I didn't get the feeling there was anything particularly Muslim or non-Muslim about that bread, but I could be wrong. But the bottom line is, it seemed clear to me that there was major overlap between Muslim and non-Muslim Beijing food, I imagine due to two-way borrowing.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

as mentioned, lamb is a central ingredient in Chinese Muslim's cooking. The most common two dishes to anyone in China would be yangrou chuanr (lamb skewers) and kao nan (nan bread). The dishes typically are far more hearty and with thicker sauces than what is found in Southern Chinese cooking (this is true of any Northern Chinese cooking, though). Many Chinese "muslim" restaurants will also feature hotpot. There are some regional specialities, like the lamb soup with broken up pieces of flatbread yangrou paomo(u?) that is the famed dish of Xian (which has a very large Muslim population). I have yet to travel to Xinjiang so haven't had truly authentic Chinese Muslim food, but hope to one day soon. In my gallery found at the ImageGullet section (sorry, I had no clue how to link it) I have a photo of a common meal at a Xinjiang style restaurant.

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But is Xinjiang Muslim food indeed "truly authentic Chinese Muslim"? On the one hand, yes, as Xinjiang Muslims are both Chinese citizens and Muslims. On the other hand, whereas the Hui are Han Muslims, the Muslims in Xinjiang are primarily Turkic peoples, mainly Uighurs and Kazakhs. I imagine them to be East Turkestanis during a period when East Turkestan is part of China. In previous periods of history, both East Turkestan and West Turkestan (now comprising Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) have been part of certain Chinese empires and not others. So is Xinjiang Muslim food authentic Chinese Muslim or authentic Turkestani or both? And what is Hui food if not authentic Chinese Muslim? See what a hornet's nest you stirred up? :laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan-

I'm not trying to mount a vigorous argument for influences here. I'm interested in the "fringes" if you will of culture and cooking. Perhaps the Moghul influence in India is more historically traceable than the "influence" of Arab Muslims on Chinese Muslim cookery.

When I study Jewish recipes in North Africa I don't really see much if anything that distinguishes them from Arabized North African food, mostly details as they relate to religious traditions. And yes I am aware of the various folks that landed in North Africa over thousands of years.

Yes, Chinese cookery uses spices. Do Chinese Muslims use spices that are not found in the "mainstream"?

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[...]Do Chinese Muslims use spices that are not found in the "mainstream"?

I think we have to distinguish between Han Muslims (Hui) and Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang when we discuss this. I don't know whether Han Muslims use any spices not often used by non-Muslims in the same regions, but I do know that Xinjiang-style food includes kebabs with cumin and such-like. Undoubtedly, much more knowlegdeable people than I will have more to say on the subject.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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In Jilin, we were staying in a hotel which had a muslim restaurant next door. Intrigued, we decided we had to try it.

Unmigitatedly awful was what it ended up being. Served up by the chefs reccomendation, were the following 2 dishes:

A lamb dish that consisted of tough, stringy pieces of lamb, boiled in plain, unsalted water for too long for it to be tender, but too short for any of the connective tissue to break down. Served alongside was some sort of thin, soy based sauce whose only high point was that the extreme saltiness of it managed to hide the faint odour of decay from the lamb.

A beef dish that consisted of what I imagine could only be the afterbirth of the cow featured in the dish, kept locked away in a dark and humid place to fester until this hunk of walking flesh from which it belonged had died of old age. Apart from the perculiar texture, like a cross between flubber and library paste, the second thing that hits you is the overwhelming stench strongly reminisicent of the scum that floats to the top when you boil meat. Fortunately, the copious amounts of chilli peppers meant that you tastebuds were soon too numb to take on any more punishment.

Later we heard from locals that the only reason this place managed to stay in buisness was that it the only muslim restaurant for quite some distance and served a quite sizable muslim community.

In an even more bizarre turn of events, the jiao zie that was ordered as a side to the main meal turned out to be some of the most spectacular I have ever encountered. The skin was ethereally light but just with the right tauntness. Biting through, you got that tiny squirt of liquor from inside that just exploded with flavour in your mouth, slightly sweet, slightly salty. The celery had just the right amount of crunch to offset the chewiness of the beef (no pork served there). And 15 of them were mindbogglingly cheap at only 70 US cents. I don't think in 10 years of making jiao zie at home, I've ever approached the quality of the ones I had there.

I think, without a doubt, that has to be the most interesting restaurant I've yet to experience.

PS: I am a guy.

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I think we have to distinguish between Han Muslims (Hui) and Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang when we discuss this. I don't know whether Han Muslims use any spices not often used by non-Muslims in the same regions, but I do know that Xinjiang-style food includes kebabs with cumin and such-like. Undoubtedly, much more knowlegdeable people than I will have more to say on the subject.

This is not an easy topic as I doubt many of us have had much real contact with Hui minority members, as their numbers are relatively minimal and can only be found in certain areas. Xinjiang food is what is more well known around China and while they do use some spices that aren't found so much in Chinese cooking (spices like cumin are still found in a number of Chinese dishes), their food (at least what I've had) is hard to differentiate between regular Chinese food. The taste is a bit different, but it still is more like Chinese food then say Middle Eastern food or something like that. Its hard to say, because my dining experience has been limited to cities far away from Xinjiang.

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I would have thought a majority of the Muslims in the Beijing area are Han (Hui are Han Muslims, are they not?), not Turkic. I'm wrong about that?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I would have thought a majority of the Muslims in the Beijing area are Han (Hui are Han Muslims, are they not?), not Turkic. I'm wrong about that?

Beijing has a bit of everything. Obviously, because of all the government offices in BJ and the forced efforts of representation, there is a larger population of Hui than in many other cities. However, again, the Hui aren't very noticable as an open community. What I mean is that the Uighyrs and other Xinjiang migrants to BJ are far better known (a la BJ's old Uighyr village around Niu Jie). Due to their migration, your more likely to find Xinjiang Muslims in Beijing and Shanghai than you are Hui Chinese. As it is, the majority of Hui are to be found in the West (but not quite as far west as Xinjiang).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just a quick fyi in case anyone is interested: Copeland Marks has written a few cookbooks in which Chinese Islamic cookery is discussed a bit. If anyone is interested, I'll go downstairs and dig out the one or two that I have stored in the basement.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Just a quick fyi in case anyone is interested: Copeland Marks has written a few cookbooks in which Chinese Islamic cookery is discussed a bit. If anyone is interested, I'll go downstairs and dig out the one or two that I have stored in the basement.

I'm interested.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Forgive me: I should have checked the book before posting. The text to which I was referring, Copeland Marks's Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himilayan Rim, discusses Kashmiri Muslim cooking (bakra ka pasanda, or royal lamb in nut sauce, being an example). Which is to say, it is Indian, and not Chinese, Muslims to which Marks refers. Sorry about that...!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Forgive me: I should have checked the book before posting. The text to which I was referring, Copeland Marks's Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himilayan Rim, discusses Kashmiri Muslim cooking (bakra ka pasanda, or royal lamb in nut sauce, being an example). Which is to say, it is Indian, and not Chinese, Muslims to which Marks refers. Sorry about that...!

You must be punished in some way for this error. :biggrin:

Although I would be interested in that as well. In the India forum there is a thread on Muslim influences (If I recall correctly).

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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  • 6 months later...

I’m a latecomer to this discussion, but I wanted to add my notes from a recent trip to Khotan, Karghilik, Yarkand, Kashgar, and Urumqi, all in Xinjiang. Using Mandarin and basic Uighur, we were able to get the names and ingredients of most of the dishes we tried, and I’ve listed them here with a brief description. This was my first trip to Xinjiang; any insights or corrections would be welcome.

-- KM, DC/Chengdu

MAIN DISHES AND SAVORY STREET FOOD

Polo—Pilaf

No matter where we were, this came with strips of yellow carrot and a big hunk of lamb on top. Restaurants can run out of this, so best to order early in the day.

Langpun

This must be the Uighur transliteration of liangfen, those gelatinous yellow, gray, or white blocks and strips of bean starch that are popular elsewhere in China. (Liangpi was also a big hit here.) The seasonings here—black vinegar, soy sauce, chili pepper, cilantro— were roughly the same as in Chengdu (minus the heavy use of Sichuan peppercorns, of course), but the sauce was heavier on vinegar and lighter on the oil. In Kashgar, one vendor threw in chickpeas laced with cabbage.

Kawa—Pumpkin

This seemed like a very central Asian dish: a big wedge of roasted pumpkin topped with stewed dried fruits (apricots, red dates) and almonds. Fairly sweet and bland, this was a popular item at a restaurant/bakery we visited in Kashgar.

Narin chöp—Noodles in lamb broth

Called narenmian in Chinese, I first noticed this on the menu of the restaurant/bakery in Kashgar that also served the pumpkin dish described above. This was another dish that seemed like it might have close cousins in other part of central Asia: it consisted of a bowl of very soft egg noodles—so soft that they were served with a spoon instead of chopsticks—in a lamb broth, topped with chunks of lamb, yellow carrot, mung beans, turnip, and cilantro. It had a strong lamb flavor but was fairly mild in terms of spice.

Ququra

Like Turkish manti, these were little ravioli filled with lamb.

Kabob

In Khotan we saw kabob sold as chicken and cubes of fat seasoned with garlic, pepper, a little cumin and a pinch of chili. Lamb kabob was also common, as was a kabob of ground lamb that resembled an Adana kabob. My husband, who has eaten kabob all over China, says the spicing was milder in Xinjiang, probably because the meat was better quality and thus could stand on its own.

Laghman

These are wheat noodles served in a thin, spicy tomato broth that contains veggies like cabbage, scallion, pepper, and onion. The default laghman often comes with lamb, but there are other variations like lamb and eggplant.

Öpke

Just look for the street vendor standing in front of a gigantic blob of yellow stuff decorated with various innards. Street vendors cut off a portion and top it with some vinegar and chili pepper. In Khotan our serving came with a strip of tripe. We first thought öpke was tail meat of some sort, but we later learned that it was lung. Although öpke looks funky, the taste and texture are quite mild. My husband thought it tasted like a matzoh ball.

Taocan mifan

The name comes from the Chinese for a set meal. This is a good way to sample a wide range of dishes. When we ordered it in Yarkand, it came with a chicken stew, fish stew, fried egg, peanuts, and rice.

Boiled eggs

One vendor in Kashgar presided over a giant pot of boiled eggs in chicken broth. There were also some chicken pieces in the mixture, but customers seemed to go for the eggs.

Momocai

This typically came as two plain buns, or mantou/momo, served with a side of spiced lamb and vegetables (often peppers, onions, tomato, garlic shoots, and some cabbage or other green). In Karghilik, we were served buns stuffed with a little lamb. The momocai also turned up in one of our set breakfast meals in Yarkand.

BREADS

We saw many varieties of breads filled with lamb, and the filling was often the same: cubes of fatty lamb mildly spiced with pepper and sometimes onion.

Nan

In Kashgar we had nan topped with nigella seed; in Khotan it came topped with onion. We typically saw it in two sizes: the size of a small dinner plate and the size of a pizza. In Karghilik we had a yellow nan which tasted like it was made from an egg dough. In Khotan we had a small, hard nan made from cornmeal.

Gösh Kide

This was a round circle of bread filled with saucy and fatty lamb cubes. The outer surfaces of the bread were crunchy but the inside was soft. It was baked tandoor-style.

Girde Nan, AKA the Uighur bagel

This type of bread looks and tastes like a plump bagel, only the indentation in the middle does not go all the way through the bread. The surface is crisp all over, and the bottom of the bread is especially crusty.

Gösh Nan

Literally “meat bread” (maybe it has a less generic name, but this is what the vendor told us it was called), this is a soft, fried turnover filled with meat and topped with black vinegar, chili, and garlic

Samsa

Related to samosa? This was a small square of baked flaky bread that contained the usual filling of chopped lamb and onion.

SWEETS

Dogh—Yogurt, syrup, and crushed ice

In Khotan, the servers placed crushed ice (chipped off from a giant block) into a bowl, added syrup, and topped it off with some thin yogurt. (At one stand, the yogurt was lightly sweetened. At another stand, it was plain.) The dish was eaten with a spoon. In Kashgar, we had a similar dish, but the yogurt and syrup were mixed together with the ice, rather than left in layers, and customers drank the mixture instead of scooping it up with a spoon. In Khotan we were told the syrup was made of grapes; in Kashgar the vendor said he just used sugar syrup. A tasty home version might be made with honey or homemade sugar syrup.

Zungzi

Like the Chinese zongzi, this is a triangle of glutinous rice steamed inside a green leaf. In Kashgar, each zungzi came with a red date on top; the vendor cut each zungzi into eight chunks and topped it with a sugar syrup. (After our snack he passed around a wet rag so we could clean up.)

Dried fruit and nut bars (did not get name)

In Karghilik we tried three types of this dessert: 1) squares of dates, black raisin, and walnut, 2) walnut, and 3) walnut and green raisin. In each case the fruit and nuts were held together by a thick and sticky sugar syrup.

Other Sweets

Bakery sweets tended to be hit or miss. We saw baklava at one supermarket bakery, but it looked dry. Fruit-filled cookies were common, including a rugelach-like roll cookie with apricot filling. At one restaurant, the set breakfast came with a slice of bakali, a hearty walnut coffee cake. This was excellent, although a version we had elsewhere was a bit too dry. We knew, at the least, we wouldn’t find lard in our cookies—it shows up everywhere else in Chinese desserts—but I was surprised when one cookie I ate seemed to be made with lamb fat.

OTHER FOODS we noticed but did not try:

Roasted corn (throughout southern Xinjiang) and boiled corn (Urumqi)

Hearts grilled on a skewer

Chunks of liver grilled on a skewer

Fried fish fillets

SUPERMARKET FOODS

Many grocery stores stock Turkish products. If Turkish chocolate is your thing, Xinjiang has plenty of it. We also found a decent Turkish chocolate hazelnut paste at the impressive price of 50 cents a jar, so that went home with us to Chengdu. Supermarkets will also carry an interesting variety of wines (mulberry, etc.), jams (pomegranate, fig, rose), tea, and juices. If you’ve jumped on the pomegranate juice bandwagon, Xinjiang will not disappoint.

BEST JIAOZI IN CHINA

Finally, while this may not qualify as Muslim food, we did stumble across a restaurant in Urumqi that my husband claims serves the best lamb jiaozi in all of China. (Given the choice of ingredients, the place may be run by Hui, but we did not see a Halal sign.) There are two choices on the menu: lamb jiaozi and lamb jiaozi in soup. The jiaozi are ordered individually, which is unusual these days; my husband suggests 20-25 jiaozi for a single serving, since they are small. The name of the restaurant is Yangji Yangrou Shuijiaoguan. It is located on a small alley with no name off of Jiefang Beilu. Look for the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Jiefang Beilu, and the alley is just off of that corner. I recall that the “shuijiao” sign was visible from the main road.

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I’m a latecomer to this discussion, but I wanted to add my notes from a recent trip to Khotan, Karghilik, Yarkand, Kashgar, and Urumqi, all in Xinjiang. Using Mandarin and basic Uighur, we were able to get the names and ingredients of most of the dishes we tried, and I’ve listed them here with a brief description. This was my first trip to Xinjiang; any insights or corrections would be welcome.

-- KM, DC/Chengdu

Wow KM! What a great first post. If only my first post could have been so informative! I hope you start posting more frequently...I'd love to read more of your notes, in case I ever get to China (or just to dream).

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I don't agree with what Pan had to say about Chinese empire expansion into Turkemenistan. There was never such a thing as Chinese dominance over Turkic peoples of Turkmenistan or Khazakhstan in fact it was the other way around when Ghengis Khan left the shores of lake Baikal(East Siberia) and lauched an attack on the famous wall.

Ghengis Khan and Tamerlan's troops and settled in many parts of the former USSR southern republics and went as far as Poland and Lithuania.

A large group of Mongolian troops and families settled in the left bank close to the Caspian sea what today is called Kalmykia on the Volga.

Uighurs and Kazakhs and many Russians share a common heritage to be Ural Altaic peoples where Koreans also belong.

Edited by piazzola (log)
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Samsa

Related to samosa? This was a small square of baked flaky bread that contained the usual filling of chopped lamb and onion.

Yes, I'm pretty sure they are related to samosa. We have samsa in Algeria too. But it usually refers to a triangular pastry filled with sweetened nuts, but it also refers to triangular pastries filled with savory meat and/or vegetable stuffings.

What a first post!

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I've been loving this discussion and, like Chez Zadi, was introduced to Islamic Chinese food through what is probably the same restaurants in Los Angeles (Tung Lai Shun was where I was indoctrinated).

Alas, I have yet to explore any potential Islamic Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but the dishes that I remember best include the sesame pancake with green onion, beef tendon, and some amazing hot pot dishes. I'm sorry I don't know the Chinese names for the dishes I loved.

I used to order a version of a Peking Duck, sort of tea-smoked, served with those ethereal sesame pockets, shredded scallions, and hoison. However, after the duck was shredded at your table (with a fork and spoon by an amply-adept server), the remainder of the duck was returned to the kitchen only to reappear as a hot pot soup.

This was where I could indulge in my fear-factor eating; duck tongues and goose entrails were standard fair that I enjoyed. Other dishes included beef with leeks, boiled beef dumplings, and astonishingly simple but exceptional garlic-fried spinach.

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      This all took place way back in the days before digital cameras, so I have no illustrations from that particular meal. But I’m guessing one of the dishes was bamboo rat.
       
      No pandas or tigers were injured in the making of this post
       
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and led us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      It sometimes seems likes every town in China has its own special take on noodles. Here in Liuzhou, Guangxi the local dish is Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn).
       
      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
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