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.
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.
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.
1. 蒜泥笋尖 suànní sǔnjiān (mashed garlic bamboo shoots)
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.
2. 玉排三线 yùpái sānxiàn (?)
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.
3. 火焰牛肉 huǒyàn niǔròu (Flame cooked beef)
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.
4. 回锅肉 huí guō ròu (Twice cooked 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.
5. 农家茄子 nóngjiā qiézi (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.
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.
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.
Well these are kind of culinary journeys that I absolutely love. Reminds me of my Thailand trip 🙂
I live in Henan, which is also a poor province. It’s amazing how much good food there is, even in the most rural, scruffy restaurant you can have a absolutely delicious meal.
Chinese food includes comfort food like scrambled eggs and tomatoes.
The food looks good but getting to that restaurant and the atmosphere within it is a problem that I’ve had in the past with some Chinese establishments in the past. For me personally, I just feel more comfortable in a cleaner area when I go out to eat, and I may have also been a bit frightened to go to a poorer province as a foreigner, but if the food was actually worth it then who cares!
When I went to Guizhou, I fell in love with the fermented soy beans. It is amazing how much flavor can be packed into such a simple mixture of spices. I really wish I could have had some of the eggplant because I didn’t know eggplant acted like tofu in terms of absorbing flavor.
I think it is so interesting that the poorest region of China’s capital had some of the best food, but I can totally believe it! I think the “jade rows, three strings” dish looked absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait to go to China to hopefully try all of these.
It is so neat that sometimes the places that look like they have the least to offer, ed up offering things you never really expected. nóngjiā qiézi, seemed unique. The soybeans smothering the eggplant look like it would create an excellent meal. I also really liked the English translation of the name, peasant family eggplant,
The best restaurants are the ones that look like they don’t put a lot of effort into the restaurant itself, but rather, the food. I often find that the best Mexican, Chinese, etc., restaurants here in the United States are the ones that are like this. The food is usually more authentic and worth the price. It is interesting to see this similarity between Chinese and American restaurants. Also, the Peasant Family Eggplant dish looks really good. I hope I get the opportunity to try it sometime.
I think it’s really interesting to find that dirty and bustling restaurants are usually the ones with the best food. I feel like a lot of Westerners are put off by the idea of restaurants like these, but you know it must be a high quality meal when people go despite aspects like that. The owners care more about the food than about making an aesthetically pleasing restaurant, and I can appreciate that!