Not being from one region in particular, (a rarity in such a cuisine-specific country) the Zongzi is a tamale-like concoction that every Chinese person has eaten in his/her life. As much as turkey is a part of Thanksgiving in the states, Zongzi are a huge part of the Chinese holiday Dragon Boat Festival, in early June. Common lore tells varied stories, all involving a famous poet drowning himself (some stories are for love, some for political sacrifice), and the village people throwing packets of rice into the river to keep the fish from eating his body. To celebrate the holiday, wrapping and eating these Zongzi’s are common tradition, and glutinous rice is stuffed into hearty bamboo leaves, and filled with either savory or sweet goods. Nowadays Zongzi can be found at all times of year, everywhere from the streets, to supermarket freezers, to dim sum restaurants.
In Yangshuo we came across an elderly woman rolling a cart of Zongzi down the street. I’ve had plenty of Zongzi of the homemade and supermarket and dimsum variety, but have yet to taste the smaller, always-steaming street variety. Mild in all senses- texture, flavor, temperature- it turned out to be a very satisfying midday snack. I bet if I were hungry I’d surely wolf a few of these down.
Yes, I am still on the subject of Liugong village- I can’t seem to get it off my mind.
Walking around, we heard the grunting-snorting-squealing that can only come from one animal: pigs! (Although to be honest, I thought it might have been a water buffalo at first. Don’t make fun, have you heard a water buffalo before? That’s what I thought.)
These were the cutest young pigs I have ever seen. We hung around long enough for their owner to come out with a bucket of slop. And I must say, never in my life have I seen an object so accurately represented in its purest form. It was the sloppiest sloppy slop I have seen, and the pigs snorted squealed with joy as Owner poured in into the trough, and dove right in.
In honor of being born in the Year of the Pig….Happy Birthday to my best friend Tanya!!!!!!!!
Along with the best plate of rice I’ve ever been served, was an amazing dollop of chili paste on the side. Talking to the young woman who ran the restaurant (she couldn’t have been more than 25, and was at least 6 inches shorter than I was), she proudly boasted that it was her father’s famous recipe, known throughout town.
She proceeded to educate me that this type of chili paste- clearly speckled with the fermented black beans that the DiploMan and I love so much- is special to this area. Two small jars and a few large ones were all that remained from the Fall harvest. Fall Harvest?All that is left? I asked what she meant. She went on to describe that her family only makes the chili paste once a year, in the fall, when peppers are at their best. In the fall, peppers are their driest, which makes them most suitable for crushing into a thick chili paste. Like canning and preserving, this old-school method of making chili paste once a year proves that homemade is always better than store-bought.
We took the small jar home with us- and even among our 8 or so bottles of various chili pastes and sauces that are accruing in our fridge, I am starting to regret not having bought the large one.
Where does an hour and a half down the Li River take us? Nowhere, really. But in the middle of nowhere is a small town called LiuGong (留公).
In our exploration of the small village, we came across as family restaurant on the top of a hill overlooking the river. Built on a cement slab with a stone roof that looked like a carpark, the aesthetic was pretty similar to the rest of the town. A small group of Chinese tourists and a couple of Czech bikers were sitting around the fire pit in the middle of the concrete floor- so of course we were inclined to join.
As the river and cold had built up our appetites, we ordered a few plates of homestyle fried rice. I’ve just finished reading Jen Lin-Liu’s Serve the People- a stir-fried journey through China, and there are a few passages that jumped out at me while reading. One is a bit of advice which was passed down to the author: “there is a difference between best restaurants and favorite restaurants”. In the states, I don’t think I had much of a distinction. I though Franny’s, or Prime Meats, and ok Blue Hill too, were simultaneously my favorite and the best restaurants. But things differ in China, where class distinctions are so apparent, and there is such a huge jump between new and old. The best restaurant in town might not be my most favorite, and vice versa.
Something about this meal- eating on fold-out mini chairs on a concrete slab, among karsts rising out of the fog, with and international cast of characters snapping pictures left and right- I found to be so memorable and endearing. One of my favorite meals in China so far- even if it wasn’t really a full “meal”. I had ordered a tomato-beef fried rice, and each time my huge spoon hit the bottom of the shallow cheap plastic plates, I scooped another spoonful of beefy tomato-y rice into my mouth with glee.
Most of the time, people who visit China (and Taiwan) talk about the famous stinky tofu dish. As much as I admit to love the dish, that conversation is reserved for another time. Today, I’m happy to show you what I am sure is a much more widely appreciated dish: 香豆腐, or “fragrant” tofu, a Yangshuo specialty.
These carts are all over the city, and though a few are scattered about during the day, they come out in droves at night, especially on the main 西路, West Street, strip of bars and restaurants. A grid of soft tofu sits on a flat griddle, bubbling with the addition of a little oil and spices. The longer the tofu sits on the griddle (hours, even) the more brown the edges become- and firmer, but still not crisp. On cold days like the ones we experienced, the griddle steams extra vigorously and the soft pieces of tofu bubble ever-so-slightly.
For 5rmb- about 80cents- an order you get two small squares of piping-hot tofu, topped with green onions, Yangshuo chili, and assorted pickled vegetables. Perfect after a long day on the river.