In Guiyang, sour and spicy cuisine will tantalize palate
GUIYANG in China’s southwestern Guizhou Province is not only famous for its beautiful natural landscape and simple people, but is also a popular travel destination because of its delicately made, hot and delicious cuisine.
You may find the ingredients unusual and the tastes extraordinary, and you will be certain to find something to return to. Sour and spicy flavors are the main character of Guiyang food. People there believe the spicy food will help to ease the cold and wet energy from their bodies caused by the humid weather.
As in other cities, such as Xi’an and Chengdu that are famous for their multiple-level, strong flavored cuisine, the most authentic Guiyang food can be found on the street. Folks there use the local ingredients and wisdom to make food that always surprises your palate and heart.
Fish In Sour Soup: Hooked after one taste
Of all the delicacies in Guiyang, fish in sour soup is the first that springs to mind. Generally I’m not so much into sour and spicy flavors, but one taste and I feel I have to make an exception for this dish.
The dish is so simple that it doesn’t really look different from common fish soup, despite a container as large as a hotpot. A large pot of white or red soup bubbles gives out a tantalizing smell, fish glimmering under the surface.
The dish, however, is anything but simple.
Fish in sour soup is a traditional dish of the Miao ethnic group. All Miao families have their own unique recipe. Girls who don’t know how to make sour soup will find it hard to find a husband.
Miao people love the sour taste. There is a saying among the people that “one will wobble if one doesn’t have anything sour for three days.”
A short story is often told about the origins of the soup. In ancient times, a pretty girl named A Na living in the Miaoling Mountain was a brew master. Her wine was sweet like flowers and clear like spring water.
Boys living nearby all came around to propose to her. If the girl didn’t like the boy, the wine would taste sour. The boys, however, were not willing to leave.
So she sang a song to them, telling them that “with love, water can become sweet wine, but without love, sweet wine would change to sour soup.”
Although that might seem a little depressing, the soup is now a source of happiness for Miao people.
The soup generally is one of two types: white or red. The white soup is made from fermented rice soup with the red soup from fermented wild tomatoes.
Ginger, garlic, salt, chili and spirits are added to make it more fragrant and delicious. The dish is usually served as a hotpot.
A huge, sliced catfish is soaked in the sour soup with spices.
Apart from the fish, diners can put vegetables, tofu and meat into the pot. The flavor of the sour soup seeps into the fish and vegetables, and I can never have enough of it.
Where to eat:
• Laokaili Fish in Sour Soup
This chain restaurant can be found in almost every business area in Guiyang. Claiming that their goal is to “make good sour soup and good fish,” the restaurant does have something special. The fish in red soup is a must-try. The fish, which is soaked in the sour soup, yields a complicated yet harmonious taste after being dipped in the dipping sauce.
Guiyang local people call the dipping sauce zhanshui. The restaurant provides various options of dipping sauce and customers can mix their own. My recommendation is chili powder, soy sauce and sesame oil. If you’re brave enough, try zhe’ergen. It is a common ingredient here that used in cold dishes. It might taste weird at first, but you may fall in love with it once you become used to the smell. According to traditional Chinese medicine, zhe’ergen is a cold herb that helps you ease inner heat and detoxifies your body, especially good for health during summer time.
The restaurant also provides Guiyang local snacks. Green onion pancakes, glutinous rice porridge and sweet millet paste are recommended.
I will always remember my first taste of beef rice noodles in Guiyang. Slippery, milky white rice noodles soaked in rich beef broth, topped with slices of tender beef, refreshing pickled cabbage and aromatic coriander. The appealing aroma filled my nostrils, making my mouth water. At least at that moment, on a chilly rainy day, it’s fair to say there was nothing that could beat such a dish of noodles.
The best beef rice noodles in Guiyang can be found in the Huaxi area and their popularity goes far beyond their origins as a snack. Now enjoyed all day long, it is to local people what yangrou paomo (mutton soup with Chinese bread) is to Xi’an people in Shaanxi Province, or sushi to the Japanese, burgers to Americans.
There are similar dishes in other parts of the country, such as the rice noodles topped with beef in Guilin in neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and the beef noodles of Lanzhou in Gansu Province. Yet the Huaxi dish stands out for its savory combination of chewy rice noodles, tasty beef broth and aromatic spices.
Where to eat:
Eateries favored by the locals are Wang’s and Feiwan. The two, sitting opposite each other at the entrance to a wet market on Huakuo Road, have been competing with each other for years.
Which one is better? Even the locals find it hard to tell.
Wang’s has two more branches in downtown Guiyang, one inside Qianling Mountain Park, the other on Hengfeng Walking Street. Feiwan also has a store on Hengfeng Street, and another on Wenhua Road, No. 76.
Changwang Noodles: Your wake-up call
A typical morning in Guiyang should start with a bowl of changwang noodles. But when the bowl arrives, you won’t be able to see any noodles at first. All you will see is red oil, some chang (pork intestines) and wang (blood). The pre-cooked chang and wang have a salty taste and the red chili oil added on top adds a special spicy taste, which will wake you up in just a few seconds.
The noodles are a little bit chewy due to the large amount of eggs used with the flour. Another important ingredient in the bowl is cuishao, which is deep-fried pork. Cui means crispy.
The tradition of eating changwang noodles can be traced back over 100 years. The dish was originally cooked by butchers who wanted to attract customers for their pork. As it appealed to the Guizhou people’s fondness for spicy food, it soon became very popular.
Today, changwang noodle restaurants can be seen all over Guiyang, and many residents prefer to begin their day with a bowl, together with some refreshing pickles.
There’s also a tofu version for anyone who wants to try something different.
But remember, if you want to try a bowl of changwang noodles, make sure you get up early. Many of the shops close early as the noodles are quickly sold out.
Where to eat:
• Namenkou Changwang Noodle
Address: 3 Xiahuguo Rd
How to get there: Take Bus Nos. 8, 9, 15, 18, 35 and 237 to Dananmen station.
Opening hours: 6:30am-3pm
• Liuji Changwang Noodle
Address: in front of the Guiyang Blood Center
How to get there: Take Bus Nos. 5 and 10 to Provincial Hospital station
Opening hours: 6:20am-2:30pm
Siwawa: Guiyang’s gastronomic specialty
Every city or region has a specialty. For the city of Guiyang, it is siwawa. In general, the Guiyang snack is the vegetarian version of Peking roasted duck pancakes.
The name siwawa, or literally sliced baby in English, describes the pancake swaddling the ingredients as if they were a baby.
It’s very easy to spot a siwawa stall at Guiyang’s night food market as it can make quite a scene. Diners sit alongside a long table displaying a dozen small dishes with various sliced vegetables and fillings, like an artist’s palette.
Chatting animatedly, they steadily pick up the fillings from the bewildering variety of ingredients, chopsticks crossing in the air like the wielding of swords.
The first time I had siwawa, I unfortunately embarrassed myself with my clumsiness. The trick is to take good control of the amount of ingredients, and stuff as many kinds of fillings as you can in one swaddle without breaking the pancake. Throw away your table manners and use your hands.
Since the fillings of traditional siwawa are basically plain boiled, the sauce that is poured into the swaddle becomes crucial. Usually the sauce is made of deep-fried peanuts and yellow beans, garlic, spring onion, pepper oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, vinegar and ground burned chili. Recently, flavored sour sauce, developed from the renowned Miao ethnic sour-soup fish, has won over the palates of Guiyang people, and prevails in town. Cuishao (deep-fried streaky pork granules) and zhe’ergen, literally “stinky fish grass,” the root of a local plant, are among the locals’ favorite fillings.
All siwawa restaurants in Guiyang offer an unlimited supply of fillings for free, and only charge based on the number of pancakes.
Today, siwawa is not just a street snack, but a must in Guiyang cuisine, to be eaten on any occasion, from night food stalls to wedding banquets.
Where to eat:
• Yang Yima (Aunt Yang)
Starting out from a food stall outside Hebin Park some 30 years ago, the restaurant is now one of the premier siwawa restaurants in town. It now has six branches in Guiyang.
Feishan main store:
Address: 171 Feishan St
Qianling Rd E. branch
Address: 103 Qianling Rd E.
• Si Zhi Wei
Hidden inside a local shopping mall, this place was the first to substitute the traditional sauce with flavored sour soup. Diners can add according to their own taste a little listea cubeba (a unique local plant) oil and ground burned chili to increase the aroma of the sauce. The restaurant offers flavored fillings among other plain ones, such as spicy potato and black fungus slices. It has four branches in Guiyang.
Zhonghua Rd N. branch
Address: 7/F, Meijia Building, 99 Zhonghua Rd N.
Address: 4/F, Hengfeng Walking Street, Zhongshan Rd W.
• Silian Red Soup Siwawa
Silian is nice option to satisfy those craving for strong and exciting flavors. Like Si Zhi Wei, this restaurant offers a number of ingredients dressed with sauces. The unique spicy and sour red soup appeals both to the eye and the palate. A variety of barbecue is on offer as side dishes.
Address: 3/F, Xingtiandi, 77 Zhongshan Rd W.
Address: 1/F, Huana Plaza, 31 Huanghe Rd
Street Food: From corn cobs to pigs’ brains
Street food is the essence of delicacies in Guiyang. Visitors will find old women sitting by the street, grilling corn cobs that may be the best you will ever taste. The same holds for deep-fried tofu balls, kebabs and spring rolls.
At a spring roll booth in Guiyang, everything is served cold. The owner will use a thin, half-transparent wrapper to roll in vegetables and noodles after spreading a mystery salty paste. Chili sauce is added to the vegetables.
The spring roll is put in a paper bowl, and the owner gives you a pair of chopsticks. The taste is slightly mind-blowing, definitely a treat for chili lovers.
Kebabs are everywhere in Chinese street food, and it’s no different in Guiyang. But here the kebabs are really tiny, usually one small bite for one kebab. So it’s not at all strange to buy 20 kebabs at a time. The ingredients range from pork and beef to vegetables.
Barbecue is another mainstream street food. The ingredients for barbecue, just as in many cities in southwestern China, are animal organs. Pigs’ brains are a local favorite. The brains are grilled with spring onion, ginger, garlic and chili powder, and the shape, thank goodness, doesn’t look like a brain at all. The taste is quite controversial. It can be overwhelming for newbies, but there must be a reason why locals are extremely fond of it. Maybe you will like it too. Good luck.
Guiyang has several night fairs, in which the greatest hits of street food are all available. But it’s always good to keep an eye on the booths during the day. Perhaps your next great pleasant surprise is right around the next corner.
Where to eat:
• Erqi Road Night Fair
There is a place in Guiyang that people might love and hate at the same time. It’s actually one of the locals’ favorites. I was blown away by the noise and the smoke when I was there, but I couldn’t make myself leave — because of the food.
Erqi Road looks deserted during the day. But when it is past 8pm, it suddenly changes to a night fair, becoming one of the most crowded places in Guizhou, especially approaching midnight.
Barbecue, hotpot, grilled fish, dumplings, meat in griddles — the whole street will be full of the sounds of food sizzling in pots with tantalizing aromas lingering in the air. Booths crowd both sidewalks. Young people after work will sit down under a shabby tent to drool over a large plate of grilled fish, while lovers walk down the street hand in hand, their free hands holding a bunch of kebabs.
The whole point of the place is to satisfy your stomach, and you just have too many choices here. You have to return to try the things you missed the first time.