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.