amw (amw) wrote,

eating in Guiyang

Tuesday night i headed out to try find something to eat.

My two lingering sensual memories of Guiyang were choking on chili smoke from roadside fried rice stalls, and the flavor of 折耳根 "zhe'ergen" - a strange root that's added to local chili sauce. Only one of those things still exists.

There are still a lot of street vendors in the city. While the sun is up, vendors sell fruit, jelly, corn, glutinous rice and various cold noodle dishes. When the sun goes down, the tofu, meat-on-a-stick and potato vendors come out to play.

I got some spring rolls from a street vendor, then tried to find a way to get to the pagoda in the background of the photo i shared yesterday. Every time i asked how to reach the summit, i would get a vague answer about "round there somewhere". When i got closer, people just told me there was no way up. This is obviously ridiculous because pagodas don't just drop out of the sky, but it is a very common experience when walking in China. People will often say it's impossible to get somewhere that they either don't know how to get to, or that the government has blocked off for whatever arbitrary reason. I wasn't really in the mood to find out which, so i came back down the hill and picked up a tofu.

This is a so-called 恋爱豆腐 - love tofu. The closest thing i can think of to describe it is a baked camembert. It is tofu with a very thick rind and a very soft center. It's deep-fried and then popped open, and a bunch of sauce is scooped into it.

I should try to explain zhe'ergen before going on. It is the root of the fish mint plant, and it tastes like peppery river mud. It is earthy and fresh, and not exactly pleasant. The flavor is extremely peculiar and overpowering. You will definitely know about it if you get some in your hotpot.

In the love tofu sauce, zhe'ergen is mixed with chili, garlic, ginger and spring onions. It seeps into the gooey center, creating a thick, spicy, cheesy funk. It's weird and wonderful.

It was picking up my tofu that i saw the police busting up a whole line of street vendors. This time in Guiyang i didn't see any fried rice stalls at all - they're usually easy to spot from the plumes of smoke rising from their woks. Deep-fried food doesn't cause as much smoke, but even potato and tofu vendors were being moved along.

I think the crackdown on stir-fry specifically is due to a shitty central government directive that cooking on the street contributes to air pollution. Which, fuck the central government, because if they really wanted to do something about air pollution they should close the coal power stations and ban internal combustion vehicles. But, 没办法, nothing can be done. Government says you can't cook on the street, you can't cook on the street. I mean, you cook on the street anyway, but when the cops come you quickly push your cart away before they fine you.

So, this is not the Guiyang i visited 3 years ago. Gentrification marches on.

I walked up a back alley, away from the cops, and stumbled upon a bar in a shack. Not just a bar in a shack, a fucking microbrewery in a shack! There was space for about 10 people to sit, mostly at the bar. The dude had his homebrew on tap, all IPA and sour and stout, just like a craft beer joint anywhere else in the world. The best part was that there were two other solo drinkers sitting at the bar, which almost never happens in China. One was a woman on a business trip from Chongqing and the other was a local drunk.

With the business traveler i touched a bit on the issues i had had checking into a hotel, and the conversation went through a typical sequence of initially blurting out that nationalism and xenophobia is getting worse, then abruptly dialing it back and saying "well, actually, it's a special time, Chinese people are just trying to stay safe, it's the virus..." It's very frustrating to speak to people about current events here, because you can only get a glimmer of what they really think, then suddenly they'll become self-conscious and shut down. After that, all you hear is the party line.

The drunk asked me if i was gay, then said he had friends that were gay, then proceeded to ask me questions about being gay that if you had friends who were gay you probably wouldn't ask. He admitted sometimes he's interested in sex with men but he's definitely not gay or anything. I'm not sure if this was some kind of weird attempt to connect with me and pull a con, since his story kept changing, or if he was just plastered. I didn't care, i've been round enough bars to deal with it, and it was nice to finally be in a bar with other folks flying solo. He added me on WeChat before i stumbled back to the hotel around 1am.


Wednesday morning i woke up hungover and in pain. Monday's hike had taken its toll and my whole body was hurting. I resolved to book a third night and take it easy - spying a nature park with a lake and figuring it'd be a casual stroll to stretch out my muscles.

For breakfast i grabbed another local delicacy - 豆花面 bean flower noodle. 豆花 translates to "bean flower" the same way that 豆腐 translates to "bean curd". But we usually call bean curd "tofu" in English, and bean flower is best described as another type of tofu. In Guangdong 豆花 is the name used to refer to a sweet dish, silky tofu topped with sugar and eaten like pudding. In Guizhou 豆花 is a stiffer tofu, and 豆花面 is that tofu, floating in a bowl of noodles and soy milk, eaten with a kick-ass dipping sauce.

You pick the noodle or tofu, dunk it in the chili sauce, then slurp.

The place i went to added a few tiny scraps of beef brisket to the sauce, which was a surprise, but it tasted great. The sauce was rich and spicy, with cilantro and peanuts and plenty of chili.

After finishing the noodles, drinking soy milk from the noodle bowl helped to cool down.

Well, i wanted a bit more cooling, so i also got a blended watermelon ice, topped with sunflower seeds, peanuts, raisins and black sesame.


The park turned out to be a boardwalk along a river canyon and the lake was actually a reservoir at the top of a bunch of steps. The worst part was, after i climbed all the steps, i realized that the reservoir was completely fenced off, and the thing i thought was a hiking trail was actually just a road. My body was hurting bad enough i didn't have the energy to hike to the next point of interest that normal people drive to, so i went back down the dam and hopped on a bus back to the city.

Stairs aside, it was a fairly chill walk, though.


I mentioned the spring rolls i got on Tuesday night, but back then my pictures didn't come out so i was forced to get another bunch. It's a hard life.

The tourist guides talk about Guiyang having a special dish called 丝娃娃, which means "silk babies". It's a cute name, but in reality there are just a few restaurants that serve it, meanwhile street vendors all over sell pretty much the same thing as 春卷 (spring roll) or 裹卷 (bundle roll).

They come in green and red, the green ones are more 酸 (sour) and the red ones are more 辣 (spicy). Inside is seaweed, carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, radish, pickled cabbage, pickled chili, fresh chili, spring onion, zhe'ergen (if you want it) and some other stuff. Super refreshing and delicious.

I also picked up some home fries on the way back to the hotel.

I was originally intending to go back out again in the evening, but my body wasn't having it. I watched some wrestling and fell asleep.


I'm currently in Chengdu as i write this, but i have another day of Guiyang to fill in. More tomorrow ✨
Tags: china, food, travel

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