A Quick trip to Hong Kong

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In October I was headed to China to visit some students at their internship sites in Shenzhen, and decided to stop in Hong Kong on the way. It was also cheaper to fly into Hong Kong than Shenzhen.

This is where is all started for me. I lived in Hong Kong for a year and a half back in the early 80’s and this was my first exposure to Chinese culture and the language. In fact, I learned Cantonese before I ever studied Mandarin at University. I still speak Cantonese but it is a bit rusty these days. In my early career I did quite a bit of work with Cantonese coauthoring a textbook series and teaching Cantonese courses at BYU.

Hong Kong is a dynamic, exciting place, and it has changed much over the years. Each time I go, I am amazed at how the skyline changes. Considerable amounts of land has been reclaimed into Victoria Harbor to make room for development.

With only a day and a half, I naturally focused on eating—Cantonese pastries, dimsum, chasiu, and a few other things. It was also fun to just walk the streets. I usually stay in a small hotel in the Mongkok District, on the same street I used to live on back in 1983. It’s a bit nostalgic and I don’t like the heavy tourism district of Tsim Sha Tsui. Hong Kong is a very crowded place. Back in the 80’s, the Mongkok District was considered one of the most densely populated places on the planet with 144,000 people per square kilometer.

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Street in Mongkok

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Another Mongkok street

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Night markets abound in the Mongkok area

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The famous “Ladies Street” market

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A couple getting their fortune told

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Hong Kong street food

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Hong Kong subway: always seems to be crowded

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The infamous  and chaotic Chungking Mansion in TST District

Not everyone shops in grocery stores. You can still find meat and produce markets all over Hong Kong, tucked away on side streets.

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Cantonese food is known for their roast meats, particularly roast goose, salt baked chicken, roast suckling pig, and chasiu (a bbq roasted pork).

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Lunch; in the little bowl is a dipping sauce made with scallion, ginger, and oil.

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Working class dimsum restaurant, full of older people.

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Beef balls

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Siumai (steamed shrimp dumplings)

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Choisum (caixin)

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Fried noodles

Most Westerners do not care for Chinese desserts, usually because they are not that sweet, and very different from what we are used to. However, Cantonese pastries are the exception, at least in Hong Kong. Two delicious pastries are a coconut bun, called gāi méi baū in Cantonese, and a pineapple bread, called bō lòh baū in Cantonese. I always have to get some of this delicious bread when I am in Hong Kong.

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gāi méi baū

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bō lòh baū

And finally a couple shots of some typical Cantonese dishes.

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After our short trip, we hopped on the train for the short 40 minute ride to the border and on to Shenzhen. It was a nice quick trip, though the heat was pretty unbearable, in the 90’s with high humidity. Oh well, that’s what you get in Hong Kong some times of the year.

A Geek in China wins award

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I received this notification recently, and was rather surprised.

The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation (SATW) announced the winners of the 2017 Lowell Thomas Journalism Competition and A GEEK IN CHINA was awarded GOLD in the Guidebook category! The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in journalism.

The Lowell Thomas awards, recognized as the most prestigious in travel journalism, were announced in Portland, Oregon, at the annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators.

 Twenty-five faculty members from the University of Missouri School of Journalism did the judging. The competition, for work from spring 2016 to spring 2017, drew 1,190 entries. This year, the SATW Foundation is giving 89 awards in 24 categories and nearly $20,000 in prize money to journalists in recognition of outstanding travel journalism.

Here’s what the judges said about A Geek in China: 

“A very different kind of guidebook, ‘A Geek in China’ delivers on the ambitious goal of actually helping would-be travelers understand this unique and complex culture. It achieves that goal through the engaging and authoritative voice of its author and in its bright, bite-sized design. The effect is both nuanced and delightful, as if one were just given a cultural crash course by a guide who is equal parts enthusiast and expert.”

Here is a link to the full list of winners.

http://www.satwf.com/2017-satw-foundation-lowell-thomas-travel-journali/2016-17-list-of-winners

A Geek in China

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This book is a project I have been working on the past few years. I was approached by the publisher to write this book and it is part of a series that is selling quite well, which includes A Geek in Japan, A Geek in Thailand, and A Geek in Korea. It was an interesting project. My focus was on cultural literacy. In other words, what are the kinds of things that all kids in China grow up with and know about, such as, who was Confucius, what was so great about the Han Dynasty, China’s regional cuisines, who are the biggest pop stars in China today, and so on. The audience for this book is armchair travelers curious about China, and those who know some Chinese and want to better understand all the cultural references that come up in everyday speech and writing. When you speak the language, it is also important that you understand something about the culture—history, politics, important people, myths and legends, literature, music, and so on. It is quite accessible with lots of photographs and short essays on a wide range of topics. Below is the promotional blurb from Amazon. It is scheduled to be released on December 27, 2016, and December 15, 2016 in the UK.

You can get it here (or in the link on the right under Books):

https://www.amazon.com/Geek-China-Discovering-Alibaba-Bullet/dp/0804844690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479760218&sr=8-1&keywords=geek+in+china

For every fan of kung fu, steamed dumplings, Confucius and giant skyscrapers, A Geek in China is a hip, smart and concise guide to the Middle Kingdom.

Packed with photographs and short articles on all aspects of Chinese culture, past and present, A Geek in China introduces readers to everything from Taoism and Confucianism to pop music and China’s new middle class. A mix of traditional culture, such as highlights of Chinese history, great historical and mythological figures, traditional medicine, how the Chinese language works, real Chinese food, martial arts, and how the Chinese Communist Party works, is complimented with information on what makes China unique today.

Chapters discuss why China is so crowded, what it’s like to work in an office, internet and cell phone culture, dating and marriage practices, top popular movies and movie stars, the contemporary art scene, China’s amazing new architecture and infrastructure, and popular holidays. It also contains chapters on what makes the Chinese tick, such as the importance of harmony in society, the practice of humility, and the importance of hierarchy. For visitors to the country, the author includes sections on what to see, both common cultural sites and off-the-beaten-track sites, and how to get around in China. Sections on visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan are also included.

This China travel guide is a unique guide to the world’s most populous and longest continuous culture. Readers will learn essential information about China’s past and present to be able to understand the many references to history, politics, and pop culture that come up in everyday conversation and in the media.

To the people, food is heaven (民以食為天)

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This saying, 民以食為天 mín yǐ shí wéi tiān, is a good indication that the Chinese are pretty serious about food and eating. I have written previously on this blog about food terminology in the Chinese language. Suffice it to say, the Chinese love to eat, and when they are not eating,  they are talking about eating, or planning what to eat next. China is truly one of the great cuisines of the world, and one of the ancient cuisines that has been around for a very long time. In fact, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) one could find more than 200 dishes served at a banquet, including 41 dishes of fish, shrimp, snails, pork, goose, duck mutton, pideon, etc., 42 dishes of fruits and sweetmeats, 20 dishes of vegetables, 9 of boiled rice, 29 dishes of dried fish, 17 different drinks, 19 kinds of pies, and 57 desserts. In the capitol city of of Hangzhou you could find 18 different kinds of beans and soya beans, 9 kinds of rice, 11 kinds of apricots, 8 of pears, and so on.  (See Gernet, Jacques. Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276). Think about what was going on in Europe during this time.

In China’s ancient book of poetry, The Book of Songs (shī jīng 詩經), published around the 5th century B.C., there are 130 references to plants, 200 to animals, 19 fishes, 38 types of poultry, the seasonings mentioned include salt, honey, malt sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper. By contrast, the Bible only mentions 29 food items.

There are at least three reasons we can contribute to China’s long obsession with food. One, there has been a very long, sustained civilization. In other words, there has been a long time to develop the many food sources. Two, geographical diversity. China is a land of many geographical features, from desert to jungle to fertile river plains. And three, for much of China’s history the people have been threatened with famine. This has resulted in the Chinese being very creative with all food sources.

三大菜系 sān dà cài xì: Three General Food Categories

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The first and biggest category is Han/Man 汉/满 which refers to the Han or Chinese majority and Manchurian (the rulers of the last imperial dynasty. This accounts for the vast majority of all Chinese food in China.

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The second category is Muslim or kosher cuisine, referred to in Chinese as 清真, and the third category is vegetarianism 素 which is often associated with Buddhism.

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八大菜系 bā dà cài xì: The Eight Culinary Tradtions

Chinese food, represented under the broad Han/Man category is often broken down into eight distinct culinary categories, which are generally divided by geographical region.

1. Chuān     川  Sichuan

2. Huì          徽  Anhui

3. Lǔ           鲁  Shandong

4. Mín         闽  Fujian

5. Sū           苏  Jiangsu

6. Yuè         粤  Guangdong,   Hong Kong

7.Xiāng       湘  Hunan

8. Zhè          浙  Zhejiang

四大菜系 sì dà cài xì: The Four Major Culinary Traditions

This list can be further simplified into four main geographical areas that incorporate the eight ares listed above. They are:

Lǔ                    鲁  Northern China

Huáiyáng         淮扬  Eastern China

                        (Lower Yangtze River Basin, incl. Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui)

Chuān              川  Western China (Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan)

Yuè                  粤  Guangdong, Hong Kong

Northern Cuisine 鲁菜 lǔ cài (Shandong Cuisine)

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• Wheat-based foods: noodles, steamed buns, fried flat breads

• Seasonings: garlic, chives, leeks, star anise, sweet plum sauces

• Poultry , especially duck, lamb, beef, pork

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Eastern Cuisine 淮扬菜 huáiyáng cài (Jiangsu Cuisine)

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• Land of fish and rice

• Light flavors that emphasize the natural flavor of the food; not too salty or sweet

• Famous for soy sauces, vinegars, and rice wines

• Stir-frying and steaming most common

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Western Cuisine 川菜 chuān cài (Sichuan Cuisine)

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• Land of abundance

• Liberal use of spice (chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns)

• Lots of garlic, ginger, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, pork, chicken

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Southern Cuisine 粤菜 yuè cài (Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine)

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• China’s haute cuisine

• Tastes and techniques a blend of China and the West

• Light flavors; delicate, fresh, tender, crisp

• Known for roasted meats: suckling pig, duck, chicken, BBQ pork

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Spectacular Meals: Kunming (昆明 kūnmíng)

一颗印 yì kēyìn Restaurant in Kunming

一颗印 yì kēyìn Restaurant in Kunming

One may not think of Kunming as a culinary hotspot, but it does have some very good restaurants. The food has a definite Sichuan influence with the liberal use of chili peppers and some Sichuan peppercorns, but it is not as spicy as mainstream Sichuan cuisine. Another wonderful thing about Kunming, and Yunnan in general, is the ethnic minority populations. The unique cuisines of these various groups have found their way into Chinese cooking to give it some interesting and delicious variations. For example, one does not think of cheese in Chinese cuisine, but it can be found in Kunming, and is probably an influence from one of the ethnic minority groups.

One night my friend and colleague Michael and I found a superb restaurant in Kunming. We were there doing research on Sichuan cuisine and the many variations to it in the surrounding areas. I think we found this restaurant on a Chinese food blog or forum. It was called, 一颗印昆明老房子 yì kēyìn kūnmíng lǎo fángzi and was in an old courtyard style house tucked away in a back alley. The house was more than a hundred years old and had an historical plaque out front. People seem to eat early in Kunming; the restaurants empty out by about 8:30 pm. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the courtyard on a beautiful clear day, about 70 degrees, blue skies with a few white puffy clouds. The restaurant was very crowded, as good restaurants usually are.

Eating in the courtyard.

Eating in the courtyard.

Our practice when visiting a new restaurant is to talk to the server about their speciality dishes. In other words, what are the dishes that the restaurant is known for. We also try to get a sense for the local food scene. Our server at this particular restaurant was pretty helpful. At one point she called another girl over to help answer our questions. We wanted to order local specialties and were not disappointed. We ordered six dishes.

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A spectacular meal.

A spectacular meal.

1. 瓦掌风肉 wǎzhǎng fēngròu, Pork on a curved tile

Pork on a hot curved tile.

Pork belly on a hot curved tile.

Yunnan is famous for their hams, and I suppose this dish follows in that tradition. This fatty pork had a deep, smoky flavor similar to bacon. But it was not as salty and had a more “wild” flavor than the bacon we eat here in the U.S. It was fatty and rich, and was served, and probably cooked, sizzling on a hot curved roof tile. This was a great dish, not typical of many Chinese dishes.

2. 云腿夹乳饼 yúntuǐ jiā rǔbǐng, Yunnan ham in cheese

Yunnan ham with cheese.

Yunnan ham with cheese.

This is the first time I have eaten cheese at a Chinese restaurant; I have eaten yak cheese in other parts of Yunnan and in Tibet, but that was Tibetan food, not Chinese. This was a unique dish with tender slices of salty, flavorful ham with a mellow, fresh white cheese. The cheese had the consistency of a fresh mozzarella, but a little firmer, and was quite tasty. I’m not sure how popular this dish is with the Chinese, but we really enjoyed it.

Nice texture.

Nice texture.

3. 铁板包浆豆腐 tiěbǎn bāojiāng dòufu, Tofu with fermented soybeans

Tofu with fermented soybeans

Tofu with fermented soybeans

This was a fried tofu dish served on a hot iron plate. I really don’t know what the 包浆 bāojiāng in the name of this dish refers to.  The tofu was firm and chewy on the outside and soft on the inside as a result of being fried. This dish also had a delicious sauce made with fermented and seasoned soybeans 豆豉 dòuchǐ (see this post for more on this wonderful seasoning: https://intothemiddlekingdom.com/2014/01/27/spectacular-meals-guiyang-%E8%B4%B5%E9%98%B3/). Seasoned and fermented soybeans are a wonderful mix of chewy and crunchy with an earthy, salty taste. They go well with the blandness of tofu. The tofu was served on a bed of sauteed onions. I am huge fan of tofu and 豆豉 dòuchǐ, so I really loved this dish. the flavors were complex and the tofu was cooked to perfection. I especially like tofu that is fried like this as it gives it a nice meaty texture.

Onions, fermented & seasoned soybeans, and tofu.

Onions, fermented & seasoned soybeans, and tofu.

4. 外婆菜炒鸡蛋 wàipó cài chǎo jīdàn, Grandmother’s vegetable with scrambled egg

Scrambled egg with vegetables.

Scrambled egg with vegetables.

I love eggs in any form, especially in Chinese food. The Chinese use eggs quite frequently in all the different kinds of regional cuisines. This was an excellent dish. I’m not exactly sure what the “grandmother’s vegetable” refers to in the Chinese name of this dish. This particular dish had little bits of seasoned pork, some fermented soybeans, some bell pepper, and of course scrambled egg. It may be that this is one of those dishes where you can throw in whatever vegetables you may have on hand. This dish was very flavorful, probably due to the pork and soybeans.

Chinese style scrambled eggs with pork and vegetables.

Chinese style scrambled eggs with pork and vegetables.

5. 清炒芥兰 qīngchǎo jièlán, Fresh stir-fried Chinese broccoli

Chinese broccoli or mustard greens.

Chinese broccoli or mustard greens.

This is a pretty basic dish that you can find just about anywhere in China. This particular version was cooked with garlic, dried red pepper (the Sichuan influence) and some small bits of mushroom. Nothing extraordinary, but quite good.

6. 清炒豆尖 qīngchǎo dòujiān, Fresh stir-fried bean sprouts

A type of bean sprout?

A type of bean sprout?

This was a local vegetable, which based on the name, is probably some kind of a bean sprout. Again, nothing extraordinary, but very delicious. No Chinese meal is complete without some good stir-fried greens.

This was one of those spectacular meals that I have eaten in China in the past couple years. One of the things that made it so good was the variety of the dishes and the uniqueness of the local flavors. If I were ever back in Kunming I would certainly go back to this fine restaurant.

My research companion deep in his work.

My research companion deep in his work.

 

Poetry is alive and well in China

I came across this article today about a popular poetry app in China. The article is by Wu Yiyao in Shanghai at China Daily. The story is about a WeChat (微信 wēi xìn) app called 读 诗再睡觉  (dú shǒu shī zài shuìjiào Read a poem before bed). Poetry has been an important and integral part of Chinese society for most of its history. Though poetry is no longer a part of the Chinese education system, to some people it is still important. The 40,000 subscribers to this app are evidence of that. The original story is below, along with a link to the China Daily (Europe) online version.

Here also is a link to a Chinese story about this app.

http://www.nx.xinhuanet.com/2013-10/20/c_117789507.htm

Source: China Daily (1/30/14):

http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2014-01/30/content_17265962_2.htm

Reviving the power of poetry

By Wu Yiyao

Wang Xiaoyu’s favorite bedtime routine now is to reach for her smartphone and play a poem. Every night at 10 pm, the 32-year-old sales executive in Shanghai logs on to a poetry-sharing group on the social network WeChat and listens to or reads a poem. It has become a regular pastime ever since she discovered the group, whose Chinese name literally translates to “Read a poem before you sleep”.

“At first I felt the poetry helped me relax and made me calm, but I gradually discovered that joining the group also let me connect with people who share the same passion,” Wang says. Like many of the 40,000 subscribers of the account, Wang used to write poems when she was in college, but gave it up after she started working. Having a family and raising a child left her little time or energy to get creative.

“Read a poem” was initiated by Fan Zhi-xing in March 2013. He had intended to make it a romantic way to express and connect, by reading a poem “to the one you care and love for”, in this age where relationships are both advantaged and disadvantaged by virtual connections. He started the ball rolling with a Chinese translation of Crossing the Bar by English poet Alfred Tennyson.

More and more found out about the poetry account and started to join the discussions, and shared poems. By early 2014, group members had already shared more than 300 poems of a wide range of genres. Subscribers soon grew beyond Fan’s personal network, and volunteers joined an editing team to select works to be sent out through the account. An introduction posted on the poetry-sharing group tells newcomers that “poems will not erase the wrinkles on your face, but they will keep your heart young”.

“It all started from a private emotional need, but it so happened that it also answered the inner callings of many others,” Fan says. A poet himself, Fan says he believes poetry is not distanced from the fast pace of modern life. Not so long ago, poetry societies flourished in China’s universities and high schools, and even with the far-reaching influence of the Internet, a poet at that time would still find a large and appreciative following through books, magazines or even hand-written copies.

“Those were times when people were zealous about poems and poets, which I reckon may not necessarily be healthy. But these days, there is a noticeable gap between how people feel and their ability to express their feelings.”Emotions are often suppressed in today’s world for many reasons, Fan says. It could be due to a lack of time, a neglect of personal feelings, and sometimes, a systemic failure to encourage expression.

His poetry-sharing group has gradually shifted focus from just individual expression to a broader mission – to close the gap between emotions to be expressed and paying attention to and understanding these emotions. “Poetry appreciation is unlikely to be adopted in our education system, and it is not necessary for it to be. Since we have the Internet, we can promote it outside the schooling system, through mobile devices,” Fan says.

An increasing number of volunteers who join the editing team add diversity to the poems introduced to subscribers, who may find themselves listening to a wide range of poetry ranging from Batso Basho’s haiku to Chinese rock ‘n’ roll lyrics, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) love songs to the works of the English Lake poets.

Some poems, often recommended by “a friend of a friend”, may also make their debut on the poetry cluster. One contributor of original poems is Yu Xinqiao, whose work If I Die, I Must Die in Your Hands was recently adapted into lyrics for a song which became popular after being promoted on a television program on songwriters. Like Yu, many contributors are keen poets who are not shy about expressing their strongest feeling or most delicate emotional nuances. Some poets may be more reticent about seeking fame, but for the editors of the poetry group, they feel it their duty to share interesting works with their subscribers.

In the age of we-media, there are now more channels to share their works with others, even total strangers. Read a Poem can expand the reach of these interesting poems to a wider audience, Fan says. “Mainstream, scholarly monographs or periodicals may not spare space for these new poets, but they deserve to be more widely known. They are the current voices of this age,” Fan says.

Spectacular Meals: Guiyang (贵阳 guìyáng)

The name of the restaurant was simply 四合院 sì hé yuàn; this is what traditional courtyard houses were called in China.

The name of the restaurant was simply 四合院 sì hé yuàn; this is what traditional courtyard houses were called in China.

April, 2013 my side kick Michael and I were in Guiyang for a few days to check out the cuisine. We weren’t expecting much, especially when we arrived at the bus station outside town. It was pretty gritty and teaming with peasants and workers. Guizhou is China’s poorest province. We boarded a local bus that brought us downtown. From there we walked to our hotel. We were pleasantly surprised at what we found in Guiyang. We ate well. There was a definite influence from Sichuan cuisine with spicy chili peppers, Sichuan pepper, and fermented soy beans. One night we had a spectacular meal. We read about it on a Chinese foodie blog. It wasn’t easy to find tucked away down an unmarked alley.

The restaurant was at the back of this alley where the red lanterns are hanging.

The restaurant was at the back of this alley and on the right, where the red lanterns are hanging.

We were excited when we arrived as the place was packed, with lots of people waiting outside in the courtyard. It was loud, crowded, dirty, chaotic. Perfect. All the ingredients for a good meal in China.

People waiting outside in the courtyard.

People waiting outside in the courtyard.

Inside the restaurant. Loud, crowded and trash all over the floor.

Inside the restaurant. Loud, crowded and trash all over the floor.

The kitchen spilled over into the dining room.

The kitchen spilled over into the dining room.

We decided on five dishes. We typically talk to the server and ask what the restaurant is famous for, what are the best dishes. We wanted to get some popular local dishes, dishes that were typical of Guiyang. We were not disappointed with her recommendations. This is what we ate.

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1. 蒜泥笋尖 suànní sǔnjiān (mashed garlic bamboo shoots)

A local vegetable with garlic; maybe it was a type of bamboo based on the name of the dish, but it didn't seem like it.

A local vegetable with garlic

We were a little perplexed by the name of this dish. It certainly didn’t look or taste like bamboo shoots. The waitress told us it was a local, popularly eaten vegetable. It was  prepared very simply, stir-fried with garlic and was crunchy, buttery, and delicious.

Crunchy, buttery, and delicious.

Crunchy, buttery, and delicious.

2. 玉排三线 yùpái sānxiàn (?)

Eggplant with green chilis

Tofu with green chilis

The name of this dish tells us nothing about what it is. Literally it is something like “jade rows, three strings.” It probably has something to do with the symmetric tofu glistening like jade. The three strings refers to the slender cut chili peppers. This was a pretty good dish. The sliced tofu was stir-fried with fatty pork, green chili peppers, red bell pepper, a little tomato, and some ginger. The sauce was rich and complex. The crunchy vegetables provided a nice counterbalance to the smooth, silky tofu. One of the many wonderful things about tofu is that is readily absorbs the flavors of whatever it is cooked with. Tofu is eaten all over China and I like to see all the different ways it is prepared in different regions of China.

Silky tofu.

Silky tofu.

3. 火焰牛肉 huǒyàn niǔròu (Flame cooked beef)

Tender beef and vegetables served over a flame.

Tender beef and vegetables served over a flame.

As you can see from the photo this dish was served on a metal grating over a plate. A flame was placed under the grate to continue the cooking and to keep it warm at the table. The beef was very tender—you could cut it with a fork, if you had one. It was cooked with garlic, ginger, purple onion, green pepper, green chili, red bell pepper, all on top of a base of the green tops of scallions. Ground Sichuan pepper corn was sprinkled over the top. This dish was excellent. I’m not a big beef eater, but his was very tender and fresh. The vegetables provided a good balance of spicy and mild flavors.

Very tender beef.

Very tender beef.

One more shot of this excellent dish.

One more shot of this excellent dish.

4. 回锅肉 huí guō ròu (Twice cooked pork)

Twice cooked pork; or more literally, "back to the pot pork."

Twice cooked pork; or more literally, “back to the pot pork.”

There is nothing really special about this dish. It is one of those ubiquitous dishes in China that can be found just about anywhere. It probably comes from Sichuan Province somewhere, but it is one of those dishes that has become Chinese comfort food and everyone has their own version of it, just like Mapo Tofu, scrambled eggs with tomatoes and so on. The dish is made with fatty pork belly that is simmered in water with various seasonings. It is then cooled, sliced thin, and thrown into the wok to cook with the vegetables. We sometimes like to order these very common dishes to see how it differs in different regions of China. This was a pretty good version of this popular dish.

Cooked with lots of sliced scallion and a little minced chili pepper.

Cooked with lots of sliced scallion and a little minced chili pepper.

5. 农家茄子 nóngjiā qiézi (Peasant family eggplant)

Peasant family eggplant.

Peasant family eggplant.

I saved the best dish for last. This was truly an extraordinary dish. The thing that made this dish so good, and unique to this part of China, were the fermented and seasoned soy beans (豆豉 dòuchǐ) that you can see smothering the eggplant. Earlier on this trip when we were in a rural part of Sichuan Province we were in a small village where they were selling numerous variations of these seasoned and fermented soy beans. Some versions had beef and others just had chili peppers and who knows what other delectable seasonings.

Vendor selling fermented and seasoned soy beans.

Vendor selling fermented and seasoned soy beans.

This one is a "fresh, spicy" version.

This one is a “fresh, spicy” version.

This dish was prepared by taking a long eggplant and cutting it lengthwise, then cutting it crosswise and deep frying it. The eggplant ended up in chunky sticks, like big french fries. The soy beans were then mixed with minced pork, dried chili, and a little green chili. The soy beans have a wonderful chewy texture with the occasional crunch for those that got cooked a bit too much in the wok. They are at once salty and spicy and full of rich, dark, earthy flavor (not at all like soy sauce). Eggplant, like tofu readily absorbs the flavors of what it is cooked with. This dish was a revelation and I just couldn’t get over how delicious the soy beans were. It was by far our favorite dish at this meal. Fermented and seasoned soy beans are very popular throughout Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan Provinces. Each region within these areas have their own versions. It is truly a wonderful ingredient. I would love to find some here in the States.

Just the sight of this dish is driving me mad (with hunger).

Just the sight of this dish is driving me mad (with hunger).

One last shot of this extraordinary dish.

One last shot of this extraordinary dish.

We walked out of this tucked away restaurant marveling at how good the meal was. We couldn’t believe that Guiyang, the capital of Chinese poorest province (Guizhou) would have such fantastic food. Though the other meals we had in Giuyang were not quite this good, they were impressive. We ate well for the three days we were there. The other highlights were some really good bowls of noodles.

Michael enjoying the meal.

Michael enjoying the meal.

Good meals make me happy!

Good meals make me happy!