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Shanghai Street Food #22 Honeyed Lotus Root Stuffed With Sticky Rice: Guì Huā Lián’ǒu 桂花莲藕

Welcome back to the Shanghai Street Food series! Honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice – guì huā lián’ǒu 桂花莲藕 (literally osmanthus flower lotus root) is one of the most refined and aesthetically beautiful of all street foods once you slice it open and see the wonderful pattern the rice makes against the honeyed lotus root. 
In its unsliced state though, it’s rather unattractive – if you’ve walked Shanghai’s streets you may have noticed tubs full of what look like giant brown slugs with toothpick tentacles floating in non-descript syrupy liquid. These are whole lotus roots, the interior root chambers filled with sticky rice then slowly cooked so that the lotus root’s starchy sweetness fully develops, and turns from pale white to deep red-brown (much like a quince) and the rice grains plump up to fill the long tubular spaces within the lotus root, giving it that characteristic appearance when sliced.

Vendors selling the stuffed lotus roots are usually found just near the entrance to larger wet markets (9.8 yuan ($1.50) per 500g). After removing one from its syrupy bath the vendor will remove the toothpicks holding the end of the lotus root closed, then slice it for you into centimetre-thick slices. Then he’ll separately pour some syrup in a tightly knotted plastic bag for you to take home. You could, of course, eat it as a true street food as you walk but things might get pretty sticky. I usually prefer to take the lotus root home whole and slice it myself, adding the syrup just before eating. Despite its sweetness this dish can be eaten cold as an entree at the start of a meal, as well as a dessert.

The stuffed lotus roots are apparently easy to make it home, although I’m yet to give it a try because it’s just so easy to buy one on the street. Simply soak some glutinous rice in water for two hours, then slice the end of a short, plump lotus root and fill the holes wth the rice, using a chopstick to help the grains into the holes,  tapping the tuber’s outside with a rolling pin or stick to help the rice get all the way to the bottom. Reattach the lid with toothpicks, then cook at a slow boil for 2 hours in a light sugar syrup. Once cooled, slice and drizzle with osmanthus syrup or osmanthus honey.

The Shanghai Street Food Series

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

  • christa @ mental foodie

    I have never eating lotus roots like so. I had only had them in savory soup!

  • Kim

    My mom used to make savory soup with lotus roots and put green beans inside them. When the soup is ready, we slice the lotus roots and eat them with soy sauce. It's very good, but time consuming to prepare. Btw, 'Gui Hua' should be written like this '桂花' 🙂

  • Fiona

    Thanks a million Kim – all fixed now! I hit the wrong key on my 'Pinyin- simplified' character writer. Clearly, I'll be needing 'Pinyin – supersimplified' instead 😉

    (also makes me think I may be in deeper trouble than I thought for my second Chinese test next week….)

  • Anonymous

    Might give it another try…..only becuase of the VERY juicy photos!!!!


    Might give it another try…..only becuase of the VERY juicy photos!!!!

  • Fiona

    Thanks Baja! You should – you might be surprised. Lots of restaurants also feature it as a cold dish, I was once memorably presented with plate of the stuffed lotus root cut into small cubes and topped with a nest of spun toffee. It was magnificent looking, but tasted the same as this one…!

  • shaz

    They do look rather slug-like in their syrup bath. Must say I've never though of lotus root as a sweet before, it's always been a vegetable at our place, usually in soup with pork bones and sometimes a dried oyster or two. But I don't see why they wouldn't work well as a dessert. Will have to try it at home if I can find some lotus root.

  • Fiona

    I like the sound of that soup. Lotus root is so starchy it does get very sweet when you slow cook it, even if just roasted. My fave is stir fried wafer thin slices with loads of garlic and slivers of fatty pork….yum….

  • kelly

    I love the sweet lotus roots. Here in Hong Kong, I have to order it in restaurants but the quality is still pretty good.

    Love how you described the cooking process, I must try it at home.

  • Connie Lou

    Thanks Fiona, we have access to lotus root here in Hawaii and I have had it in Chinese food, but never like this, what a great combination! XO Connie

  • Louise

    I certainly would never guess what they really were from the first picture. It looks like a flotilla of squid awash in a big kettle. I'd actually be keen to give these a go!

  • mauradamaura

    Hi Fiona! We love your blog and are dying to try out some of these treats. We have not been able to find them in our neighborhood in Hongkou. Can you recommend a street intersection of a wet market that might work? Thanks so much, and keep up the great posts!

  • Fiona Reilly

    Thanks Maura! I don't know Hongkou that well, but can tell you where I buy mine – at the large indoor wetmarket on Fuxing Lu between Xiangyang Lu and Jianguo Lu. Best of luck!