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To Shidong Market, To Buy a Fat Pig

A trip to Guizhou should be timed, if at all possible, with a visit to the Miao village market in Shidong. It occurs every six days, a rather eccentric cycle stubbornly independent of the constraints of a conventional seven day week, but perhaps there’s a good reason behind it.
Maybe six days’ worth of eggs is the most one person can carry by themselves? Or six days’ worth of meat? Or perhaps every six days is about how often you can bear running into everyone you know from the surrounding villages.
On the other five days of the six-day cycle Shidong is a sleepy village. It’s thinking about becoming a small town, but hasn’t quite decided yet whether it’s worth it, and the general consensus – given the slow walking pace of the locals and the general air of torpor – seems to be ‘probably not’.

The main street runs parallel to the jade coloured Qingshui River, with two tiny noodle shops and a few places selling farm supplies. The central basketball court is covered with drying rice from the rice harvest, being raked slowly and meditatively by an elderly woman with a wooden paddle.

But on market day Shidong explodes into activity. Early in the morning the basketball court is cleared of rice and becomes a makeshift poultry market and slaughtering centre. The stallholders erect tents, umbrellas and tables lining both the main street and the large flat area beside the river, and people pour in from near and far – on foot, by bus, by motorbike and by boat.

The market is utterly local, and reflects the everyday needs of life in Guizhou’s Miao villages.

In no particular order, you can buy embroidery silks, fighting birds, a piglet, ten yards of cloth, indigo dye, buffalo hide, a short-handed sickle for harvesting rice, a fish net, a silver head dress, or a red coil of firecrackers.

It’s a wonderful place with a lively atmosphere and a beautiful location. I think it’s actually one of the most interesting markets in China, right up there with the Friday market in Yousuo, Yunnan and the Sunday Animal Markets in Kashgar and Hotan.

 Right near the entrance are the indigo sellers. Almost every Miao woman dyes her own cloth for clothing for her family, and although some still make their own indigo paste from fermented indigo leaves, it’s much easier to buy the paste from the market.

 Fish come from the clear waters of the river, or more often from the rice paddies where growing them keeps insects down, and catching them is easier. A popular Miao dish is made with fried dried fish. Makeshift pens hold ducks, another popular food and particularly important for festivals – ducks help bring the ancestors’ spirits home for the feast.  

Women sell soap nuts – the seed pods of a local tree – which can be used to make a stiffening and glossing agent for embroidery threads.

The man on the left is selling pieces of dried buffalo hide, used to make a gelatin dip for indigo dyed fabric to stiffen it and give it sheen. The roots on the right are from a mountain tree, and can be pulped to make a red-brown fabric dye.

If you would prefer someone else to dye fabric for you, the market offers a dyeing service – buy your fabric (usually cream homespun cotton) and leave it with these dye vendors who will dye, dry and deliver your fabric in just a few hours while you shop.

The Miao people’s famed silver jewellery is also for sale, bought by the gram, and there are small snack stalls selling local foods like rice tofu (mi doufu 米豆腐), cubes of cold rice starch dressed with seventeen secret sauces and peanuts. A perfect snack for a hot day in the sun.
You can also find various services at the market – the shoe, leather and umbrella repair man, and the street dentist. The foot treadle operating his drill is out of sight. Truly amazing, truly terrifying.

Boat parking, for those who arrive by water. Many villagers living on the other side of the river can now come to market on foot thanks to the new footbridge.

Bird lovers congregate in a hidden part of the market – the courtyard of an abandoned house just off the main street. The birds are fighters as well as pets, and many hours can be whiled away discussing the merits of a particular bird.
And lastly my favourite stall – the firecrackers. Long coils of noisy red crackers, and boxes of bigger fireworks. Right near the eggs seems like a risky place to keep them, but what do I know?
Do you have a favourite market in China? Let me know below – I’m always on the lookout for a new one!

Shidong Market – Details

Shidong 施洞 is approximately 2 hours’ drive north-east of Kaili, in central Guizhou. The best way to get to Shidong is by private car, but you can also travel by small local bus.
Kaili, confusingly also known as Qiandongnan on many maps, is a great base from which to explore a number of Miao villages, and is about two and a half hours’ drive from Guizhou’s capital city, Guiyang. Guiyang is the nearest airport. There is also a hard seat local train running regularly between Guiyang and Kaili.
The market occurs every six days, with 2013 dates available here and runs from early in the morning until 3pm.

Guizhou: The Most Overlooked Destination in China (But You Need To Go Now)

Guizhou Province is easily one of China’s undiscovered gems.
As beautiful and as ethnically diverse as Yunnan Province, as uncrowded as Inner Mongolia, and as gifted with natural beauty as Sichuan and Qinghai combined, it’s a wonder Guizhou isn’t over-run with its own popularity.
And yet…hardly anyone ever goes there. 
Lying in the central south of China between Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi, Guizhou’s terrain is mountainous and heavily forested, the valleys filled with meandering rivers and clusters of wooden stilt houses. 
The limestone karst peaks are younger, geologically speaking, and less eroded than those in Guilin and Yangshuo, which means that to get from one place to another is enormously challenging as you ascend and descend successions of hairpin winding roads. Straight lines between destinations? There are very, very few of those.
Which might account for the few visitors willing to overcome the necessary obstacles to get there.

The local people are ethnically diverse and overwhelming welcoming – mostly Miao (shown above), but also Dong, Yao, Yi, and Bouyei, Sui and Tujia. The region’s relative poverty and difficulty of access has meant that traditional lifestyles are still practiced in most parts of Guizhou, preserving culture and traditions that might have otherwise been lost with progress. 
Change is coming though – in the last few years tunnels have been burrowed through mountains to allow highways to pass. New roads and a high speed train line are underway as we speak, connecting villages that were previously preserved largely because of their inaccessibility.
You need to go to Guizhou now, while it still has all its charms, and before everyone else realizes what they’re missing out on.
I spent last week in central Guizhou, my fourth trip to the province and part of a project that will see me spending a lot of time in China’s remoter parts over the next year, meeting with traditional craftspeople and artisans who weave, dye, embroider and print fabric, and silversmiths who beat out beautiful things from raw metal. 
I feel extraordinarily lucky to be part of this project – a series of public art works featuring indigenous Chinese textiles and crafts.
Like many of you, I adore anything made by hand with care and love, whether that be a beautiful meal or a piece of embroidered cloth, and the story behind it. 
A lifetime of curiosity and interest in the act of simply making something by hand, in a way that is true to tradition, has led me to this point.
My apologies that things have been a little quiet on this blog – travel is wonderful for the soul, but poses challenges to the blogger, especially in remote areas of China where the internet is patchy.
Over the next two weeks I look forward to bringing you posts about the villages of Guizhou: Shidong and Qingmai, and the large town of Kaili. 
First post tomorrow!

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Guizhou you might enjoy these previous posts:

Photo Essay: The Post and Telecommunications New Village of 1953, Shanghai

In an act of pure curiosity, sometimes I picked a random subway line in Shanghai’s tangled and massive subway system and rode it until, at a random moment, I got off. 
I got off to explore, to take pictures, to find new street foods, or new neighbourhoods. These trips, mini-adventures accomplished in just one morning or afternoon, kept my wanderlust at bay on days when I was feeling restless and always taught me something new about Shanghai, and more often than not, about myself.
I never knew exactly where I was going or at what precise moment to get off the subway – most often the urge to alight was triggered by a large sweaty man next to me invading too much of my personal space, a pang of hunger, or a stretch of boredom. Occasionally, on less brave days, I felt the anxiety of being too far from familiar territory as the train hurtled further and further away from the parts of Shanghai I knew, and I got off out of fear, but that didn’t happen often. Shanghai is a safe city, one of the safest in the world, even for a lone wandering woman.
The uniformity of the underground stations rarely held a clue as to what might be found above ground, so with my camera, my appetite, and an active curiosity, I would set out to see what the streets held.
One day I took Line 10, the mauve line, northwards. I planned to head out towards the end of the line but as I rumbled past Laoximen (Old West Gate), then North Sichuan Road, my eye was caught by an upcoming stop: Youdian Xincun – Post and Telecommunications New Village.  The name intrigued me, and I got off.
As I rose up out of the subway I was met by a broad seam of ramshackle and tumble-down old houses, dark and dirty, compressed together tightly and surrounded on all sides by the rising towers of new apartments and offices, like a seam of coal running through a meadow. Between the houses were dark alleys just two shoulders wide, and overhead lines of washing connected one building with another. It was gritty and grim. 
As I stood there with my camera, in two minds about whether to go back into the safety of the subway or just plunge right in, a tiny woman with bowed legs approached me.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, openly curious and pointing to my camera.
“I like taking photos on the streets” I said.
“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked, waving her hand to indicate the alleys behind her. “You’re all alone.”
“No, of course not” I lied. But I kept my wits about me as I wandered.
The village, an island of old houses that have somehow escaped demolition in the face of Shanghai’s relentless progress, sits alongside a wide canal. In the early 1950s China expanded and modernised its telecommunications network on a massive scale, and suddenly there were thousands of new workers needing a place to live. The village is all that remains of the large housing estate built by Shanghai Post and Telecommunications in 1953 to house them, a vestige of a time when you lived with the people you worked with, and had little choice about it.
Now there’s only a tiny community remaining, but the ‘village’ acts as a village should – there is a sense of community visible even to an outsider, a thriving fresh food street market in the midst of the warren of lane ways, and a vibrant street life with elderly people out walking, pigeon fanciers preparing their birds for their daily flight, and food being prepared on the street. I remember it as being a lively and enjoyable afternoon as I wandered and explored without coming to any harm.
And yet…when I look at these photos now they seem filled with a sense of loneliness and loss. Or is that just how I see it today? What do you think? 






Capture the Colour Travel Photography – China in Five Colours

Neighbourhood firework seller, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province 
Can you capture the spirit of your travel experiences in just five colours? That’s the challenge posed by Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Colour travel photography competition, now running for its second year after the massive success of last year’s competition. 
Heather from Ferreting the Fun nudged me to participate this year (her photos, with great mini stories attached, are wonderful), but entry is open to any travel blogger. I had so much fun with last year’s entry, so here are my five for this year: China in five colours.
RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red RED red

Pingyao, in Shanxi Province, is a beautifully preserved walled Ming Dynasty town and one of China’s most intense immersive tourism experiences. I highly recommend it for those who love full-frontal crowds, tour groups wearing matching novelty outfits, getting your photo taken in a velcro-attached Ming Dynasty costume, and paying three times the real value of everything. Despite this, there are moments of quiet beauty amongst the madness and souvenir spruikers, like this traditional paper cut seller hanging out her wares across a tiny alleyway. 
BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE blue BLUE 

 A hard day’s ride on the back of a camel through the Singing Sand Dunes of Gansu Province and this was our reward – the pale orb of the full moon rising over indigo coloured dunes. The sand was cool and soft under our bare feet as I leaned on Matt’s shoulder to get the long exposure without a tripod.

YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW yellow YELLOW
The Nanchang Temple in Wuxi, close to Shanghai, has lovely views from its pagoda (after you have climbed thousands of stairs, that is) and is right next to a street food precinct. Effort = Reward
GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN green GREEN
Qinghai. It’s utterly magnificent. This fairytale road leads down through green fields full of tiny wildflowers to Shizang Monastery, a rarely visited holy village hidden from view by a broad red cliff deep in the valley. 
(And just to show you don’t need a fancy camera to get great travel shots, this was taken with my iPhone.)
WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white WHITE white WHITE

 I couldn’t complete this series without at least one food photo! This dumpling cook works in the Nanxiang Xiaolongbao kitchen at Yu Gardens in Shanghai, filling steamer baskets with xiaolongbao – plump little soup-filled dumplings.

And in the spirit of passing the baton, I nominate these five wonderful travel bloggers and photographers to show us their five colours!
Robyn from Oolong to Earl Grey (a photography buddy and fellow Shanghai tragic now blogging from an English village)
Chi-chi Zhang and Zachary Wang from China Nomads (extraordinary photos of China’s wildest places)
Barbara from The Dropout Diaries (who, in a bizarrely strange twist of fate turns out to be a cousin I had never met…she lives in Asia and writes a blog about travel and street food….go figure!)
Sally from Unbrave Girl (who first showed me the delights of Wuxi)
Kate from Driving Like a Maniac – she not only lives in Italy, but cooks like she was born there.

‘Cold Wontons’ Noodle Shop – One of Shanghai’s Best Noodle Joints

The sign on the door said simply: “Cold Wontons.” Hardly an appetising name.
My Chinese friend had described it to me like this: 
“Near the corner of Changhua Lu and Changping Lu there are two noodles shops on opposite sides of the street – one does hot noodles. One does cold noodles. Neither have a name. But they’re really, really good. You should go.”
“Cold Wontons” turned out to be the de facto name of this totally nameless noodle joint in Shanghai’s Jing’an District, undistinguishable – from the outside at least – from other noodle joints in the area. 
But what every customer knew is that this place cooked very authentic, very high quality Shanghainese cold noodles. The cold wontons? Just a side dish. Lord knows how it came to be spelled out in fat red Chinese characters on the door.
I walked in and tried to order at the small cashier’s desk near the door, behind which was seated a lady in her early sixties with a wide smile and very permed hair. She spoke barely a word of Chinese, and not even a skerrick of English. This was a Shanghainese noodle joint, and Shanghainese was the language spoken. I failed to understand a thing she said.
The menu, otherwise known as the jiàmùbiǎo 价目表 or price list, was pinned to the wall behind her, and detailed all the dishes or toppings available to eat with cold noodles – fried pork cutlets, spicy meat, spicy sauce, bean sprouts, white chicken. You chose a topping, a bowl of cold noodles, and as many side dishes as you liked, and paid at the counter before taking a seat.
My friend had told me what to try – the eel noodles, specialty of the house.

The only problem for me and my very Australian-accented Chinese was that the ‘eel thread cold noodles’ – shànsī lěngmiàn 鳝丝冷面 , a dish of fine eel slivers, sounded exactly the same to the cashier as the ‘three thread cold noodles’ – sānsī lěngmiàn 三丝冷面, a totally different dish of shreds of bamboo shoot, pork and green pepper.

Our confused encounter went like this:

“I’ll have the eel thread cold noodles.”

“Three thread cold noodles?”

“No, no, eel thread.”

“Yes, I understand, three thread.”

“No! No….EEL thread.”

“Huh?”

I was obviously struggling until a customer, bilingual in Chinese and Shanghainese, came to my aid. 
“What do you want to eat?” he asked.
“I want the eel noodles” I told him. He smiled.
“And how many liang of noodles do you want? Two or three?”
“Three” I said, feeling hungry (a liang 两 is a Chinese measure of weight, about 50g, often used for noodles and also dumplings – a standard serve is two to three liang).
He turned to the cashier and in rapid Shanghainese told her what I wanted. 
“Aaah!” she said, smiling even more widely. She clearly approved of my choice. Or maybe she was just pleased to get me out of the queue and into a seat.
Clearly I needed assistance with every step of my lunch, and so the cashier assigned a matronly aunty to help me. She took my ticket from me and passed it through the small window to the staff in the glassed-in kitchen, a metre away.
Then while I waited she interrogated me with the help of the bilingual customer, who, like the relaxed Shanghainese gentleman he was, had come out for lunch in his pyjamas.
“How long have you lived in Shanghai?”
“Are you married?” 
“How many children?”
At my answer – two daughters – the aunty, our translator and everyone else in the cramped space made appreciative noises.
“How come you can’t speak Shanghainese?”
A fair question. But after four years of struggling with Chinese, Shanghainese still eluded me.
Then, thank goodness, the noodles arrived.
Slivers of sweet ginger. Pieces of tasty, soft, oily eel. Shreds of bamboo shoot. Little wilted, caramelised pieces of scallion. All swimming in the most marvellous sweet, oily, gingery, soy braised sauce.
And the noodles – fine wheat noodles, a little flat rather than round, cold and firm to the bite, served in a dish with a splash of light brown vinegar in the bottom and a slick of sesame sauce on the top.
Aunty came and sat next to me, and told me I could eat the two dishes separately or mix them together. Up to me.
I tried the eels first – soft, salty, sweet and gingery all at once with the wonderful richness of the eel. Magnificent. Then I tried it mixed with the cold noodles, and the firm bite of the noodles gave each mouthful a contrast in textures. Amazing.
All around me conversations in Shanghainese were being carried out to the enjoyable slurp of really great noodles.

On my next visit I had more time to study the menu and figure out the other noodle toppings and extra dishes available.
From front to back:
dòuyár lěngmiàn 豆芽冷面 – shreds of green pepper and pork with bean sprouts 3 yuan
ròuwán 肉丸 meatballs 5 yuan
dàpái 大排 big crispy fried pork chops 7.5 yuan
sùjī 素鸡 white chicken 2 yuan
Sides:

lěng húntun 冷馄饨 cold wontons 4 yuan/liang

hébāodàn 荷包蛋 fried egg 2 yuan

sāndélì 三得利 suntory beer 3 yuan san
kělè 可乐 cola 2 yuan
I tried the three thread noodles just for fun (nice, but not as good as the eel noodles) and the cold wontons. The wontons, at least, were utterly fabulous, full of chives and pork and served firm and cold with vinegar and sesame sauce. 
Aunty even let me give my ticket to the kitchen all by myself.
Cold Wontons (um, not it’s real name)
379 Changhua Lu, near Changping Lu, Jing’an District, Shanghai
Signature dish: shànsī lěngmiàn 鳝丝冷面 eel thread cold noodles

Order as ‘shan si liang liang’ for two liang of noodles (18 yuan) or ‘shan si san liang’ for three liang of noodles (20 yuan) 

Open 7 days. No phone.
冷馄饨
上海市静安区昌化路379号, 近昌平路。

Pilgrim’s Promise: Langmusi Monastery

Could this be the most beautiful place in all of China?

Langmusi, an alpine Tibetan village surrounded by mountains and forests and filled with crimson-robed monks walking its narrow streets, was our promised reward at the end of a horror day of driving through Qinghai and Gansu on a day that tested our limits in every sense.

So it was with a sense of relief and joy when, after arriving in the dark dead of night, I woke to a sun-filled blue sky and this view from my guest house window:

Langmusi sits at an altitude of 3700m (12,000 feet), so the air is pure and clear, if a little thin, and colours are enriched and sharpened by that change seen at high altitudes.
The tiny town of just a few thousand people is divided by the White Dragon River, with the northern half of Langmusi lying in Gansu Province, and the southern part of the town sitting in Sichuan, all surrounded by natural forests and nestled in the cradle of the surrounding mountains.
The town has an embarrassment of riches: two stunningly beautiful monasteries – Sertri Gompa on the Gansu side of White Dragon River, and Kirti Gompa on the Sichuan side – a Hui Muslim mosque, and acts as a base for hill walking and Tibetan horse treks.   
But enough talking: feast your eyes.
Kirti Gompa celebrates its six-hundred-year anniversary this year, and houses a community of over seven hundred monks of the Gelupga Yellow Hat sect (the same sect as the Dalai Lama, whose picture was displayed openly in many buildings). 

The view from the top level of the largest temple was magnificent, magnified by the need to sit quietly and catch my heaving breath after climbing up the hill. All around me elderly pilgrims were walking their daily kora (pilgrim path) and spinning prayer wheels around the monastery,  unbothered by the altitude.


On the White Dragon River’s other bank is Sertri Gompa, a modest monastery with more silver and less gold, but beautiful in its simplicity nonetheless.  
The main monastery building is hung with immense and heavy curtains made from woven yak hair, appliqued in white cotton.
The monastery is surrounded by its own small village of monks and monastery workers living in simple homes with wooden shingle roofs weighed by rocks.

Pilgrims make their daily rounds with prayer beads.

Others take to the grassy hill behind the monastery to scatter handfuls of small white prayer papers – printed with important Buddhist symbols and stories – into the breeze, carrying their good wishes far and wide.

And the loveliest thing of all – at one end of the monastery, where the forest comes right down from the hills to the very edge of the monastery grounds, there is a richly decorated gate hung with hundreds of flags. The gateway leads to a moss-covered miniature forest enclosed by a wall, where two spotted deer – a buck and doe pair – live happily, protected by the monks for whom they symbolize the place where Buddha’s gave his first sermon.

 Back in the town the large population of monks go about their business – visiting friends and doing their shopping. In a lovely display of harmony the most popular store was this one, run by a family of Hui Muslims, sitting neatly between the monastery and the mosque.

Couldn’t we do with a little of this everyday harmony in a few other parts of the world?

Getting to Langmusi: Further Travels in Tibetan Qinghai and Gansu (and Why You Should Never Join Us On A Road Trip)

You know how some road-trippers know exactly where they’re going, on what highway, for how many miles, and have already planned what they’ll see along the way and where they’ll stop for the night?
I can’t stand them. Show-offs.
We like to travel freely! unplanned! vaguely! and unexpectedly!
Because this way, there are lots of travel stories for you to enjoy where things go wrong and afterwards – although definitely not at the time – it’s really quite funny.
This is one of those stories.  
Our road trip along Qinghai’s Route S101, with all its curvilinear grace and evenly laid bitumen, had led us to assume we might expect the same from other roads in this remote part of China. So when we got to the end of our stretch of the S101 and couldn’t go further south (for reasons of public security, according to the police) we sat in the sun by the side of the road looking at our maps and trying to remember, of all the dotted lines marked on it by our friend Jonas, which one marked the road he thought we definitely should take, and which one marked the road we definitely shouldn’t. They looked very similar. But he had been very adamant about one of them.
We were trying to get to Langmusi, the famously beautiful Tibetan Buddhist Monastery that spans the border between the south of Gansu Province and northern Sichuan. On our bigger, longer road trip last year I planned to write all about Langmusi and its spectacular beauty, but we arrived in darkness that night along a road pitted with construction, and left the next morning in dense fog without seeing anything at all except for the inside of our hotel, thanks to our youngest getting altitude sickness and having to consequently find lower ground. 
“It would be nice to see if it really is as beautiful as they say…” I said to Matt.
He looked unconvinced. He wanted to head in a different direction with guaranteed good roads.
“…and Lonely Planet says they have a cafe there with pancakes and Yunnan coffee.” 
“OK” said Matt. He’s really very amenable to a change in plans, especially after a week of yak butter tea and soupy noodles.
I checked Google maps just to make sure we were heading in the right direction.
Google gave me this:
The distance was no problem – we’d been known to knock that many kilometres over in a single morning, but the time Google thought it would take was longer than either of us anticipated. It worked out to be 36km/hr, just slightly faster than the average bicycle.
It seemed awfully slow, given we had recently been zipping around at a comfortable 90-100km/h on the S101. The road started well, and for the first two hours we were ahead of schedule, cruising along valleys under a clear blue sky beside rolling grasslands and wondering what on earth Google was talking about. But Google seemed to know something we didn’t, and before long we understood.
First, there was this. A fiesty Tibetan curly-horned-goat herder woman on horseback who knew full well her animals were taking up the whole road, but carried on as though we weren’t there. If a car tried to pass (and many did) the biggest billy goat head-butted the car. We just followed meekly behind, a herd of cars and trucks at goat walking pace, until they got to their farm.
Then later, a herd of really angry yaks. The car had to reverse out of the way.
And after a while, more goats with attitude blocking the road.
It was non-stop. 
I began to wonder, as morning turned to afternoon, whether we were going to make it to Langmusi at all after we were delayed yet again for another herd of livestock.
And then the real trouble began.
Fifty kilometres of pot-holes and heavy rain on a one-lane country road almost ended our marriage. 
I just want to make it clear at this point that of the two of us, my husband is the far better driver.  And yet for this stretch of road I insisted on driving, partly because it was my turn and partly because the road started out smooth, and quiet, and pretty, as we passed tiny Tibetan houses in lush green pastures. 
Then the road turned bad, along with the weather, and our moods, and I had an uncanny knack of catching the right hand edge of every single pothole I swerved to miss, causing all our teeth to chatter and the bottom of our rental car to scrape the ground with a sickening noise.
Matt, to his credit, kept quiet about my driving at first, but after I had hit the fiftieth pothole he couldn’t help himself and every time I hit another he asked if perhaps he should drive.
This infuriated me, particularly because there were now more potholes than road. I had stopped trying to miss them and instead was aiming to just hit the shallowest pothole with the fewest number of wheels. Our car lurched and scraped and bumped and shuddered. 
Then he started turning on the windscreen wipers (my windscreen wipers!) every time I hit a pothole and our windscreen was slaked with mud. Words were said. Tempers were lost. 
You know how an argument like this is going to end when someone says:
“STOP touching my windscreen wipers!!”
Badly. Very badly.
We thought the worst was over when we finally reached the town of Henan, but Henan’s burghers had decided the start of the rainy season would be an excellent time to rip up all the roads and replace them with rivers of mud, and to remove all road signs until further notice. The town was a black snarl of trucks and cars all deep to the gunnels in mud and frustration.
Things went downhill from there. Beyond Henan fifty kilometres of continuous roadworks saw alternating left and right sides of the road cordoned off and cut up without so much as a single witch’s hat or traffic controller. Sometimes the construction crew were living in tents erected in the middle of what should have been the road. Sometimes a big old load of gravel had been dumped on your side of the road just as you came round a blind bend. 
And then just as our patience was wearing very, very thin we saw it. At the village of Sai’er Long, right on the Qinghai-Gansu border, was a red sign, pointing to the highway holy grail – the G213, a four lane road taking us directly to Langmusi. We rolled through the village and onto the smooth, unbroken concrete connecting road, our spirits climbing. It was already dusk and there was still another 150km to go, but we were still naively calculating that distance at about two hours. The countryside was spectacular with deep green valleys, a sparkling deep blue river, and small birds singing. 
When I checked our maps it seemed plausible that a new road had been cut through the provincial border to link with the highway only a few miles away. Google just hadn’t yet caught up. For half an hour we sailed along happily, dreaming of coffee and pancakes and clean sheets. Kind words were said. Marriages were saved. Windscreen wipers weren’t mentioned, not even once.
The stark white tent of a nomad herder stood out against the far riverbank in the darkening indigo evening light and I decided there and then I wanted to move here permanently. With my lovely, lovely family.

And then halfway across the small river the road. Just. Stopped. 
We got out of the car. The end of the road dropped off into a deep ditch before rising on the far side to a gate and a field full of sheep. I noticed the small sign high on a pole at the end of the end-of-the-road.
“Gansu Border” was all it said. 
It seemed something might have gone terribly wrong with road construction funding on the Gansu side. 
And so back we went on the Qinghai side and took the only other road available for crossing the border. Ominously, it was marked with one of Jonas’ dotted lines.
I double checked Google, holding my phone high in the air to catch an extra bar of service. The blue line on Google Maps looked solid, if a little curvy. But it told us we were on the right road and as if to confirm, a minibus full of passengers and shopping roared past us.
What I forgot to do was to check the map without the blue line, because it proved revealing when I did it this morning from the comfort of my house. It would have helped to know, at the time, that Google was sending us along something that wasn’t actually a road at all. I’ve included red arrows to show the god-forsaken goat track that can be made to look like a road if you stick a big fat blue line over the top of it saying “Go this way! Google says go this way!” 
The road wound along the banks of the Tao river, but its initial bitumen rapidly turned to dirt at about the point where that yellow S203 above turns into a pale ghost of a line, and the dirt turned into a series of potholes that got larger and more dangerous. To make things worse it was now dark and there were no lights at all except the lights of our car, and the occasional far off glow of a farmhouse. 
When we reached the first really large pothole, full to brim with water from the afternoon rains, it became clear we couldn’t fit the car safely on either side and would have to drive through the middle of it. 
I looked at Matt. 
He looked at me. 
He got out, took off his shoes, rolled up his trousers and waded into the pothole to check its depth.
I helpfully took a photo, mistakenly thinking this pothole would be our greatest challenge in a long and difficult day of driving. We had no food left, no water, and were thinking seriously about finding a small patch of intact road and sleeping in the car until daylight.
There weren’t any photos after that. 
The problem with the potholes was that – filled with water – you couldn’t judge their depth, and their bottoms hid sunken hazards like enormous rocks and unexpected holes within holes, just the size to suck your front wheel in and get you stuck for good. And get stuck we did, wedged on top of a giant rock, our wheels spinning mud helplessly. We were rescued by a Tibetan farmer who happened to be shooting basketball hoops in the dark grassy field next to our car. Seriously.

The potholes got bigger, and deeper, and scarier, and there was less and less road. We never saw the minibus ever again, and I suspect it still lies sunk at the bottom of a giant hole, its roof covered by water and its wheels held firm in the mud, pulling in unwary cars like a giant pothole Bermuda Triangle.

At the edge of one particularly treacherous hole there was a Buddhist offering strung with prayer flags, and passing another in the dark – overcome with exhaustion and stress – I mistook the white flags draped around a corner fence post to be a representation of the Virgin Mary.

In the end that shocking 30km stretch of road took us four hours to travel, at an hourly rate of 7.5km – just faster than walking.

Bella turned to Matt and said “Dad that was amazing. You were ah-MAZ-ing. I didn’t think we would get through and we would be stuck there forever!”

“Yeah Dad” said Lily. “That was a real adventure.”

At 11.30pm, sixteen hours after setting off, we finally rolled up exhausted and covered in mud to the counter of the Langmusi Business Travel Hotel (a less fancy establishment than its name would imply) I woke the manager, who was asleep at the desk. God bless him, he recognised all of us from our last brief visit.
“You know what?” I said to Matt, as we tucked ourselves into the hard Chinese bed.
“What?” he asked.
“You’re a very good driver.”
He smiled in the dark.
“A very good driver. But,” I said, “if you turn on my windscreen wipers again you’re a dead man.”
He laughed. 
Your turn: Tell me about your worst road trip ever – was it the road? Your family? Or the crummy places you visited? I want to hear the worst of the worst! 

Ten Must Try Foods in Qinghai 十大不容错过的青海美食

Travelling to Qinghai? Want to know what to eat there?

Qinghai is one of China’s most wild, remote and beautiful provinces. Due north of Tibet, the western desert gives way to high grasslands in the east and south, bordered by snow-capped mountains and deep river valleys filled with forests. 

In the summer nomadic Tibetan yak and goat herders bring their flocks to the lower pastures to feed, establishing summer camps of white tents in the grasslands, but in winter the snows come early and last for a long, long time.

Many areas of Qinghai are predominately Tibetan, others mostly Hui Muslim, with many towns and villages an apparently well-balanced mixture of both ethic groups and a mosque alongside a monastery to prove it. 

The food of Qinghai reflects the high-altitude, rugged landscape that can sustain only a limited choice of vegetables and few fruits, and yet is perfect for growing barley and raising yaks (who thrive on the cold climate and high altitude).  The food is simple and sustaining, with a unique blend of Tibetan and Hui Muslim influences.

1. Hui style dumplings huíshì jiǎozi回式饺子

There are dumplings, then there are these dumplings. Plump to the point of corpulence they are bursting with unexpected flavours – like carrot shreds and tiny cubes of potato spiced with mustard seed and cumin; or meat spiced with cassia bark, cardamon, pepper, and sugar mixed through with a tiny soft local root tuber called droma.

The shapes are beautiful and give a clue to what filling is inside, but don’t be tempted to over-order – two or three dumplings are enough for a meal.




2. Blood sausage xiěcháng血肠 

Blood sausage may not sound like something you’re dying to sink your teeth into, but the flavour is rich, mildly spiced, pleasingly savoury and strong.

Similar to Scottish black pudding, xiechang is made from peppered and spiced sheep’s blood and roast barley. A white version contains the same ingredients save for the sheep’s blood.

Xiechang is sold in markets coiled length on length like a snake, or sliced and fried on a griddle as a side dish.

3. Spicy mung bean starch noodles liáng fěn 凉粉

Liang fen is Qinghai’s most famous street snack, sold from tiny shop fronts and market stalls (you’ll know which ones by the quivering yellow dome of jelly surrounded by ten bowls of different sauces and condiments). It’s a cold dish with a spicy kick, perfect for the summer months.

The base looks a lot like noodles but is actually shaved mung bean or pea jelly topped with a mysterious blend of vinegar, garlic and sauces, with a healthy serve of chili la jiao on top. There are ground peanuts and sesame seeds mixed through the la jiao to give it textural contrast and nuttiness against the cold, slippery ‘noodles’.

4. Yak milk yoghurt líniú suānnǎi 犛牛酸奶




Yak milk, yak yoghurt and bright yellow yak butter are everyday staples in Qinghai. The yak butter is used in cooking and making tea but is also used in monasteries to make coloured yak butter devotional sculptures or burnt as a votive offering.

Yoghurt made with yak milk is set in the bowl and is creamy with a soft tartness and a fine sheen of yellow cream on top. Many people eat it as is, straight from the bowl, or sprinkle it with a teaspoon of sugar first.

5. Shining Cooking Pot Bread kūn guō mómó 焜锅馍馍

What a glorious name for a loaf of bread! Wheat bread dough is rolled up with oil and turmeric, a popular food colouring in Qinghai (see the yellow mantou steamed buns below) and layer by layer placed in a deep cooking pot or tin, taking the shape of the pot as it cooks.

The bread is light and crusty, with flavour coming from the seeds (sesame, caraway and others) sprinkled on the surface. It’s usually eaten with meat, soup or noodles.

6. Flag Flower Noodles qíhuā tāng miàn 旗花汤面

Another poetically named dish, wheat noodle dough is rolled thin then cut into tiny diamond flag shapes before being added at the last minute to a clear broth flavoured with tomato, squash, carrot, celery, white radish, spinach and tiny pieces of mutton.

The soup has a very light, fresh taste and is often eaten with steamed mantou bread coloured with turmeric.







7. Deep fried dough twists sǎnzi 馓子



Sanzi are a popular street snack and also a traditional festival food for both Hui Muslims and Salar Muslims. Made by deep-frying wheat noodles, they are neither sweet nor salty, but loved for their crisp crunchiness.

8. Hand pulled lamb shōu zhuā yángròu 手抓羊肉

Don’t leave Qinghai without eating this tender and tasty lamb dish. Warmed pieces of lamb on the bone are served with a dish of spicy lajiao on the side. Shou zhua yangrou is one of the few dishes in China eaten entirely with the hands and it does get to be a messy business as the bones piles up on the table.

Just a note: the price of your dish is based on the weight of lamb sold, so tell the waiter whether you want enough for one, two or ten people.

9. Yak butter tea pocha བོད་ཇ་ sūyóuchá 酥油茶

Perhaps more of an acquired taste than any other of Qinghai’s foods, yak butter tea (called pocha in Tibetan) is oily, strongly flavoured and salty. A daily Tibetan staple, yak butter is churned together with strong brewed black tea and some salt, with or without the addition of milk and barley flour. 
But make no mistake – if you are suffering from altitude sickness yak butter tea is the best tonic and seems to help enormously with the symptoms.

10. Rice cakes mǐgāo 米糕

Walking through one of Xining’s largest street markets I noticed every single person carrying a bag filled with small snow-white balls. I tracked them down to this stall, doing a roaring trade in a local specialty – a soft rice steamed cake with a sweet treat inside each one – a rich red honey-flavoured jujube, a cluster of sweet sultanas, or some sweet red beans.

Light as air, the cakes are delicious eaten warm, fresh from the steamer.

Travel China, dish by dish!






Ten Must Try Foods in Guizhou and Guangxi

Highway to Heaven: Qinghai’s Route S101

The Road Trip. You’d think by now I might have worked road trips out of my system, after covering most of China last year on 30,000km of its good and not-so-good roads.
But I’ve always loved road trips – three months in 1982 when I was twelve, driving through Europe in a broken down Volvo station wagon with my parents and two sisters, playing Donkey Kong as we drove through the Swiss Alps; six months driving from Scotland to Turkey and back in a Scottish Mountain Rescue Ambulance in 1991 with my boyfriend (now husband), surviving on potatoes and tea; many shorter trips just days or weeks long exploring parts of the magnificent Australian countryside.
The road is full of promise, uncertainty and sometimes, serendipity. Go as slowly as you want, stop at anything that piques your interest, change direction, change plans, change destinations at whim. My favourite way of travelling.
We were back in China again last week, the whole family this time, and had nine days to fill – but which road in which part of this vast country should we choose? 
We decided on Qinghai province’s south-east corner, bordering the Tibetan Plateau. This part of the world is remote and sparsely populated, full of nomadic Tibetan yak and goat herders, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and wild natural scenery – high hills, grasslands, sparkling rivers and mountains. We had experienced just a taste of it last year (and I wrote almost nothing about it, to my shame) and were dying to see more.
Our friend Jonas, who has lived in the area for several years and explored all of it (Jonas blogs about living and trekking in Qinghai at Adventures of Jonas), met us in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, and helped us map a route taking us south on the S101, a good provincial road, passing by several lovely monasteries and beautiful scenery. 
We changed tack from our original plans of visiting Yushu, in the far south, because of uncertainties about the roads and conditions we would find there – it was all but levelled in an earthquake three years ago. Instead, Jonas inspired us to see the beautiful countryside northeast of Yushu.
Just to get your bearings, here’s a map of the area:
Our route started from Xining and headed south on the S101 to Golog, a distance of 500km or according to Googlemaps about 12 hours’ driving. We’re pretty well acquainted with Mr Google’s driving estimates in China, and in a perfect world he would be exactly correct. 
This isn’t a perfect world though – this is China – so if you add a further 50% to the estimated time – increasing 12 hours to 18 hours – it will be about right, taking into account the many variables Mr Google can’t see – yaks blocking the road, roadworks, queues at toll stations, detours, diversions and accidents.
We had heard that the area south of Golog may be restricted for foreigners, so depending on the situation and the road we intended to continue further south or make our way westwards to the famous Langmusi Monastery in neighbouring Sichuan.
A. Start Point: Xining 西宁
The road trip began in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, right near the Qilian wholesale butter shop on the street that divides the Tibetan Market from the Muslim Quarter. It was an auspicious place to start, near those fat golden rounds of yak butter, where the Tibetan traders pass by in one direction to do business in tents, felts, furs, turquoise and coral, and the Muslims walk in the opposite direction to buy tea, mutton, apricots, peaches and rounds of thick white bread in the street markets behind the mosque.
Xining is a fascinating small city, ethnically diverse, and filled with temples, mosques and monasteries. Sitting at 2300m altitude it’s a great place to spend a couple of days acclimatizing before heading into the high country further south.
B. Guide 贵德
Guide (pronounced Gway-duh) is the first stop on the S101 as you pass from green pastures into more arid countryside with deep red canyons and spectacular eroded land forms. There are beautiful little garden restaurants lining both sides of the highway with fruit trees, butterflies and flowers enclosed in walled gardens where you can eat simple country food.
Just south of Guide township and directly off the highway is the Guide Zhakanbula Geological Park
C. Ningxiu village 宁秀
Our first stop for the night was in Ningxiu village, a predominantly Tibetan village where one long, wide road bisected the low buildings. There were a couple of small grocery stores selling dried goods and tin pots, and two dumpling restaurants, one Tibetan, the other Hui Muslim.

Walking along the main street we met, quite possibly, all the inhabitants of the village who came outdoors to meet us and take photographs. I found it extraordinary that they, handsome and black-haired, some in traditional dress of heavy wool coats lined with coloured silk, would find us interesting and exotic. Us in our rough traveling clothes and comfortable shoes.
We spent the night in a tiny five-roomed guest house with an outhouse and a coal-fired stove in each room to guard against the cold mid-summer night air. Our fellow guests, Tibetan families on their way to or from somewhere else, spent much of the evening sitting on our beds and watching us, smiling.
Smoking ‘baccy and sniffing snuff. With prayer beads.
Just outside the village is a beautiful set of prayer flags on a small hill. The prayer flags are printed all over with Buddhist prayers and powerful Buddhist symbols, and when blown in the wind they spread good will and compassion to all.
D. Shizang Monastery 石藏寺

Our next day’s drive took us to Shizang Monastery, a small Tibetan Buddhist Monastery we found on one of our Qinghai maps. It doesn’t seem to exist in any guide books but like most monasteries you can visit freely. It lies down a spectacular winding green valley about ten kilometres east of the S101 (there is a small sign on the road in Chinese).

Shizang means ‘hidden by stone’ but is also a homonym for the Buddhist Canon. It didn’t really have any significant meaning until we reached the end of the valley where an imposing red rock cliff rises up from a riverbed, revealing the monastery hiding behind it. A twenty metre Guanyin is carved and painted into the cliff face as you approach.


The monastery itself is rather plain from the outside, as Tibetan monasteries go, but inside is an unexpected riot of colour and pattern. We were shown around by a very kind monk who spoke a little Chinese. He told us all the other monks were away on vacation visiting their families – I hadn’t known monks had vacations but they are, many of them, students, and it is end of school year vacation in China. Even monks need a break sometimes.

I was entranced by the monastery shop – not a souvenir shop, but a grocery store where monks and those who worked at the monastery could buy goods – pot noodles, mosquito repellant, washing detergent, incense, prayer flags, yak fur boots. All your regular monkly goods.

E. Lajia Monastery 拉加寺
The mighty Yellow River is still very young and not so wide as it passes through the town of Lajia (Rogya in Tibetan). The town sits astride the river at the foot of immense red-purple sandstone mountains, and clinging to the mountain’s foot is a small and lovely monastery,  Lajia Monastery. It’s buildings line up in a row from river’s edge to mountain’s foot, each one higher than the last so the overall effect is of golden-roofed steps leading up the mountainside.
Lajia has several small hotels and guesthouses where you can spend the night, and plenty of Chinese, Hui Muslim and Tibetan restaurants.

F. Maqin 玛沁 (also known as Dawu 大武)

Maqin sits at a high altitude – 3300m – where the air is cool, clean and dry. It’s a fascinating place, stretched along a valley between rows of velvety green hills and far-off mountains. 

As the capital of the Guoluo (Golog) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture the town’s population is more than ninety per cent Tibetan, all of them wonderfully friendly and very curious.

The town’s main attraction is the Maqin Monastery, currently being expanded, and its incredible network of prayer flags covering the hillsides above the monastery like a phantasmagoric spider’s web, spreading as much good will and compassion as humanly possible.

For us though, Maqin was full of serendipity. Unable to get a bed in any of the town’s three main hotels (‘full’, ‘full’ and ‘full’ despite acres of empty rooms) we found a cosy guesthouse for next to nothing, and spent the day wandering the twisting streets leading up to the monastery – watching monks take on the local teens in a basketball game, and being invited inside many homes for bracing cups of yak butter tea, an acquired taste.

The high air brings everything into sharp intensity, including your heartbeat and your breath, making you slow down, right down, and just take it all slowly in.

Footnote: From Maqin we planned to continue south further along the S101, but we had the distinct feeling that this would get us into strife and so we headed east towards Tibetan Gansu Province instead. More on that story in an upcoming post on Langmusi Monastery.

Tips for Driving the S101
Flights
There are daily direct flights to Xining from Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu and many other Chinese cities. (see Ctrip for details)
Shanghai-Xining 3.5 hours, from 1500rmb direct
Beijing-Xining 2.5 hours, from 1450rmb direct
Xian-Xining 1.5 hours, from 620rmb direct
Chengdu-Xining 1.5 hours, from 950rmb direct
Car Hire
We used a local Xining car rental company – email me at fiona.nanchanglu@gmail.com for details. They can drop the car at your hotel and pick it up afterwards. One way rental is also possible (eg Xining to Chengdu) for an extra fee.
A Chinese Driver’s License is required, and a cash deposit of 6,000rmb. The car company needs a rough itinerary in advance.
Daily rental varies – we paid 380rmb ($US65) per day including insurance for a VW Passat.
The ideal vehicle (and what we will hire next time) is a 4WD. Many roads and parts of the highway are very rugged and a 4WD would have been much more comfortable and given us more flexibility.
Maps
Good detailed maps of Qinghai Province are available from the Xinhua Bookstore in Xining, on the ground floor.
Language
In the areas we travelled through Tibetan was the primary language spoken. We were always able to find someone who spoke a little Chinese. English was rarely spoken.
In Xining Chinese is the primary language and most large hotels have some English speaking staff.
Restrictions
Parts of Qinghai Province are restricted to foreigners. Check with Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum before you go, and get local information in Xining at one of the hostels or from local police. The area south of Golog is currently restricted.

Adventures in Tofu Part Two: Making Your Own Tofu

After resounding success making your own soy milk I know you’ll want to crack right on and get to making your own tofu.
Tofu is made of just three ingredients – soy beans, water, and a coagulating agent (more on that below).
It’s way easier than you imagine so let’s get started!
Equipment
  1. Tofu mould – you’ll need a square or rectangular tofu mould, or you can use a strainer, sieve or basket to set your tofu in. See Resources section below for more details.
  2. Muslin or cheesecloth approximately 40cm square, to line your tofu mould
  3. Cloth bag to strain your soy milk
  4. 8 litre stock pot
  5. Coagulating agent of your choice
Coagulating Agents
Tofu is simply curdled soy milk, with watery whey separated from the solid curds, and the curds compressed into blocks. Conventionally, an acid is used to transform the milk into curds and whey.
Although any acid can be used – even acetic acid (vinegar), citric acid (lemon or lime juice), or epsom salts – tofu makers commonly use one of three coagulants:
1. Gypsum – calcium sulphate – a fine white powder with a chalky taste. When used to make tofu it provides an important source of dietary calcium. Most commonly used in China.
2. Nigari – magnesium chloride – a crystalline substance also known as bittern or yánlu 盐卤 – incredibly bitter, it is commonly used by Japanese tofu makers. Available as crystals or as a concentrated liquid.
3. Glucono delta lactone – a very fine white crystalline substance with a slightly sweet taste, derived from fermentation of corn sugar. When added to water it forms gluconic acid. It is used to make silken tofu and tofu pudding.
Which of these coagulating agents you use will probably largely depend on what you can easily buy. Gypsum and nigari make a very similar tofu with no discernible taste attributable to the agent itself. All three agents are inexpensive to buy.
Ingredients
Makes 1000g medium firm tofu
  • 4 litres soy milk, as per this recipe
  • 3 metric teaspoons of gypsum or nigari coagulant, dissolved in one cup (250ml) of water
Method
Allow one hour from start to finish
1. Strain 4 litres of soy milk through a cloth bag (or strainer lined with a cloth) into an 8 litre pot. Squeeze the bag to release all the soy milk.
2. Heat the soy milk on a medium heat until simmering. Continue to simmer for five minutes, stirring to prevent a skin forming.
3. Turn off the heat and wait a couple of minutes for the soy milk to cool slightly
4. Give the soy milk a vigorous stir and immediately add 1/3 cup of the dissolved coagulant. Stop stirring and sprinkle 1/3 cup of the dissolved coagulant onto the surface of the soy milk.
5. Place the lid on the pot and wait for three minutes.
6. Remove the lid and add the final 1/3 cup of the coagulant, sprinkling it across the surface of the soy milk.
7. Replace the lid and wait another five minutes.
8. Remove the lid and you should see that the milk has now separated into curds and whey, with clear liquid around the edges of the pot. If this liquid is still milky you can try one of two things – gently reheat the pot for one to two minutes without stirring, or add another 1 teaspoon of coagulant dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. Often the problem is that the soy milk was not quite hot enough to begin with for the coagulation reaction to occur, so heating a little does the trick.

9. Place the tofu mould in a large baking dish or the sink and line the mould with cheesecloth

10. Spoon the curds gently into the mould using a large spoon. I’m thrilled to finally have a regular use for my antique Christofle ladle bought in a Paris antique market about a hundred years ago.

11. Fold the cheesecloth gently over the top of the curds.

12. Place the lid on the mould and add a weight – I use a ceramic pickle jar weighing 900g. The size of the weight will determine how quickly the curds are compressed. If using two smaller moulds use a 400g tin on each as a weight. This takes approximately ten minutes in my house and with my mould. You’ll need to watch it to learn how quickly it happens with your mould (some recipes say up to 30 minutes).
13. Once the tofu has become compressed to about half its original height, remove the weight and the lid and carefully unwrap the cheesecloth. The surface should look like cream cheese and resist your finger slightly. If the cloth sticks to the curds then a little more compression is needed – wrap it back up, put the lid back on and re-weight. For a denser, firmer tofu you can continue compressing the curds until they are one third of the original height.
14. Once the tofu is compressed, remove the weight. Fill your kitchen sink with cold water and lower the entire mould gently into it. Remove the lid. Remove the sides gently and carefully and allow the tofu to sit, cooling in the water but still in its cloth and sitting on the base of the mould, for about fifteen minutes.
15. Remove the block of tofu from the water, still on its base, and invert it gently onto the lid (the same size as the base) or a wooden board.
16. A word of warning – my first ever tofu turned out almost perfectly, like the one on the left. I jumped around the kitchen with joy and dragged the children in to witness the domestic miracle that had just taken place. So for my second batch, I cut fast and loose with the instructions, and talked on the phone while adding the coagulant. The results, top right, speak for themselves – a fragile tofu filled with holes, with lumpy curds and a very inconsistent texture. Tofu is a tough mistress, but pay attention and treat her right, and she’ll turn out perfectly every time.

17. So there you have it: home made tofu, made by you! It is utterly satisfying to make it yourself and very simple. Keep it one block or cut it into smaller pieces and store in clean fresh water in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Change the water daily if not using it immediately. It lasts for about five days but tastes the best when freshly made.

18. I enjoy it best cool, dressed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions. So delicious. So soft.

Let me know how your tofu adventures turn out!

Resources

Tofu Moulds
Wooden tofu mould 49rmb ($US8) plus postage on Taobao – comes with its own cloth bag and cheesecloth square
Plastic tofu mould $US9.95 plus postage on Amazon

Tofu Coagulating Agents
Gypsum
NigariNigari from UK
Glucono delta lactone

Books

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen – my tofu bible, with recipes and detailed directions