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Shanghai Street Food #34 Egg Puffs: Jidan Bing 鸡蛋饼

Breakfast is when street food always beckons me – the early morning life of the streets is just beginning but already the street food vendors have lifted their awnings and are doing a brisk trade in hot soy milk, steaming baozi and crispy you tiao. So many people buy breakfast on the street I actually wonder if any Shanghai locals breakfast at home.
This street food treat hails from Nanjing, but you’ll find it on many early morning street food corners in Shanghai and Beijing. 
It’s one of many kinds of bing 饼 – meaning it’s flat and round. You’re probably already familiar with jian bing (rolled savoury breakfast pancakes) and cong you bing (scallion oil pancakes).
This one’s a little different – it’s made of the same yeast dough as you tiao crispy fried dough sticks, so as soon as it hits the oil on the griddle the dough puffs up with big bubbles of air that are trapped as it cooks, giving it a texture like fried sourdough bread.
On top of this an egg is cracked, scallions added and the egg yolk broken. Then the whole thing is flipped so both sides get a crisp finish.
To serve, the vendor will add some hoisin sauce and fold the bing in half to make it easier to eat. Eggy, chewy, light and puffy.

How Many of These Shanghai Street Foods Have You Tried?

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
Number 32  Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken
Number 33  San Xian Doupi – Three Delicacies Wrapped in Tofu Skin

The Embroidery and Antique Textiles Market, Kaili

“In ancient times…there was a smart Miao girl named Bang Xiang. The beautiful girl was very skilful at embroidering flowers – they were so vivid they could even compare with real flowers.
After Bang Xiang was married she had nine sons and seven daughters. Her seven daughters were as smart as her. In no time, Bang Xiang’s daughters themselves reached the age of marriage. Bang Xiang made wedding gowns in seven different colours for her daughters and told them to pass down the colours of the wedding gowns to their own children.
Later, only by taking a look at what colour girls wore, could Bang Xiang recognise whose children they were.”
                                                                                                                    Traditional Miao Story

Central Guizhou is a living museum of opulent textile arts with more than one hundred varieties of ethnic dress worn by local women, all typified by colours, styles and patterns of embroidery particular to one local area or village – as the story goes, each village descended from one of Bang Xiang’s colourful daughters. 
Having no written language, Miao women have long told their legends and history stitch by stitch, on their clothing. – the terrifying migration across the deep waters of the Yellow River, the battles and victories, the mythical beasts and birds that saved their ancestors, and the Butterfly Mother from whom all Miao people are descended.
Even today, every Miao girl learns to embroider and in her teenage years will produce two masterpieces – a full set of embroidered panels to be attached to the sleeves and bodice of her wedding jacket, and a richly decorative baby carrier. Later, she will embroider another set of panels for festival dress, hats and clothes for her children, and in her later years a set of funeral clothes. 
This rich textile heritage is beginning to be appreciated by museums and textile collectors all over the world, and there is a growing market for the buying and selling of new and antique textiles. Now every Friday and Saturday in Kaili you can find pieces from all over Guizhou gathered together in a single marketplace. It’s a dream for textile lovers and collectors – wall to wall embroidery, colour, pattern, weaving, pleating, applique, knot work, batik, and metal threadwork. Stunning.
Baby’s hat, and Miao woman making appliqued shoes
Detail of baby carrier
Miao woman selling knot work baby carriers, and an embroidered baby carrier in use
Scraps of old embroideries re-made into bracelets

Embroidery patterns for sale – the designs for the panels are drawn by hand then paper cut, and then tacked to the back of the fabric.
Typical completed design (detail) with birds and animals
Paper cut design set depicting the Butterfly Mother and a dancing woman. Every idle moment is spent embroidering.
Antique panel used to decorate the top of an everyday apron. 
The market stretches the length of the street and into the building on the left. Miao woman from Shidong village.
Dress aprons for festival wear
Gejia Miao woman with distinctive head dress and highly decorative wax resist indigo textiles. Metal thread embroidery on back of jacket. 
Antique woven head scarf, fragment.
Miao woman selling indigo and plant dyed stiff cotton fabric, used for festival jackets. Embroidered panels are then sewn on top of the finished jacket. 
Occasionally textiles from further afield find their way to the market – like these Yi minority embroidered belts
Kaili Embroidery and Antique Textiles Market – Details
Jinquan Lu Textile Market
Jinquan Lu, Kaili, near the Kaili National Stadium
Every Friday and Saturday, 9.30am – 3pm

Some Like it Hot! Food Adventures in Central Guizhou

‘Do you eat chili Fiona?’ asked our local Miao guide Billy, as we watched a young woman trimming four enormous baskets of chilies outside a restaurant. It was the restaurant’s daily chili delivery.
He looked slightly defeated in advance, as though he already knew the answer was likely to be no. He often took small groups of foreigners around central Guizhou, but they all found the hot, sour local food intolerable and Billy was thwarted, yet again, from showing them the delights of Guizhou’s cuisine, also known as qián cài 黔菜。
We had been driving since early morning on bumpy back roads, the car expertly handled through mud bogs, deep ruts and climbing mountain switchbacks by our driver, who appeared to be fourteen years old. A Miao himself, and therefore small of build, I’m sure he was actually about twenty-two but with a soft baby face. He was carefully cultivating two things – a long whisker on his chin that stubbornly resisted being joined by any others in the way of a beard, and a nonchalant attitude whilst smoking. Both looked oddly out of place on one so young.
‘Of course I eat chili’ I replied. ‘I enjoy it very much.’
‘Really?’ asked Billy and the driver together.
‘Really.’  A love of all things spicy had served me well on past travels through India and Thailand, and I loved all of China’s spicy cuisines – from Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan and Guangxi, and now Guizhou. 
Billy and the driver smiled. And so began four days of Guizhou food adventures, guided by Billy, and fitted in around finding weavers, silversmiths and traditional indigo dye artisans. 
I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on Guizhou’s foods (you can read about Ten Must Try Foods in Guizhou and Guangxi), but after four trips to the same area in central Guizhou I am beginning to understand the Miao-influenced local cuisine better. 
Guizhou’s cuisine is characterised as suānlà 酸辣 – hot and sour. It feels rustic, but is far from simple  and dishes are rich in a complexity of both taste, colour and texture. Wild ingredients are commonly used – wild peppers, wild herbs, water roots, and fruits – which lend the food an exotic and unusual edge.
We began with the area’s most famous dish, synonymous with the Miao people:
Sour Fish Soup Hotpot 酸汤鱼火锅 Suan Tang Yu Huo Guo
The saying goes that, due to the cool damp weather in Guizhou, the Miao people are unable to go more than three days without sour soup or their legs become unsteady.
You must try this dish, if you ever get the chance – it is unbelievably rich, flavourful, nourishing and addictive. 
The soup is a complex blend of sour tastes – the lemony sourness of a clear base of lightly pickled bean sprouts, tomato slices and cucumbers, the clean acidity of fresh tomatoes, the sweet sourness of fermented sticky rice and the kicking hot sourness of fermented fresh mashed chilies – mixed together with wild herbs and spices – Guizhou ‘mint’ resting on top, mu jiang zi or tree ginger seeds (a kind of tart peppercorn), and finely chopped and spiced water root zhe ergen 折耳根 (known as yuxingcao 鱼腥草 in other parts of China), ginger and fermented soybeans.
Added to all of this are six or so uncooked freshwater carp. The best versions of the dish are found in smaller villages where the carp are grown in the water of the rice paddies, small but sweet of flesh. 
The whole pot then bubbles away at the table, cooking the fish and the fresh tomatoes and filling the room with steam and wonderful smells.
In front of each diner is a small dish of diced garlic, chopped fresh chillies, chopped cilantro and dried chili flakes. Once the soup is cooking you add a small ladle of liquid to this dry mixture and use it as a dipping sauce for your fish.
Once the fish have been eaten, heads and all, the real ‘hotpot’ begins – fresh cabbage leaves, fresh spindly bean sprouts, and white enoki mushrooms are added to the remaining soup to cook.
(If you read Chinese there’s a clear and concise recipe here)

Bracken Root Starch Fried with Smoked Bacon 腊肉炒蕨粑 larou chao jueba

Billy told me during China’s three years of Great Famine (1958-1961) the local Miao people survived on wits and instinct by eating wild plants like this. 
Bracken fern roots are pounded to release the starch, which is then steamed into a heavy ‘cake’ that can be cut into pieces and cooked. The bracken root cake (jueba 蕨粑) is fried, rendering the outside crispy and the inside dense and chewy, with a texture like bacon rind, mixed together with smoked chilies and slices of la rou smoked bacon. 
Guizhou Beef Hotpot 贵州牛肉火锅 guizhou niurou huo guo

A slightly different style of sour hotpot, this one functioned more like regular hot pot from other parts of China – we started with a fairly clear, sour, hot-as-hades soup base, and then added all the other ingredients ourselves – pieces of beef, lengths of chive stalk, slices of firm tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts and cabbage.
The heat from the soup base was amplified by then dipping each piece of meat into a mixture of dried and fresh chill mixed with salt, until none of us could speak and sweat literally dripped from our brows. But still we kept eating.

 We finished the meal with a bowl of the clear, slightly sour pickled vegetable ‘starter soup’ that is the hotpot base, which restored some much-needed coolness to our mouths.

Filled Rice Rolls 卷粉 juanfen
Minutes after I tried juan fen for the first time I jotted down a page of frantic notes, determined to capture the essence of its amazing taste. (Doesn’t everyone write notes about what they eat?) 
‘A completely textural dish. Soft pillows of rice sheet rolled with sliced fresh green beans, tiny cubes of tofu and slivers of mushroom. The beans give a squeaky crunch. Topped with guizhou water root zhe ergen, scallions, lajiao chill paste, peanuts, fresh tomato sauce, Guizhou pickled greens, whole garlic cloves and chopped green chili.’
It was a revelation – the soft smoothness and relative blandness of the rice sheets gave way to more than ten different flavours and textures on the tongue. 
It’s often eaten as a breakfast food or mid-morning snack.
Rice noodles 米线 mi xian and Rice tofu 米豆腐mi doufu
All over central Guizhou are small food stalls like this, typified by a row of enamel bowls and plates filled with condiments. 
To one side are the starches: large platters of cold rice noodle sheets cut into broad or narrow strips, deep bowls filled with cubes of soft rice-starch known as rice tofu, or cubes of mung bean jelly or sweet potato starch jelly.
The diner chooses a cold starchy base – noodles or cubes – and to this is added a mixture of textures and tastes from the many bowls. These include dried chill, fried peanuts, diced garlic with coriander stalk, hot spiced water root, finely chopped shallots, pickled spiced beans, pickled green vegetables, fresh chopped chilies (red and green), fermented chili sauce, pork mince, soy sauce, mild vinegar, or oil.
The result is fresh, tasty, cold and spicy all at the same time, the intense chili heat balanced by the soft coolness of the starch.
I suspect you could go an entire year without eating the same combination twice!

Traditional Village Life in China: The Miao Village of Qingman

I was looking for weavers in the villages of central Guizhou – artisans who still knew the old ways and methods to weave cloth, without machines, without electricity – and they were proving very hard to find. The local Miao women had largely abandoned the making of handwoven cloth because modern factories and machines could produce quality cotton at a fraction of the price, and so weaving had become nothing more than a lost tradition for most Miao women, an indulgent waste of time that could be better spent growing crops or tending to business.
Miao women don’t often take short cuts – they spend two years embroidering the colourful panels they place on their wedding garments, and another year embroidering and appliquéing a baby carrier for their first child. They still dye all their own cloth – with indigo they have grown themselves – and sew all their own clothes from the dyed cloth.
But weaving is different. Weaving consumes so many hours it’s difficult to fit anything else in. Setting up a loom takes five women one whole day, and once the loom is set the weaving proceeds at a snail’s pace – about a yard a day. The time for weaving has to be found between rice planting and harvest, and unlike embroidery, which you can carry with you anywhere to work on when you have a spare moment, weaving ties you to a loom, completely immovable. 
So weaving is a dying art in Guizhou. 
We needed handwoven cloth for a large artwork, for which every component was to be handmade by the local Miao people. We had already found expert dyers who used traditional indigo and plant dyes to render the cloth a deep, rich aubergine, and silver smiths who made ornaments to sew to the cloth, but our stumbling block was the cloth itself, and the weavers to make it – it seemed wrong to start the process with factory-made fabric.
We had chased many leads only to find dead ends – elderly women who occasionally wove brocade strips for special orders, villagers that used to weave, but no longer did. Our guide thought he had heard of some weavers in Qingman village, southwest of Kaili in central Guizhou Province, and so we set off to find out, prepared for more disappointment.
Qingman village is typical of a Miao village, of which there are hundreds in central Guizhou, microcosms of a traditional way of life preserved well into the modern day. The geographic remoteness of many of the villages, combined with the strong ethnic identity of the Miao people means that modern life has been a long time coming, and its encroachments are ponderously slow – an electricity wire here and there, an occasional television set.
The houses are made of wood, raised on stilts to climb the steep hillside and tightly packed together to maximise workable farmland. Between the houses hung with newly-harvested corn run narrow stone lanes leading up and down. A woman passed us, hoe in hand and baby on her back held tight by a patterned and embroidered baby carrier. Another woman passed, with a bamboo pole over her shoulder balancing two enormous panniers full of pig manure being carried from the sty to the fields. Miao men and women both work the fields, but women have the added task of running the home and rearing children.  

The village square, usually reserved for festivals, markets and celebrations, was being put to good use as a flat place for drying harvested rice, raked carefully. Elsewhere bright red chilies and bunches of millet, tied together with grass, were spread out to dry in the early autumn sun.
It was clear that village life fell into a natural cadence determined by the ebb and flow of the seasons and the crops, with intense activity during planting and harvest interwoven with quiet periods reserved for other activities – weddings, festivals, preserving of foods, sewing, repairing and even occasional afternoons spent sitting in the sun drinking mi jiu, a sweet rice liquor.
As I watched an elderly couple outside their house – he smoking tobacco, she repairing a woven grass mat used for drying rice – it seemed village life had remained as it was for a very long time. Certainly, most of the villagers carried mobile phones now, and they didn’t all wear indigo cloth, but they still farmed, and their year was governed more by the passing seasons than what they read in the newspapers or heard on their radios.
The unseasonably warm autumn weather – known in Chinese as an autumn tiger (qiu laohu 秋老虎) – was proving perfect for dyeing indigo, with every house hung with a length of the deep purple-black cloth, and nearly every woman’s fingers stained dark blue from the dye.

After enquiries at a number of houses we came across the first positive sign that weaving was still being carried out in Qingmen – five women preparing a loom for weaving silk. At last!

Now I could understand why it took an entire day – the threads were carefully measured, cut, combed and separated, and wound onto a giant spindle attached by a harness to one woman’s waist. Bamboo slats were placed under the threads at intervals to prevent tangling and intermingling of the threads. 
When we asked about weavers the women directed us to the house of Pan Yanlian, the young woman whose loom they were preparing.
We found Pan Yanlian at home, in the cool area under her house set up with a loom. She was weaving, not for tourists or for fun, but for a Beijing fashion designer who was using the village’s traditional checked silks in a small range of clothing. Of all things. How very wonderful.
She had learnt weaving from her mother and mother-in-law and had found it both relaxing and enjoyable, a welcome break from outdoor work. 
We sat and talked with her for hours, hearing about village life and her two children (China’s ethnic minorities are permitted two children, as are rural families), and learned that there were at least eight functioning looms in the village, and more than eight women who knew how to use them. Even more wonderful! 
It was a delight to know that thanks to the value placed on handmade things by visitors from Japan and some Chinese designers, she was able to make a living from weaving and in her village, it was no longer a dying art. 
So tell me – do you have a fascination with textiles? I believe there are more of you than I ever suspected after posting about this on Facebook recently! 

How far have you travelled to find unusual textiles, and what treasures have you brought home with you?

Qingman Village 青曼 – Details
Qingman village is a beautiful example of an intact traditional Miao village and visitors are welcome. The village is about two hours’ drive from Kaili in central Guizhou and is best reached by private car. Kaili is two and a half hours’ drive from the provincial capital Guiyang.
Few local villagers speak Chinese and none speak English, so travelling with a Miao-speaking guide is very helpful – try Gateway to Guizhou for help.
There are no restaurants or guesthouses in the village, but there are two small stores where water and snacks can be bought.
The local Miao families sell their silk and old textiles on market days. 

A trip to Qingman can be combined with a visit to the beautiful paper-making village of Shiqiao (Stone Bridge) nearby.