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Street Foods of Kashgar

Kashgar. It’s a city that will never cease to be intriguing, beautiful, and complicated, sitting close to China’s far west border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. I visited the city again at the end of last year and despite recent upheavals the city remains safe for travellers. Even solo female travellers like myself. Importantly, the rich  human landscape of Kashgar survives unchanged – welcoming, friendly, and above all hospitable.
And the food? The food is as glorious as ever. Smoky lamb kebabs, great flat rounds of crisp nan bread, mounds of buttery rice polo, and browned pockets of samsas – Kashgar remains one of the best cities in China, if not the world, for street food.

Although English and Chinese are of limited use in Kashgar, within a day or so, I had learned the only two phrases a food-loving traveller needs:

rahkmet  – thank you
tamak bake orshepto – that meal was delicious
These two used in combination with a lot of charades and pointing brought delighted smiles to these street food vendors.
Should you make it to Kashgar in the next little while (and as an ancient Silk road city it’s on many travellers’ lifelong lists) here’s a guide for eating street foods in Kashgar. Some I’ve written of before, many are new after my most recent visit, all delicious.

For up-to-date travel information on the region from a local expert I suggest reading Josh Summers’ excellent blog Far West China.

Continue reading “Street Foods of Kashgar”

Eating at Shanghai’s Street Food Night Market: At Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park 张江高科站夜市

Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park street food night market
Happy Lunar New Year! Here’s to the Year of the Sheep, and plenty of eating in good pastures for all of us.
I’ve been searching Shanghai recently for that elusive place, a night market full of atmosphere and great cooking smells, bursting with people. Shanghai has to have one of those, right?
There is the tourist-y one on Sipailou Lu near Yu Gardens. It has great hustle and bustle, but the vendors are jaded and routinely rip-off tourists of any denomination. Locals don’t go there at all.
I was looking for a local street food market, where people might go to hang out after work with friends. I followed several blind leads,  and took late night jaunts with my family in tow to the campuses of various universities in Shanghai where I heard night markets existed, only to discover they were sad jumbles of a few stalls and a strip of indoor restaurants.
The crackdown on street food vendors in Shanghai has meant that impromptu, unauthorised gatherings of street food vendors are becoming a thing of the past. And, I wondered if the rising wealth in Shanghai meant people no longer wanted to eat outdoors, especially in winter.
It was with a sense of impending failure that I dragged my long-suffering husband, children and brother-in-law to the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park station to see if this, the last on my list, might be the one.

Continue reading “Eating at Shanghai’s Street Food Night Market: At Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park 张江高科站夜市”

Bali Street Food: Ten of the Best

Bali – a place of frangipani blossoms, lush humidity, and the scent of clove cigarettes and diesel. I spent the last week there relaxing, and of course, sampling as much street food as I could.
Here are ten top Balinese street foods to try, exemplifying Balinese flavour combinations of ginger, galangal, coriander, fresh turmeric, white pepper, palm sugar and chili. I’ve deliberately tried to avoid typically Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng and gado gado and instead stick to those foods native to Bali.
Enjoy the feast!

Continue reading “Bali Street Food: Ten of the Best”

Shanghai Street Food #37 Tofu Pudding: Dou Hua 豆花

I consider this the tofu connoisseur’s breakfast. It’s a set-in-the-pan soy milk custard, warm and savory, as soft as a cloud, surrounded by a clear broth flavored with soy whey as it sets. You might have previously tried the sweet version with ginger and brown sugar syrup, popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Dou hua 豆花 (literally ‘bean bloom’) is made by pouring hot fresh soy milk into a dish containing a coagulant (usually gypsum – calcium sulfate) and dissolved corn starch. The starch gives duo hua its silken, just-set texture. After a few minutes, the tofu ‘blooms’, setting in the centre of the bowl in a quivering flower surrounded by yellow whey.

Continue reading “Shanghai Street Food #37 Tofu Pudding: Dou Hua 豆花”

Nine Famous Noodles You Need To Know



There are almost as many famous noodles in China as there are cities in which to eat them, and they’re all good – believe me, I’ve tried most of them.

Traditionally, five noodles were named as China’s Five Famous Noodles, considered the pinnacle of noodle eating. They were Shanxi’s hand cut noodles dao xiao mian 山西刀削面, Beijing’s zhajiang noodles zhajiang mian 北京炸酱面, Guangdong and Guangxi’s fried noodles, Sichuan’s dan dan noodles dan dan mian 四川担担面 and Wuhan’s hot, dry noodles re gan mian 武汉热干面.


Earlier this year the China Ministry of Commerce and the China Hotel Association expanded this list of five to China’s Top Ten Noodles but caused no end of controversy when the list failed to include, for example, any of Shanxi Province’s hundred types of noodles. What? No cat’s ear, willow leaf or scissor-cut noodles? And how about the noodle dishes of China’s far west?None of them made the list either. 

It got me thinking – which noodles would I list as the best, and why? Here are nine favourites I’ve chosen from all over China.

Continue reading “Nine Famous Noodles You Need To Know”

Shanghai Street Food #36 Wonton Soup: Huntun Tang 馄饨汤

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” So goes advice for a long life from American writer and nutritionist Adelle Davis (1904-1974).

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, to dine out often for breakfast, and I always think of Adelle’s quote as I do so, tucking into a steamer basket full of dumplings, or scrambled eggs and hot tea. If it’s a cold day or I’m very hungry, I usually have a bowl of comforting wonton soup at the breakfast shop Fujian Dumpling Soup King on Xiangyang Lu. I like Dumpling Soup King because it has proper tables and chairs and sometimes I just want to sit for breakfast, rather than standing and walking with my food. Can you imagine trying to eat a bowl of wonton soup while walking? Messy.

The other nice thing about Dumpling Soup King is they don’t mind if you bring food from any of the other breakfast shops alongside. Many customers like to eat something with crunch (like youtiao fried dough sticks, or crispy rice squares, or crisp-bottomed shengjianbao dumplings) with their soft, slippery soup. Continue reading “Shanghai Street Food #36 Wonton Soup: Huntun Tang 馄饨汤”

Shanghai Street Food #35 Pressed Pomegranate Juice: Shiliu Zhi 石榴汁

Street Foods are back! Today’s post is unforgivably short because I’m travelling – off to China for Chinese New Year! And I know those of you who are hard at work sometimes only have time for just a bite of China rather than a whole meal.
I think 2013 was street food’s year in every sense – the first International Street Food Congress was held in Singapore, and cities all over the world changed their minds about the perceived ‘risks’  of street food and approved legislation for street food trucks and street food precincts, bringing back a vivid street food scene to cities like Glasgow and Brisbane.
In China, of course, where street food has been part of a thriving food culture for centuries, that’s nothing new. But with tough new food safety laws in China being enacted with heavy justice, street food vendors may find 2014 the year they struggle to survive against the heavy hand of the law.  
So let’s celebrate street food, and support its ongoing role as an integral part of Chinese food culture, but also support it becoming cleaner and safer.
Today’s Shanghai Street Food is seasonal and special – fresh, tart, sweet pomegranate juice – shiliu zhi 石榴汁. The pomegranate vendors with their glass cases packed tightly with ripe pomegranates start to appear in Shanghai in autumn as the first pomegranates arrive from far western Xinjiang. 

The pomegranates have paler flesh, the colour of pale pink petals with blushes of rose, but are very juicy and have small seeds. Pomegranate seeds are not used in Chinese cooking but the juice is a popular seasonal treat for its value as a blood tonic, and the skin is used in traditional Chinese medicine for many ailments.

Each glass of juice is pressed freshly using a hand-operated press mounted on top of a tray back tricycle – it takes about three whole fruit for one glass.
The taste is fresh and acidic but also surprisingly sweet, and soothes the throat on those early cold dry days of winter. Come to think of it, it’s probably a very good tonic for polluted air…these vendors might be doing a roaring trade this year!
Pomegranate juice: About 10 yuan ($1.50) for a glass.
Shanghai Street Foods – The Complete Guide:
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

Number 34  Jidan Bing – savoury egg puffs
Number 35  Shiliu Zhi – Fresh pomegranate juice
Number 36  Dabing – big crispy pancakes

Unlocking Dianping: An English Guide to China’s Biggest Restaurant Review Site

Shanghai has around 80,000 restaurants. Eighty thousand.

How on earth do you find out what’s good? Do you rely on the tiny sliver of those 80,000 reviewed in English, reviews that tend to be very light on quality Chinese restaurants? Or is there a better way? 
And what if you’re visiting a Chinese city where you can’t find any restaurant recommendations in English? What do you do then?
You do what every Chinese person does – use Dianping, China’s largest user-driven dining review website. Those 80,000 Shanghai restaurants are just as confusing for a Chinese gourmand as for anyone else, so they turn to a site where they can read other diners’ candid opinions, eventually building an aggregate score for each restaurant based on hundreds or even thousands of reviews.
Dianping is no secret, but because it doesn’t have an English language interface many first-time users find it too daunting. 
Since I started using Dianping regularly I’ve unearthed some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life, in places I would never, ever have found on my own. 
I think Dianping is a great resource, so I’ve written a step-by-step screenshot guide to using it on your computer or your mobile device. 
If you have Google Chrome, use it, and if you don’t, install it. It has an auto translate feature that will help.
To make things easy, I’ll show screenshots with and without Google Chrome.
A Step-by-Step English Guide to Using Dianping

Part 1: For Desktop/laptop Users

Dianping Homepage
Searching on Dianping
  1. Choose your Location City
  2. Select Cuisine Type
  3. Narrow your Search by Locality
  4. Review on Map
  5. Review Restaurant Details

Part 2: For Mobile Device Users
  1. Install the Dianping app
  2. Choose Food/Restaurant Type
  3. Narrow the Search by Distance
  4. Narrow the Search by Cuisine Type
  5. Choose a Restaurant
  6. Review Restaurant Details
  7. Review on Map

Part 1: Desktop/Laptop Users

Dianping Homepage
Here’s Dianping‘s Home Page. 
It looks utterly confusing. It is. That’s because Dianping offers much more than food reviews – you can book hotels, plan your wedding, and buy products. 
We’re not interested in any of these, because after all, Dianping started as a restaurant review site and it’s still what they do best. It’s full name, dazhong dianping 大众点评 means ‘The People Comment’.
Here’s the page again, with two important things circled –  location and food. Ignore everything else. 

And here’s the GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION:
Searching on Dianping
Let’s do a search – I’m going to Hangzhou, and I want to find restaurants near West Lake serving local Hangzhou cuisine.
1. Choose your Location
Click on the location box, top left, and a drop down menu appears with major cities, divided by area. 
Click on Hangzhou. 
Your page should now have ‘Hangzhou Station’ in the location box, top left. This does not mean an actual railway station, it just means ‘Hangzhou Area’.
GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION:
In the English version, whatever city you choose will come up as a ‘Station’ and sometimes as ‘Railway Station’. Ignore the station part.
Tip: If you are in a city that’s not on the list, click on the bottom right of the cities box where it says ‘More Cities’ in blue type. You can then search alphabetically for the city or type the city/town or village name into the search box at the top of the page. You can type it in English, no problem.
2. Choose Cuisine Type
Now click ‘Food’, also top left, and you will have a drop down menu of cuisine styles. 
As a general rule, local cuisines of an area are usually first on the list of foods, followed by other Chinese regional cuisines (Sichuan, Cantonese), snacks and street foods, and foreign cuisines (Japanese, Korean, Western)
Click ‘hangbang jiangzhe cai‘ 杭帮江浙菜 which is Hangzhou’s local cuisine. 
Here’s a breakdown of the styles with translations:
The cuisine styles presented will vary somewhat with the location, so in Beijing for example, you will also have dongbei or northeastern cuisine on the list.

GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION

Please note in the English version there are several nonsense translations. ‘Chafing dish’ is hotpot.
Click on Food
Click on Hang help/Jiangzhe – again a nonsense translation of the local cuisine
3. Narrow Your Search by Locality

My search for ‘Hangzhou Cuisine’ restaurants in Hangzhou has netted 4226 restaurants. I need to narrow it down more, and limiting the search by locality (region) will help do this.
Click on the Region/Locality tab, top left, and you will see a list of areas within Hangzhou, usually most popular first – here the first on the list is ‘West Lake’.
GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION












4. Review on Map

Rather than scroll through 4226 restaurants, I can narrow my search further by using the map view tab, particularly if I’m not familiar with names of the localities.
Click Map view tab.
Zoom in to desired area on map.
Click on individual restaurants according to location.
I’m going to click number 13, because it’s a 4 star restaurant right on the lake’s edge.
GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION

5. Review Restaurant Details

What comes up now is an overview of this particular restaurant, Lou Wai Lou, one of Hangzhou’s oldest and most famous.
Each restaurant overview has the following:
  • a score out of five stars
  • the number of people who have reviewed the restaurant
  • the average price per person, in CNY
  • ratings for taste, environment, and service, out of 10
  • the address and phone number
  • the most popular dishes, with photos taken by real diners. This section is vastly helpful if you don’t want to miss out on a restaurant’s specialties, but don’t know how to ask. 
I usually save this page on my iPhone or print it out so I have the address, and dishes I want to order, written in Chinese. Very, very useful.

GOOGLE CHROME ENGLISH VERSION
Sometimes the English translations of the dishes can get wildly unappetising. Fried rings?

Tips:
If you don’t mind what type of food you want, and would rather know what’s close by, start your search with the map view tab and narrow it down by zooming in on the map to your location.

The number of reviewers helps you to know how popular a restaurant is, but be open to new restaurants too.

Like any review site, there are crazies who love to complain about everything. Take what you read with a grain of salt.

Dianping can get it wrong. Restaurant ownership changes, menus change, chefs change. Chinese diners are not Western diners. They often value price above service and cleanliness in their reviews, so a restaurant can get a high rating based on taste and price. 

Use the Snacks/Street Foods 小吃快餐 choice on the cuisines menu to find good, cheap, local street food. It has to have a bricks and mortar address, so it won’t be a mobile cart, but at least you know where to find it.


Part 2: Mobile Users


1. Install the App

The great news is that Dianping has a very easy-to-use app available for iOS and Android, although again, there is no English language interface. By using your phone’s location services you can easily search for restaurants in your locality – superb for travelling.
The iPhone and iPad apps are free, through the app store.
The Android app is free.
2. Choose Food/Restaurant Type
Open the app on your phone and this home page page appears.
Click on Food/Restaurants, Snacks/Streetfood or Cafes according to your preference. Or KTV Karaoke bars. Whatever.
You will now get a list like this of all restaurants/establishments in your vicinity.

 3. Narrow the Search by Distance

If you want to narrow your search to only restaurants close to you:
Click on the 1000m tab (top left) and choose the radius from your current location: all restaurants within 500m, 1000m or more.

4. Narrow the Search by Cuisine Type 
If you still have too many choices or you want to eat a particular kind of food:
Click the Food tab on the left of the screen, and choose a cuisine type.
Tip: Cuisine choices will vary by location.
5. Choose a Restaurant
You will now have a new list using your particular search criteria.
Click on any individual restaurant to get details.
6. Review Restaurant Details
You should have now have all the details you need on this overview screen (my translations in red).
Click on the image if you want to see more photos.
Click on the ‘link to map’ icon to show the location.
7. Review on Map
The map view tab on the right of the restaurant review screen takes you to an interactive map view.
Your location is in blue.
The restaurant is in red.
Other nearby restaurants are also shown.

Tip: If you want to search only by location, return to the home screen and click the map view icon on the bottom of the screen.
You will then get a view of all restaurants in your local vicinity. Click on any green pin for details.
And that’s it. It looks complicated, but once you have located the food tab, the location tab, and the map view tab, it couldn’t be easier.

Congratulations! You’re now ready to go forth and find gourmet treasures!

 

‘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。

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!






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