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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

Shanghai Street Food #33 Three Delicacies Wrapped in Tofu Skin: San Xian Dou Pi 三鲜豆皮

Here’s hoping you weren’t all terrified by Dr Fiona’s Street Food Survival Guide to the point of swearing off street food altogether. Because it’s time to eat some great street food again!

This month’s street snack hails from Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province. According to Wuhan’s own government website, Wuhan is a magical place where…

‘…you’ll find a distinctive flavor and perceive an unimaginable feeling.’ 

Having never been to Wuhan I can’t imagine what that unimaginable feeling might be, but I do know you can sample the aforementioned distinctive flavor of one of Wuhan’s most famous street foods in Shanghai, while imagining the unimaginable.

三鲜豆皮 San Xian Doupi is translated as Three Delicacies Tofu Skin – a layer of sticky rice studded with small pieces of three different savoury flavoured foods, pan-fried between two sheets of tofu skin or doupi, the skin from the surface of boiled soy milk (also known by its Japanese name, yuba). 

Like many street foods, there are individual variations from cook to cook. The three delicacies, for example, can be any of the following: pork, bamboo shoot, shrimp, egg, mushroom, or marinated tofu, and the tofu skin might be replaced with a fine mung bean and wheat flour pancake spread with egg, like the vendor below. Ultimately what matters most is the special method of construction:

The tofu skin or pancake is spread on the inside of a hot wok. Using a square metal frame for reference, the inside of the frame is filled with a compressed layer of cooked sticky rice.
The edges of the tofu skin are trimmed, the frame removed, and now the rice is layers with the three delicacies – here finely diced mushrooms, dried bamboo shoot, and xiang gao, a type of firm tofu flavoured with soy and five spice, braised in a gravy. 

The square sheet of rice is now gently spun in the hot oiled wok to stop it sticking. When the underside tofu skin is golden and well-crisped, the entire square is flipped over to allow the rice layer to become very crispy. Some cooks add a second layer of tofu skin so that the rice cooks between two sheets.

Once cooked, the san xian doupi is cut into small squares, sprinkled with chopped scallions and served in a small bowl to eat with chopsticks. 

This is one snack where texture is as important as taste – the crunch of crisp fried tofu skin, with little grains of toasted rice around the edges and chewy sticky rice inside, with a flavorful combination of the three delicacies – little nubbins of savoury taste that all together combine in one famous mouthful. After all, when tasting this very snack in 1958 Chairman Mao said “San Xian Doupi is a Hubei local delicacy that needs to be preserved. You create a name for Hubei snacks, and the people thank you.”

Where to find San Xian Dou Pi in Shanghai:
“Genuine San Xian Doupi!” reads the sign, and you can find it in many locations across Shanghai and in every Chinese city.
This particular san xian doupi vendor is located in Sipailou Lu Food Street, on the corner of Sipailou Lu and Fangbang Lu, near Yu Gardens. Open daily from mid-morning until late.
上海市四牌楼路, 近放榜路。

More Street Foods of Shanghai – It’s a Long List!

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

Dr Fiona’s Street Food Survival Guide: How To Eat Street Food and Stay Healthy

I watch with uneasiness as my friend, on his first visit to China, bites into a crunchy crisp-coated chicken drumstick bought on the street near my house in Shanghai.

“You might want to reconsider that chicken…” I’m about to say, when I think to myself that no-one likes a naysayer, or a know-it-all. So I don’t say anything. He’s enjoying himself, and his joy is infectious.

“I LOVE Shanghai!” he exclaims, licking his lips. “This is delicious!”

He spends the next two days no more than 3 steps from our bathroom, and never eats street food again.


Many people feel a very natural trepidation towards street food, some avoid it altogether, still others relish that tiny frisson of risk, the Russian roulette excitement that perhaps this will be the morsel that does you in, anxiously waiting for the sweats, the cramps, and the heaves to follow.

But the reality is that 2.5 billion people around the world eat street food every single day, many of them for everyday sustenance, and most of it is perfectly safe.

Most. But for those of us who have a choice about where we eat, and eat street food for the enjoyment and taste rather than for necessary nutrition, just how do you tell the difference between the safe and the harmful?

Well, read through this guide and you’ll have a much better idea, and stick to the Five Street Food Rules at the bottom of the page.
The rules are not designed to be a 100% guarantee against what the Chinese delightfully call la duzi (拉肚子 a ‘pulled stomach’), but can help you make sensible choices about what to eat and reduce your risk of becoming ill from eating street food.

Why trust me? I’m a doctor addicted to street food.  What people regard as my ‘sixth sense’ for street food is actually nothing more than years spent studying microbiology and pathology and treating thousands of cases of food poisoning over the years. When my patients tell me what they’ve eaten in the days before getting sick, I alway listen.

And now I’m passing the knowledge onto you – how food poisoning happens, what causes it, and how to avoid it.

How Do You Get Food Poisoning?

Food-borne illnesses come from germs (bacteria and viruses) arising from two sources: contaminated food, or contaminated people preparing food.

Foods can become contaminated by germs in water or soil, or from germs present in an animal’s gut while it is still alive. Once slaughtered, the germs contaminate the animal’s meat or eggs and once in food, these germs continue to multiply until you eat the food and get sick.

When a food-borne germ enters your system – usually through your mouth – you become potentially infectious to others. This can happen even before you become ill, as well as during the actual illness, and sometimes for weeks afterwards.

The most common way you can infect another person is by ‘faecal-oral transmission’. In short, this means the germ is in your gut and your faeces, so when you go to the bathroom the bug can contaminate your hands. If you then prepare food the bug transfers from your hands to food or to objects like eating utensils and cups, which go into someone’s mouth and then infect them.

The other factors peculiar to street food are a lack of sanitation, and a lack of refrigeration. Sanitation can be improved by handwashing with household soap and water, but many street food vendors lack a source of running water. Refrigeration kills some germs and slows other germs from multiplying, but in the absence of refrigeration in the outdoor environment where most street food is found, the rate at which food spoils and bacteria multiply will depend on the ambient temperature – warm days will cause food to spoil faster and germs to multiply faster.

The final factor increasing the risk of street food is you – you’re travelling, you’re in crowded places, you’re touching railings, door knobs, and money that have all been handled by many, many other pairs of hands. The number of germs on your hands accumulates, and you then touch your mouth, or touch utensils you put in your mouth, and as my mum used to say “You might as well have licked the toilet door handle”. Eww.

Do you think he washed his hands with soap and water before he picked up that hunk of meat??

Foodborne Illness – The Top 8 Culprits

Most food poisoning is caused by just a handful of nasties, and it’s worth knowing a little about their habits and what foods they like to hangout in so you can avoid them.

These eight organisms, one virus and seven bacteria, cause the vast majority of food-borne illness around the world. As you read through you’ll begin to see some trends developing: undercooked chicken, minced meat, seafood, unpasteurised milk, uncooked vegetables. Take note.

1. Norovirus
Otherwise known as the ‘cruise ship virus’,  this highly contagious virus is the cause of more cases of foodborne illness than all other germs combined, accounting for more than 20 million illnesses and about 800 deaths annually in the USA.

Those 63 unlucky diners at Noma in Copenhagen? Norovirus. The food handler responsible showed no symptoms.

276 travellers on board the Ruby Princess? Norovirus.

Part of the problem is that you can become infectious several days before you get sick and up to 2 weeks after you’re completely recovered. Norovirus can also survive relatively cold temperatures – down to zero degrees.

Sources: Human to human (faecal-oral transmission), touching contaminated surfaces, leafy greens, fruit, shellfish. 
Incubation period: 12-48 hours
Symptoms: Abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever
Duration: 1-3 days
Vaccine: nil
Treatment: no specific treatment available, treat dehydration

2. Campylobacter
The second most common cause of food borne illness, campylobacter infections are still outnumbered by norovirus infections twenty cases to one.

Sources: Undercooked/raw chicken (campylobacter can infect chickens without making them sick), raw milk, contaminated water
Incubation period: 2-5 days

Symptoms: Diarrhoea (sometimes bloody), fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps
Duration: 2-10 days

Vaccine: nil
Treatment: some cases will require antibiotics

3. Salmonella
Most infections are caused by two strains, one of which is salmonella typhi, otherwise known as typhoid fever. It’s a very common cause of traveller’s diarrhoea.

The name has nothing to do with fish – the bacteria was named after scientist Daniel Elmer Salmon.

Sources:  Undercooked/raw chicken, undercooked egg whites and yolks, minced meat, raw milk, unpasteurised fruit juice, contaminated water, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, spices, nuts. Salmonella outbreaks are most often linked to poultry but have occurred in sources as diverse as peanut butter, mangoes, alfalfa, pine nuts and cucumber.  
Small animals including well-looking chicks, ducklings and turtles can also harbour salmonella and spread it to humans.
Incubation period: 12-72 hours
Symptoms: fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
Duration: 4-7 days
Vaccine: Typhoid vaccine provides protection against salmonella typhi but not other salmonella strains. Given two weeks before travel, with a booster every two years. There is also an oral live vaccine, four doses (capsules) commenced two weeks before travel.
Treatment: some cases will require antibiotics, treat dehydration
4. Clostridum
More accurately known as clostrdium perfringens, clostridium lives in the soil as well as the intestines of humans and animals. The bacteria produces a toxin that causes illness, and is most commonly found in foods that have been sitting at low temperatures after cooking, allowing the bacteria to multiply.

Sources: Chicken, beef, gravy, stews 
Incubation period: 6-24 hours
Symptoms: abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever
Duration: less than 24 hours
Vaccine: nil
Treatment: treatment is not normally required, other than to treat dehydration

5. Listeria

Anyone who has ever been pregnant will be very familiar with the sources of listeria infection – pregnant women are at particular risk.

Sources: Uncooked chicken and other meats, vegetables, processed foods inlcuding soft cheese, processed meats, smoked seafood, raw sprouts

Incubation period: 3-70 days (that’s not a typo – listeria can make you ill long after you’ve returned home from your travels)
Symptoms: vomiting, fever, headaches, some diarrhoea
Duration: days to weeks
Vaccine: nil
Treatment: antibiotics 

6. E Coli

E coli is a bacteria found in every human being’s intestines, and the intestines of many animals. Some varieties of E coli (O157:H7) produce a severe toxin that rarely can damage the kidneys and blood – a serious illness known as haemolytic-uraemic syndrome or HUS.
Sources: undercooked ground beef, undercooked poultry, raw milk, soft cheeses, raw fruits and vegetables, sprouts
Incubation period: 1-10 days
Symptoms: Severe diarrhoea (often bloody) abdominal pain, vomiting. Fever may be absent.
Duration: 5-10 days
Vaccine: nil
Treatment: treatment of uncomplicated E coli infection is simply treatment of dehydration. HUS is fortunately rare but requires specific specialist treatment in hospital.
7. Vibrio
There are several types of vibrio: two species occur naturally in warm waters and cause illness in people consuming raw oysters. In Asia, Africa and parts of South America another type, vibrio cholerae, is instantly recognisable as the cause of cholera.
Sources: oysters, other shellfish, shrimp, faeces-contaminated water. WHO’s motto is ‘Boil it, Cook it, Peel it, or Leave it’.
Incubation period: from several hours to several days
Symptoms: severe watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, vomiting
Duration: 2-8 days
Vaccine: the cholera vaccine, an oral vaccine, currently offers only limited protection for a short period of time and is not recommended for travellers. It is not available in the USA.
Treatment: treatment of dehydration is extremely important. Antibiotics can help but are less important than rehydration.

8. Staph Aureus
That same old bug that causes skin infections and boils can also fester away in foods, causing a food poisoning of uncommon speed and severity.

Sources: contaminated persons preparing uncooked foods such as sandwiches and salads, meat, poultry, eggs
Incubation period: 1-6 hours
Symptoms: diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, mild fever
Duration: 24-48 hours
Vaccine: nil
Treatment: treatment of dehydration

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Eating Street Food
Is this a high risk food?
You have a better idea now of the foods on this list: chicken, raw or undercooked eggs, minced meat, oysters, other shellfish, salads. I rarely eat any of these on the street, and always feel nervous if I do.
Is this a local food?
It’s worth asking yourself whether the food on offer is local, and commonly eaten by locals. Long transport and storage times are all chances to allow bacteria to multiply, particularly in places where refrigeration is a rarity, so the further a food is from where it was grown or caught the more likely it is to be contaminated. For example, eating seafood far inland is high risk – you can’t be confident it remained refrigerated as it moved from boat to processing factory to truck to train to truck to shop to vendor.

If the food is not commonly eaten by locals, the turnover of food may be slower, with a consequently higher chance of spoilage. For example, in China beef is less commonly eaten and more expensive than pork or chicken – so if a street food vendor has paid a higher price for a piece of beef he is less likely to discard it at the earliest sign of spoilage.

How was this cooked?
Cooking temperatures are crucial to the killing of bacteria and viruses. The temperature ‘danger zone’ for bacterial growth in food is 5-60C (40-140F). Most cooking methods have higher temperatures than this:

Poaching 70-85C (160-185F)

Simmering 80-90C (175-195F)
Steaming 100C (212F)

Boiling 100C (212F)

Stir frying/pan frying 150-165C (300-330F)

Deep-frying 175-190C (350-375F)
Grilling up to 260C (500F)

Larger cuts of meat and large whole fish are more risky because they need to reach a core temp of 74C (165F) for safety – the outside of the meat may be well cooked, but the inside may not. If meat is pink or raw looking, it’s at risk. For this reason, smaller pieces of meat are less risky because they’re more likely to be cooked all the way through.

How long has it been sitting here?
Food begins to spoil the moment it ceases being alive. Refrigeration will slow this process, but not prevent it.
Foods spoil in the following order (from shortest to longest spoilage times): shellfish, fish, chicken, turkey, duck, pork, beef/lamb.

In addition, once food is cooked it needs to be kept hot – well above 60C, or cooled down rapidly and refrigerated. Hence the risk associated with pre-cooked foods like stews, sauces and braises that are inadequately reheated.

Who is preparing my food?
Do they look healthy? Are their hands clean? 
Is the food environment clean?
Because germs can live on other surfaces like tabletops, poorly washed eating utensils, and chairs, street food restaurants with filthy table tops and dirty dishes are best avoided. Look for a place that has some pride in its appearance. 

Problem: Beef mince wrapped in tofu skin. Steamer barely simmering, so low cooking heat. Beef was only partly cooked when I took a bite: I discarded the rest.
Problem: Handling of raw pork mince, no access to water or handwashing. However: long queue (popular with locals) and pork pancake was then cooked on a very hot griddle, and eaten straight away wrapped in paper to keep it clean from my dirty hands. I ate it – no problems.
Problem: cold noodles (usually safe) mixed with raw vegetables (potentially unsafe). However: the vendor’s set up is clean and tidy, her hands are clean and don’t touch the food as she mixes it. I ate it – no problems.
Problem: skewers of raw chicken, marinated chicken, and squid approx 2000km inland, waiting to be grilled. No refrigeration, and a very warm night after a hot day. I gave it a miss.

The Five Street Food Rules
Based on all of this information, here are five simple street food rules that will stand you in good stead anywhere in the world.

Please once again note: They apply to healthy adults, not high risk groups such as very young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illness.

1. Always wash your hands before eating. If you cannot, use chopsticks or a fork.

2. Avoid chicken, seafood and salads

3. Eat what’s locally popular

4. Eat what’s hot

5. Eat with an adventurous spirit, but be prepared just in case.

Happy eating!

Shanghai Soup Dumplings: Xiaolongbao, The Complete Guide

For foodies, Shanghai is synonymous with xiaolongbao, savory and delicious soup-filled dumplings that seem to defy culinary possibility. With this guide you’ll become an overnight expert and discover where Shanghai’s best, oldest, and most secret xiaolongbao spots can be found, and how to order and eat xiaolongbao. Ready?

1. How do you say xiaolongbao?
2. What are xiaolongbao?
3. How to eat xiaolongbao
4. How to order xiaolongbao
5. Five Shanghai xiaolongbao eateries to try
6. Where to find more information – recipes, xiaolongbao classes, more restaurant suggestions

1. How do you say xiaolongbao?
First things first. This impossible looking word is quite easy to say. 
It’s shao(rhymes with cow)-long-bao(rhymes with cow). 


For those studying Chinese, the tones are: xiăolóngbāo.

2. What are xiaolongbao?
Xiaolongbao 小笼包, the soup-filled dumplings Shanghai is famous for, are a miracle of creation and construction – seemingly delicate, semi-transparent dumpling skins are wrapped and neatly pleated around an aromatic filling of pork and a mouthful of hot savory broth. 

The pork filling, seasoned with a little ginger and shaoxing wine, is mixed with gelatinized pork stock that melts on cooking, transforming into a delicious soup. The addition of crab meat and crab roe from the famous Shanghai hairy crab makes for a rich but equally traditional xiaolongbao.

Many wonder how liquid soup manages to get inside a hand-wrapped dumpling. Is it somehow scooped inside as the dumpling is wrapped? Or is it injected using a syringe? The secret, of course, is that the soup is actually a solid at room temperature, melting into a liquid only when the dumplings are steamed at high heat. The soup is essentially a flavoured pork stock or aspic, made with pork skin, chicken bones, ginger, scallions and shaoxing wine, simmered for hours and hours then cooled at room temperature until it sets. Every kitchen has their own secret recipe because the quality of the soup is paramount in a good xiaolongbao.

The word xiăolóngbāo 小笼包 literally means ‘small steamer basket buns’ and is the most commonly used name for these dumplings. More traditional restaurants may also use the term tāngbāo 汤包, meaning soup dumpling. The only accompaniment needed for xiaolongbao is dark Zhejiang vinegar, although a bowl of clear soup is often eaten alongside.

When you taste a xiaolongbao, the skin or wrapper should be fine and translucent yet strong enough not to break when lifted out of the basket. The meat should be fresh tasting, smooth and savory. Lastly, the all-important soup should be hot, clear, and fragrant of pork. Enjoy!

3. How to eat xiaolongbao: A step-by-step guide

Soup-filled dumplings should be handled with care – the contents are HOT.

You will be given a small circular dish to fill with vinegar form the bottle or teapot on your table, a pair of chopsticks, and a soup spoon. You may also be given a dish of finely shredded ginger to add to the vinegar as desired.

To eat a xiaolongbao, first lift it out of the steamer basket by its strongest part, the topknot (use your spoon for support if needed), and dip it gently into the dish of vinegar.

Resting it back on your spoon, nibble a small hole to let out the steam. Slurp a little soup.

Once it’s cooled slightly, eat from the spoon using your chopsticks or throw caution to the wind and put the whole spoonful in your mouth in one go. The savory soup will be scalding hot as you eat.

4. How to order xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao can be ordered by the basket (long 笼) or serving (fen 份) in practical terms, everyone uses ‘serving’ or fen.

The number of xiaolongbao in each serving varies with the restaurant and the size of the steamer basket, but is usually between six and twelve.

Although there are countless variations in xiaolongbao fillings, the most popular are pork (zhu rou 猪肉) or a mixture of pork with the meat and roe from Shanghai’s famed hairy crab (xiefen 蟹粉). Small street eateries may only serve pork, traditional restaurants usually have both pork and pork/crab/roe, and fancier restaurants may offer novel and non-traditional fillings like chicken, foie gras, or mushroom.

How many servings will you need? That depends entirely on your appetite, but as a guide, four to six xiaolongbao per person is plenty for a snack, and eight to ten per person makes a meal.

Here’s an easy ordering guide in English, pinyin and Chinese:

English: pork xiaolongbao
Chinese: zhūròu xiăolóngbāo 猪肉小笼包
Pronunciation: joo-ROW shao-(rhymes with cow)-long-bao (rhymes with cow)

English: crab meat xiaolongbao
Chinese: xièfĕn xiăolóngbāo  蟹粉小笼包
Pronunciation: shee-EH-fun shao-long-bao

English: One serve of xiaolongbao
Chinese: xiăolóngbāo yī fēn 猪肉小笼包一份 
Pronunciation: shao-long-bao EE-fun

English: chopsticks
Chinese: kuàizi 筷子
Pronunciation: KWHY-zuh

English: spoon
Chinese: sháozi 勺子
Pronunciation: SHAO-zuh

English: vinegar
Chinese:  cù 
Pronunciation: TSOOh

5. Where to eat xiaolongbao
1. Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包
Having been in the soup dumpling business for years, Jia Jia Tang Bao is hands down the sentimental favorite of young and old Shanghainese alike. Expect to queue at all hours of the day, but once inside on your small orange stool you can experience what life is like in a goldfish bowl as those waiting outside intermittently press their faces to the glass to see whether you’re eating fast enough. Don’t rush! Savor the homely ambience and the excellent dumplings.
Jia Jia Tang Bao offer two main types of xiaolongbao, regular pork xiaolongbao, and hairy crab meat xiaolongbao. The former are similar to those found elsewhere, but the crab xiaolongbao are exquisite, stuffed full of tiny shreds of sweet crabmeat, they explode with the flavour of the crab roe.

Price: Crabmeat xiaolongbao 25.5 rmb per serve (12 pieces)

Jia Jia Tang Bao  佳家汤包
90 Huanghe Lu, near Fengyang Lu
+86 21 6327 6878
Open 7 days, 6.30am – 10pm
English occasionally spoken, English menu (no pictures)
Cash only

2. Loushi Tangbao Guan 陋室汤包馆 The Humble Room Soup Dumpling Eatery 

Tucked away on the working end of one of the French Concession’s most beautiful streets (that would be Nanchang Lu of course!), you could well walk past The Humble Room without noticing it amongst a slew of other noodle and dumpling shops. But this place is special – it’s where local workers come to tuck into a full steamer basket of xiaolongbao for breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of only six tiny tables.

The proprietor, surly on his best days, may need to be prodded awake to serve you but the xiaolongbao are top-notch. They also serve several noodle dishes.

The Humble Room’s xiaolongbao belie the restaurant’s name – they’re sophisticated little dumplings with strong thin skins, smooth pork filling and a satisfyingly rich broth. And at 6 rmb for a basket of eight, they represent incredible value.

Price: 6 rmb per serve (8 pieces)

Loushi Tangbao Guan 陋室汤包馆
601 Nanchang Lu, near Xiangyang Lu
Open 7 days, 6.30am – 8pm
No English spoken, no English menu
Cash only

3. Din Tai Fung Xintiandi 鼎泰震新天地店 

It’s impossible to write about Shanghai’s xiaolongbao without mentioning Din Tai Fung, where the humble xiaolongbao is elevated to a culinary art form. Don’t be put off by the fact that this chain comes from Taiwan – they have an impeccable pedigree and two of their Hong Kong restaurants were this year awarded a Michelin star. If the Michelin Guide ever makes it to China’s mainland, this branch will likely end up with one too.

For some diehard gourmands it’s sacrilege to admit you like Din Tai Fung’s xiaolongbao, as they pout “too expensive!” “too touristy!” “not Shanghainese!” but for me Din Tai Fung’s biggest drawcard has to be its consistency – consistently great xiaolongbao, consistently good service and spotlessly clean, it’s also the only place on this list where English is consistently spoken.
Din Tai Fung’s dumplings boast the finest wrappers, all rolled individually by hand so that they’re thinner at the edges and stronger in the middle, the smoothest pork filling and the most refined of all the soups. In addition, Din Tai Fung offers that rarity, a totally vegetarian xiaolongbao filled with assorted mushrooms, and some very non-traditional fillings like goose liver and chicken.
Din Tai Fung also offers a wide selection of more substantial hot and cold dishes, wine and beer, and desserts.

Price: 29 rmb for five, 58 rmb for ten pork xiaolongbao

Din Tai Fung Xintiandi  鼎泰震新天地店

2F, House 6, South Block Xintiandi,
Lane 123 Xinye Lu, Shanghai
+8621 6385 8378
Open 7 days from 10am – 12mn
English spoken, English menu with pictures
Cash, credit cards accepted

4. Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant 南翔馒頭店
With a history of over a hundred years in the xiaolongbao business, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant now has multiple locations in multiple countries.  This restaurant is one of their nicest and its location, just a stone’s throw from the bright lights of Nanjing Xi Lu, makes it a perfect pitstop after a heavy morning of shopping.

Nanxiang is solid, clean and well-run, exactly the sort of place you might take your work colleagues or your parents-in-law for lunch.

Their crab xiaolongbao are exceptional, with the rich yellow roe clearly visible through the semi-transparent skins, and droplets of oily melted roe visible in the soup.

They also offer a full menu of non-dumpling dishes, including many Shanghainese specialties like fried glutinous rice slices with pork and ji cai vegetable – a chewy, delicious home-style dish.
Nanxiang Mantou Dian 南翔馒頭店
Branches all over Shanghai including:
2nd Floor, 269 Wujiang Lu, Jing’an District
+8621 6136 1428
Open 7 days from 11am – 8.30pm
English sometimes spoken, picture menu
Cash only

5. Song Ji Nanxiang Xiaolongbao 南翔小笼馆
Those small and miraculous soup-filled dumplings Shanghai is famous for probably didn’t originate in Shanghai. They came from a place called Nanxiang, considered by many to be the ancestral home, even the spiritual home of xiaolongbao. Once, long ago, Nanxiang was a happily separate little town south-west of Shanghai, but as the city sent out tentacles of roads, factories and apartment blocks in every direction it choked and then digested many smaller towns in its wake. Nanxiang was completely subsumed into modern-day Shanghai, and is now relegated to the status of an outer suburb. It even has its own stop on the Shanghai subway system (Nanxiang, Line 11).

But Nanxiang doesn’t feel like the outer something of somewhere, in fact it feels like the centre of somewhere. This is because Nanxiang holds tight to one important quality that sets it apart from all the other grey and gritty outer suburbs. It is still a major mecca for xiaolongbao lovers, who make the pilgrimage from all over China to get to the source. Whole streets are lined with dumpling shops rolling, stuffing and twisting xialongbao into shape. 

Outside Song Ji restaurant, stacks of steamer baskets full of plump xialongbao wait to be cooked in the giant outdoor steamer. Inside, round wooden tables are filled with people dipping their xiaolongbao in dark vinegar then slurping up the filling. The menu runs to two choices of xiaolongbao – pork, or pork and crab, and five extras, all soups.

These xiaolongbao are justifiably famous, but they have a simple, homemade quality. The skins are thicker than those at say, Din Tai Fung, because they’re hand pressed rather than rolled, and the filling is simpler and more rustic with less seasoning and more meat. The soup, particularly of the pork and crab xiaolongbao, is delicious and dangerously hot.

Take-away packs of pre-cooked xioalongbao are available too, packed inside two bamboo shells to protect them, like a giant clam. They re-heat pretty well in a steamer at home, but have less soup inside as it tends to absorb into the skin after the first cooking.

Song Ji Nanxiang Xiaolongbao 南翔小笼馆
210 Guyiyuan Lu, Jiading District

Approx 30 minutes by car from downtown Shanghai, or easily reached by subway Line 11 (stop: Nanxiang). The restaurants are less than five minutes’ walk from the subway.

+8621 5917 4019
Open 7 days from 8am – 8pm
No English spoken, no English menu
Cash only

6. More Information
For more Shanghai xiaolongbao eateries, or to find a xiaolongbao restaurant in other Chinese cities, try Dianping. In Shanghai, all Shanghainese restaurants serve xiaolongbao – try Old Jesse, New Jesse, or Fu Chun.

If you’d like to learn how to make your own xiaolongbao while visiting Shanghai, the Chinese Cooking Workshop runs a xiaolongbao class once a month, next on April 17th, 2013.

Xiaolongbao recipes can be found here and here and here if you’d like to try making them at home. My recipe for the pork aspic can be found here.

Got a favorite of your own? Share it in the comments below!

Shanghai Street Food #32 Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken 椒盐排条

Excited as a small child I flew into Shanghai last week on a whirlwind five day visit for the Shanghai International Literary Festival, and of course squeezed in a great deal of street food during my stay – starting with xiaolongbao, and fried radish cakes topped with chili sauce, and ending with these crispy, spicy fried chicken strips.

I was invited to moderate a Literary Lunch session at this year’s festival with author Audra Ang and her recently released book To The People Food Is Heavena memoir of her years as an Associated Press journalist in China covering major stories like the Sichuan earthquake, the outbreak of SARS and the plight of pro-democracy dissidents, while connecting with the people she met through memorable shared meals.

The invitation came at a perfect moment, lifting me out of a dreadful bout of homesickness (for China) and an increasing and confusing sense of ‘What am I doing here?’ (in Australia). By going back to Shanghai for a visit I could avoid thinking about that question for a while longer and just enjoy good food and the company of friends without a head filled with the complications and daily grind of getting our lives in order after moving houses, countries, schools and jobs.

It was a great honour to participate in the festival and meet the author whose book I had enjoyed reading so much. As it turns out, Audra and I are equally passionate about food in general and about street food in particular, and following the Literary Lunch (where seventy of us listened to Audra read from her book and I asked her questions about it) we led a street food tour for a group of twelve hungry and adventurous festival attendees.

In preparation, as soon as Audra touched down from the USA we headed straight to Sipailou Lu for an afternoon of ‘research’ for our tour the following day. I’ve done so much research on street food I truly think they’re going to give me a professorship quite soon.

This Sichuan salt and pepper fried chicken was one of the first foods we ‘researched’ and hell it was good.

I confess I rarely eat chicken on the street because it breaks one of my Dr Fiona Street Food Safety Rules. These rules are entirely in my head, mind you, and I’ll be writing about them in an upcoming post, but they’re all about getting the maximum enjoyment from street foods, with minimum risk. Chicken is often too close to the risky side for my liking, but as I smelled the tantalising smell and saw the crisp golden pieces, my resolve collapsed. What are rules for if not to break now and again?

The tiny open air stall on Guangqi Lu was nothing more than a table filled with ingredients, a gas-powered wok, and a sign that detailed all the possible permutations of fried chicken you could order – chicken strips, legs or wings, all with Sichuan pepper and salt. There was a naked light bulb on a wire so cooking could continue after dark, and the husband and wife team manning the stall had the division of labour completely sorted – he cooked, she took the orders and the money.

The smells coming from the fried chicken were intoxicating, and there was already a long queue of locals eager for a plate of the crispy spicy chicken strips.

Most customers ordered the jiaoyan pai tiao 椒盐排条 – Sichuan pepper and salt chicken sticks. Strips of boneless chicken were crumbed, and thrown into a wok of boiling oil where they sizzled, crisped and browned. While they cooked, the flavoursome salt and pepper mixture was cooked in a second wok – finely sliced scallions and red onion, chopped garlic, and dried chilli flakes were thrown in by the handful and fried up with ground Sichuan pepper and salt.

The seasoned aroma made all of us impatient for our turn. The fried chicken, drained of oil, was now tossed with this salty, spicy, garlicky mixture to coat it with plenty of flavour, and handed to us in a bowl with toothpicks to daintily pick up the pieces.

One serve cost an unbelievable 5 yuan (80 cents), and many of those lining up were taking the chicken home for dinner.

I bit into a piece – at once crunchy, salty, oily and spiced, it was the intense hit of salty garlic I loved, little crackly bits of garlic and fried scallion amongst the crunchy outide of the chicken.

The next day we took our crowd of hungry food-lovers along the same street and fed them spicy fried chicken, dumplings, stinky tofu, three delicacies rice, wonton soup, sweet treats and freshly peeled pineapple wedges. They were an incredibly adventurous group of women, trying everything on offer – we had a ball eating our way through two long streets over several hours, with Audra and I explaining each food they tried. No better way to spend a day really!

Street Foods of Shanghai!

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

Shanghai Street Food #31 DIY Spicy Soup: Mala Tang 麻辣汤

Mala. That word conjures up a whole sensory picture in my mind of Sichuan spiciness and heat. 

Mala 麻辣 means numbing spiciness, coming from Sichuan pepper. The kind of nose-watering, eye-running chili that also makes your tongue and gums numb and tingling, but add just one extra la and you have malala 麻辣辣, which means searing pain. 
Getting the picture about the kind of spiciness we’re talking about now?
Mala tang 麻辣汤 on the other hand just means spicy soup, spicy and delicious rather than spicy and potentially painful, a Sichuan import that has made its way all around China as a massively popular street food. 
Mala tang is a do-it-yourself street food, which adds enormously to the fun of eating it. Vendors provide the broth, the ingredients, and the condiments, you simply decide what you would like in your soup and they cook it for you.
I had seen these joints all over Shanghai for well over a year, usually with long lunchtime queues and busy as hell, but had no idea how it all worked. Once my Chinese improved and I finally figured it out I was so cross at myself that I hadn’t tried it sooner, so for those who’ve never tried it….
Here’s how it works:
1. Grab a basket from the stack near the front of the shop and start filling it. Your basket will likely have a small plastic tag with your number on it. Remember it!
2. Choose some dried noodles – flat, vermicelli, thin and add them to your basket

3. Choose your greens, mushrooms and tofu of choice, add them to the basket. I like a very mushroomy broth, and there are usually four or five types to choose from.

4. Choose some savoury meaty balls on a stick. These are fish balls (white) chicken balls (pinky white) beef balls (pink) sausage balls (brighter pink) or pork balls (pink). I have no idea what the bright yellow ones are, but I look forward to hearing from one of you who might know.
5. Take your completed basket to the cashier, the person who is not cooking the soup. She will add up your ingredients to give you a final cost, usually 10-15 yuan/bowl (around $1.50- $2.50)

6. Now wait until your basket, on the bottom, reaches the top of the cooking queue. While you’re waiting you could ask the cashier to add extras – bean sprouts, silken tofy cubes, blood cubes, for an extra fee. I usually skip the blood cubes. Totally up to you.

7. Watch the soup cook prepare your bowl. In her cauldron is a rich, spicy soup stock made fragrant with sichuan pepper and chilies, plus all the things that have been cooked in it over the course of the day.

Around the edge of the pot are numerous cylindrical wire baskets hooked to the edge. One of these will be your cooking basket, and this is how the cook can make eight bowls at once without mixing up the ingredients.

A master of cooking times, the cook will add items to your wire basket in the correct cooking order, noodles and meatballs first, lettuce and fragile greens last, so everything is perfectly cooked.

9. The cook will spoon your basket’s cooked contents into a bowl, add a big ladleful of the spicy soup, and call out your number so you can collect it.

10. Add condiments to taste – la jiao chili paste, dark vinegar, sesame oil, sesame paste, scallions, coriander. All up to you. These might be together on a counter at the entrance to the seated area, or in individual pots on your table.

11. Take a seat, slurp and enjoy.

Where to find mala tang in Shanghai:
Mala tang shops are literally all over town. All over China in fact, being one of winter’s favourite street foods. 
Look for the steaming soup pot out front, a cabinet full of fresh greens and things on sticks, and a long queue.
My local mala tang  is great, and very clean and friendly。
Xiu La Tang 庥辣烫
607 Nanchang Lu
Street Foods of Shanghai!

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

Ten Must Try Foods in Yunnan 十大不容错过的云南美食

Yunnan is mountains and clouds, mists and forests, jungles and wilderness, and a richly textured and coloured human landscape of different ethnic minorities, each with their own strong food culture. Tucked into a corner of China bordering Tibet, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, Yunnan’s diverse food reflects its topography, unique climate, human population, and the food of its neighbours.
Here are a group of ten foods we enjoyed over the last few weeks as we travelled through Yunnan from the cold and mountainous north, to the subtropical jungles in the south and the exquisite rice terraces landscape of the east. We’ve eaten well, as you can see!
There are some Yunnan foods you won’t find here, either because I’ve written about them before (Crossing the Bridge Noodles, Bugs, Barks and Dragonfly Nymphs and Yunnan Ham) or because I’m writing about them in an upcoming post (like Yunnan’s famed Pu’er tea).
Feast the eyes!
1. Mi xian 米线
A warming bowl of rich stock filled with slippery smooth rice noodles, and topped with a dizzying array of bright bursting tastes: sour, salty, fiery, and bitter. This is mi xian, possibly the most popular street snack in all of Yunnan and one of the few that is eaten in every corner of the province. 
In the last four weeks I’ve tasted ten or fifteen variations of this noodle dish, each particular to a local area and/or a particular street vendor. The essentials are always the same – rice noodles, thick or fine, your choice – served in a broth made of stock, along with some leafy greens and the addition of various condiments and toppings. 
The condiments might include any or all of the following – pickled beans, chili oil, pork cooked with fermented soybeans, soy sauce, cilantro, finely diced fat pork, fermented chili, hot tomato salsa, or pickled cabbage. In the middle of Yunnan in the small town of Changning, every bowl comes topped with hearty hunks of cold cooked pork and crispy shards of pork crackling, just for something different.

2. Wild Herbs Ye Cai 野菜
When I read ‘fresh wild herbs salad’ on a menu in Lijiang I thought of mint and wild plants. It sounded fresh and delicious and very, very green – just what I was hankering after. When this plate of brown lichen arrived I sent it back to the kitchen, thinking a mistake had been made, where the chef patiently explained to me this was ‘wild herbs’ ye cai 野菜, an all encompassing term apparently meaning ‘anything growing wild in the forest’. 
I’ve since tasted many delicious versions of this salad with frail feathery lichen, mixed with cilantro and mint leaves, a little sharp chili, and a touch of sweet soy, but sadly the bark-like lichen doesn’t improve no matter what you do to it.

3. Sour fish stew 酸汤鱼

The first flavour you recognize is sourness from the fermented chili sauce used, and the sweet fish – then the full force of chili heat sears your lips. After that, you taste little but chili but the texture is sublime – the silky, soft, soothing cubes of fresh tofu and the crunch of scallions. 

4. Roast Tofu 烤豆腐
This Yi lady sits at a low table inside the restaurant with an old wok full of charcoal covered by a grill, carefully turning each of the squares of 五天豆腐 wu tian doufu, five days old and just starting to ferment and soften slightly in the centre, while dry on the outside. 
The outsides begin to brown and soon enough they’re little nutty, crispy balls with soft warm centres, ready to eat, dipped into a sauce made with soy sauce, ground sichuan green pepper, cilantro and pickled chili.
And yes, that’s what she wears to work every day, and no, it’s not for tourists. Beautiful isn’t it?


5. Dai Style Feast 傣族宴会

In southern Yunnan the local people, the Dai,  share much in common with those of northern Thailand and Laos. They love communal eating, hot and sour flavours, and the dishes feature the local fish and a combination of mint, ginger, chilies and sour pickles.
A Dai feast arives all at once, with everything meant to be sampled and shared. Bowls of steamed wild greens and uncooked herbs are served with a choice of four dipping sauces – a mild crushed peanut sauce, a sour pickled chili sauce, a fiery fermented tomato sauce, and a rich, deep, dark sauce made with fermented tofu.
At the centre of the table is a platter of roasted fish and meats, all char-grilled and smoky – sweet slices of barbecued ham, crispy-skinned chicken, fish wrapped in banana leaves, pork and mint sausage, and siced fatty pork. There is a tiny dish of a salty, peppery, spice mixture in which to dip your meat.
There are several hot dishes too – a free-range chicken (tuji 土鸡)cooked in a light broth, and pumpkin leaf shoots in a soup that magically takes away the heat of the chillies.

6. Egg Yolk Fruit 蛋黄果
Yunnan is full of the most unusual foods you won’t find anywhere else in China. I had seen these globe-sized yellow fruits in the markets – bright golden yellow and very soft on the inside, the first mouthful feels just like a bite of soft-boiled egg. 
Your mouth is confused by the texture because the taste doesn’t match – the fruit is a little sweet with a flavour somewhere between sweet roast pumpkin and ripe papaya, but mostly unlike anything else. It goes very well with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

 7. Baba 粑粑
This popular street snack, served hot and wrapped in banana leaf, is chewy, sticky, and sweet.  Circles of purple sticky rice dough are first grilled over charcoal, where they puff up into a ball over the heat and soften, then flattened and filled with dark brown sugar which quickly melts, before being folded or rolled into a neat, sweet package.

8. Fresh Lime juice 柠檬水
In southern Yunnan, neighbouring Burma and Laos, tropical fruit grows abundantly even in winter. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes and passionfruit are served up as juice in tiny streetside juice stalls.
Everyone’s favourite refresher though is ning meng shui 柠檬水 or homemade sweet lime juice. The juice of two or three limes, some sugar syrup, ice and cold water. 

9. Paoluda 泡鲁达
Intriguing and bizarrely addictive, the individual components of paoluda 泡鲁达 don’t sound altogether appetizing: tapioca, sweet condensed milk, black sticky rice, jelly cubes, chunks of dried bread or biscuit and shaved coconut. But this hot weather desert or drink (depending on whether you have it in a bowl or a tall glass with a thick straw) served over ice is surprisingly fabulous.
The locals told me the desert is Burmese in origin, and the name is a pinyinised version of the Indian and Persian drink falooda, which it closely resembles.

10. Sticky Rice Sticks 糯米油条
Small balls of sweetened sticky rice dough are stretched into short lengths before being laid gently in bubbling oil, where they puff and lengthen into a crisp sweet stick with a chewy gooey centre. These nuomi youtiao 糯米油条 (sticky rice oil sticks) are sweeter and lighter than their street food breakfast counterparts, you tiao
I declared them Yunnan’s version of the donut, minus the cinnamon.

Travels Round China by Food:

Ten Must Try Foods in Sichuan 十大不容错过的四川美食

I feel like a little culinary anthropologist some days, trekking around China to all sorts of odd places, snapping photos of foods I’ve tasted and then trying to discover more about them.

Sichuan though, was relatively easy – everyone in Sichuan is an obsessed food fanatic and food is a constant topic of conversation, so I had my many questions happily answered.

Sichuan cuisine has been unfairly pegged in the Western world as consisting of nothing but mouth-numbing sichuan pepper (hua jiao) and paralytic amounts of chili. Not so – Sichuan cuisine is complex and diverse, using sour, sweet, salty, astringent and spicy flavours, and many dishes are – gasp – not spicy at all. As the locals say, it’s all about balance.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of famous Sichuan dishes, although some on the list are very well known and can be found all over the province. It’s simply a list of ten foods I enjoyed so much I’m desperate to try them again, and I hope you enjoy them too.



1. Sichuan Hotpot 四川火锅

Like a rite of passage for every visitor to Sichuan, there is no way to ease yourself into Sichuan hotpot – you just have to go for it, boots and all and curse and sweat as your mouth goes numb, your eyes water and your nose runs. And still you can’t stop compulsively dipping more things into that pot to cook.

The pot arrives – the surface slick with red chili oil and hundreds of chilies bobbing up and down in the soup stock. (In our case we took the coward’s option and ordered a big pot of mild stock with a smaller portion of devil-red chili soup in the centre.) The pot goes on the burner in the centre of your table and when steam starts to rise from the surface you can dip in pieces of meat, vegetables and noodles to cook in the fiery soup.
Once cooked, your dipping sauce is an individual choice, concocted from sesame oil, finely chopped garlic, scallions and coriander.

All around you are pillars of steam rising from each table, red, sweating faces, loud conversations and gallons of beer being consumed to assuage the heat. It’s an experience not be missed.


2. Braised Pepper Rabbit 烧椒兔
Rabbit is popular in Sichuan – braised, grilled, barbecued or in hotpot – and is just as tasty as could be because Sichuanese chefs have a way of transforming what can be a dry and tasteless meat into something tender and juicy.

This dish – shaojiao tu – of finely sliced braised tender rabbit with hot green chillies char-grilled until the edges blacken and they take on a sweet, smoky taste, is dressed with sesame oil, a hint of sichuan pepper and the barest touch of soy.


3. Tea-smoked duck 樟茶 
Not all Sichuan food is spicy, and zhāngchá yā or tea-smoked duck is a great example. The duck is smoked until the skin is sweet and crispy, then finely sliced and served cold. The smoky taste is far from strong, just giving the meat a subtle richness.


4. La Rou 腊肉

La rou is preserved pork – salty, fatty, and smoky – a little but not quite like bacon and often a revelation for people who like to eat their meat completely lean.

Sliced wafer thin,Sichuan la rou is stir-fried until the fat becomes translucent and the edges crisp and curl, together with sweet fried scallions and smoky dried chilies, the fat lending a richness without being oily. It’s also used to season soups and braises, adding a strong, salty meat flavour. 



5. Dou hua 豆花
A soft-set tofu made fresh daily, dou hua is a popular breakfast food in rural Sichuan where it offers a warm, savoury and filling start to the day, served with lajiao (chili paste) and scallions for extra taste.

Home-made tofu tastes nothing like the bought variety, with a soft smooth texture and a very comforting slightly nutty taste.



6. Fuqi Feipian 夫妻肺片
I’m not a fan of tripe. As a child my mother described in morbid detail the smell of tripe cooking in my Scottish grandmother’s house, the horrid texture and putrid taste, and ever since then I’ve thought tripe and all things intestinal best avoided. That is, until I came to Sichuan, where they make wafer thin slices of beef tripe and ox-tongue taste so extraordinarily rich and spicy, you might just eat a whole plate of the stuff without thinking about it, as I did.

Drowned in slippery chili oil and dressed with a refreshing mixture of chopped coriander, scallions, peanuts and ground green Sichuan pepper, this dish just seemed to finish itself.


7. Dan Dan Noodles  担担面
Here’s a dish you’re likely to encounter in many overseas Chinese restaurants, but its origins are here in Sichuan. The name comes from the bamboo pole carried over the shoulder by noodle vendors, walking the streets with noodles on one side and sauces on the other.

Traditionally, fine wheat noodles are topped with finely diced pickled mustard tuber, spiced meat, and chili oil in a light broth.

I was served so many variations of dan dan mian in Sichuan I began to be unsure which version was correct. Some were served in broth, some served in noodle water, and some had no soup but were mixed with sesame paste and ground peanuts. Which ever way you prefer them, they all make a hugely satisfying snack.

传统的面条是,在肉汤里细面条上配上切成细丁的腌制榨菜,五香肉,和辣椒油。    在四川我吃了各种各样的担担面,都不知道哪一个才是正宗的。一些用的是肉汤,一些用的是面条水,还有一些根本没有汤,只是混了一些芝麻酱和花生。不管你喜欢哪种方式,他们都能做出令人满意的小吃。


8. Sticky Rice Balls  糯米糍粑
Served three to a stick, these sticky rice balls (nuomi ciba 糯米糍粑) are flash-deep-fried then coated in syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The outside has a pleasant crunch and the inside is smooth and chewy. A great food for eating as you walk. 每个棍儿上串着三个糯米球,这些糯米糍粑炸得油亮油亮的,并且涂上了糖浆,撒上了芝麻。外面一层很脆,里面滑腻耐嚼。适合边走边吃。

9. Sweet Jelly with Red Sugar Syrup 红糖米糕
This is the perfect cooling end to a meal filled with spice – a perfectly sized bowl of smooth, cool rice jelly topped with red sugar syrup.  


10. Salt and Sichuan Pepper Butter Crisps 椒盐酥

There are times when you eat a food and instantly know you’ll spend the next five years trying to exactly recreate the same taste, texture and look, probably unsuccessfully.

The Gongting Bakery, near the Wenshu Temple in Chengdu, is busy from dawn until dusk because their cakes and biscuits are completely addictive.

Their Sichuan pepper and salt crisps – jiaoyan su – are tiny sweet butter biscuits flavoured with ground dark green Sichuan pepper and salt. One makes your lips tingle, and three is the limit before you stop tasting altogether.

The intensity of flavour no doubt comes from using absolutely freshly picked Sichuan pepper, and so my attempts to replicate these back in Australia will go like this:

1. Tries tested and true simple butter biscuit recipe with addition of Sichuan pepper bought in Chinatown. Not good enough. 
2. Has friend send over Sichuan pepper from China – almost good enough, but not quite.
3. Orders Sichuan pepper tree from specialty plant nursery at massive expense, and waits a whole year for the first pepper harvest – perfection at last.


他们的椒盐酥是一种又小又甜的黄油饼干,上面会加一层深绿色的川椒和咸盐来提味,吃一块会让你的嘴唇有刺痛的感觉,你一次性最多只能吃三块    口感如此之重由于全因他们使用的是最新鲜的的川椒,所以在澳大利亚我尝试通过这种方式复制这些味道:



You might also enjoy:

Ten Must Try Foods in Shandong

Ten Must Try Foods in Shanxi

Ten Must Try Uyghur Foods

Ten Must Try Foods in Yunnan

Ten Must Try Uyghur Foods 十大不容错过的维吾尔食物

Here are ten mouth-watering foods from our travels through Xinjiang, all of them Uyghur foods. There are five savory and five sweet ones for your enjoyment!

1. Laghman 拉面

Hand-pulled noodles, Uyghur style, are rustic and delicious. The noodles are stretched, stretched, then stretched some more (you may be able to just see the young boy behind the old man, just starting out with a batch), boiled quickly then turned out onto a big enamel platter to cool a little before being portioned out by hand.
Laghman are usually topped with a rich rustic vegetable ragout simmered in the pot from peppers, eggplant, onion, garlic and tomato, with or without a few pieces of lamb. If there are extra vegetables in season (celery, spinach, beans) these often make their way in too. It’s a filling and very satisfying dish.
Want to make your own? Instructions here from my last visit to Kashgar.

2. Kawap 烤羊肉串

The smell of charcoal, spice and grilling meat is a vivid memory for travelers to Xinjiang, with outdoor barbecues smoking up a storm on every street. Lamb kawap (known to us as kebabs and to the Chinese as yang rou chuanr) are the quintessential street food of Xinjiang – succulent pieces of fatty lamb threaded onto long metal skewers, with a nice juicy chunk of lamb fat in the centre to keep the meat tender. Sometimes there’s a piece of lamb’s liver in there for variety, if you like.
The kawap are grilled to order over a long, narrow waist-high charcoal brazier, sprinkled as they cook with that magical mixture of spices that gives incredible flavour – usually cumin, white pepper, chili and salt – and when ready are served with nan bread. Grilled meat, soft bread – a perfect taste combination.
木炭,香料和烤肉的味道是来新疆旅游的人们最鲜活的记忆,街上到处洋溢着烤肉的烟味。羊肉串(对我们来说就是烤肉串,对中国人来说就是羊肉串)就是新疆街边小吃的 代表——鲜嫩多汁的肥羊肉块被穿在长长的金属棒上,在肉串的中间有一块多汁的羊肉脂肪。如果你喜欢,有时肉串上还会有一块羊肝。肉串被放在一个狭长的齐腰高的木炭架子上烧烤,辅以香料的混合物,散发着令人难以置信的香味——孜然,白辣椒,红辣椒和盐——肉串烤好后再配上馕一起吃。烤肉,松软的面包——一个完美地味道组合。

3. Carrot salad 胡萝卜色拉

If you order kawap in a restaurant rather than on the street, the other great accompaniment to them is this cold, spiced salad. It cuts through the fat in meat dishes perfectly. Western Xinjiang has both orange and bright yellow carrots, and both are shredded together with white radish and some fine rice vermicelli noodles in this salad, dressed with dark vinegar, salt and chili.  

4. Samsas 烤包子

There are constant food and linguistic reminders that Xinjiang shares much more in common with central Asia, including the name of these spiced lamb parcels wrapped in dough and cooked in the tall tonur outdoor pit oven. Known as samosa in India, sambosa in Afghanistan, sambusa in Iran, and samsa in Pakistan, they are perfect as a snack in their smaller version, while the larger ones, kumach, are a meal in themselves.
What I loved as I travelled through Xinjiang was the regional variations in shape – some like parcels, some like large balls, some like crescents, some flat and square like envelopes. All delicious.

5. Polo 手抓饭

Polo is a rich and satisfying rice pilaf, made in a large deep curved pot like a wok, with shreds of carrot that cook to a caramelised loveliness, pieces of onion that brown and crisp on the bottom, and mutton on the bone. The entire dish is all buttery rice, with the sweetness of the carrots and the saltiness of the tender, tender meat. In Xinjiang, whole restaurants are devoted to the perfection of polo, but you can also find slightly less perfect (but no less tasty) versions in markets and truckstops. 

6. Zongza 粽扎

I know what you’re thinking, those parcels being unwrapped in the picture below look mighty like zongzi – sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves – and hang on, isn’t that a Chinese dish? Well, you’d be right, up to a point.
In a marvelous Uyghur take on a Chinese classic, these zongza are made with a sticky red date in the tip. To serve, the zongza are unwrapped, pressed flat on a saucer, then covered in rich, creamy cold yoghurt curd and drizzled all over with brown sugar syrup and eaten with a tiny teaspoon. One word: divine. 

7. Matang 麻糖

Matang refers to a whole group of slightly different sweet treats made with locally grown nuts as one of the main ingredients – usually walnuts or almonds, made into a giant block of sweet, chewy nut brittle.
Some matang is very crunchy with a toffee base, and some is soft, chewy, and creamy, like nougat. You just tell the vendor how much you would like in weight, and he will slice off a hunk with a very sharp knife, chop it into bite-size pieces and weigh it on scales. 
For more details there’s a great description of the treat and how it’s made here

8. Fresh figs  新鲜无花果

It’s impossible to travel through Xinjiang during fig season (July to October) and not eat your own body weight in sweet, fresh figs – enjur. Just take a fig leaf, and choose your own from the pile to take away, usually 1 yuan each. The best and sweetest are reported to come from the town of Atash near Kashgar, and Beshkirem, but you will find fig vendors everywhere.

9. Summer Snow kar dogh 夏季刨冰

A street food miracle, this delightful summer treat is made from snow harvested in the depths of winter and kept frozen until the heat of summer arrives in underground rooms filled with blocks of ice. A pre-electric freezer. 
The vendors keep their own blocks of snow cold with blankets, and when you order a bowl of kar dogh he will scoop snow from the block and top it with freshly made yoghurt, brown sugar syrup and some rich, creamy yoghurt curd.  
I sat in the Hotan Bazaar next to a very ancient Uyghur man, both of us grinning and slurping on our bowls of kar dogh like kids tasting icecream for the first time. Fantastic.

10. Sweet Samsas 烤甜包

In a few restaurants, notably the wonderful Altun Orda restaurant in Kashgar, you can end your meal with a sweet samsa filled with a spiced mixture of sultanas and crushed nuts in crisp, flaky pastry. A perfect way to finish a round-up of sweet Uyghur treats!


Ten Must-Try Foods in Shanxi 山西美食探险

Shanxi oat noodles 莜面烤栳栳
Shanxi Province is not only the cradle of Chinese history but also home to one of China’s great eight cuisines, known as jin cai 晋菜, famous for its liberal use of locally produced aged Shanxi vinegar, round breads and pastries known as bing, and an extraordinary variety of noodles.
Having now traversed Shanxi from north to south eating everything that was put in front of me I can confirm Jin cusine is pretty exciting and very diverse. True to form I tended much more towards the local street food than haute cuisine, and Shanxi people seem to love eating on the street as much as I do – the province was full of snack stalls and night markets bursting with atmosphere and the smells of good cooking. 
The following list isn’t meant to be definitive, it’s just ten of the foods I enjoyed most while in Shanxi. I hope you get a chance to try them too.


1. Shanxi Oat Noodles 莜面烤栳栳
Street vendor selling oat noodles, ready to steam at home
Think oat noodles might be dense and chewy? Think again. The first surprise when ordering Shanxi oat noodles (shanxi youmian kao lao lao 山西莜面烤栳栳) is when the steamer lid is lifted to reveal their unusual honeycomb appearance, the second surprise being their soft light texture and mild taste.
Oats are a staple crop in this part of China, so there many kinds of oat noodles on offer in a variety of shapes but these are the most well-known. A steamer basket full of the wonderful hot honeycomb noodles alongside a small bowl of a rich, thick tomato and garlic sauce, and you simply peel off a single noodle and dip it into the sauce before eating.
Alternately you can have the steamed noodles quickly dry-fried with plenty of garlic, onion and chili and a little ziran spice mixture – known as ganbian kao lao lao 干煸烤栳栳 (see picture below).
Where to try it: You can find oat noodles all over Shanxi but kao lao lao is more common the further south you go in places like Taiyuan and Pingyao.
ganbian kao lao lao 干煸烤栳栳
1. 莜面烤栳栳
哪里可以尝到它: 在山西到处都能找到燕麦面,偏南如太原和平遥等地更为普遍。


2. Shi Tou Bing 石头饼
shi tou bing 石头饼
These prehistoric looking cakes are made with corn meal flour and filled with either a sweet red bean paste filling or a savoury sauce, before being baked with hot pebbles (or ball bearings, see below) indenting their surface, hence their great name: shi tou bing 石头饼 or stone cakes.
Crisp and delicious when hot out of the griddle, the crisp textured surface with the soft filling makes for a great snack.
Where to try it: southern Shanxi, on the streets of Taiyuan and Pingyao
2. 石头饼


3. Sea Buckthorn 沙棘属
These tiny orange berries, about the size of a plump peppercorn, grow wild all over Shanxi Province, being well-suited to the dry conditions (in Europe they grow in coastal areas and are salt-tolerant, hence the name). They have the most unusual taste – a little sour, with the rich taste of a really ripe apricot and a deep orange colour.
Sea Buckthorn juice is sold everywhere, and sea buckthorn wine is also available. This dish was a one of the most memorable and inventive I ate in Shanxi – a steamed yellow millet pudding surrounded with soft honeyed jujubes, and drowned in a sea buckthorn syrup – soft, sweet and comforting with the slight tartness of the berries overcoming the cloying sweetness of the syrup.
Where to try it: Datong’s Yonghe Food City 永和美食城: 大同迎宾东路8号
Sea buckthorn juice and wine available all over Shanxi.
3. 沙棘属
哪里可以尝到它:  永和美食城:大同迎宾东路8


4. Fragrant Straw Beef 香草肉
Fragrant straw beef (xiāng cǎo ròu 香草肉) are small parcels of savory home-made beef sausage wrapped in tofu skin and steamed inside a tiny woven straw caboose, imparting a lovely fragrance to the finished product.
Where to try it: the streets of Pingyao – look for the large tin steamers with the woven straw parcels peeking out.
4. 香草肉
哪里可以尝到它: 平遥的大街小巷——找有草编小包的大型格状蒸笼。


5. Bottle Gourd with Aged Shanxi Vinegar 养生葫芦丝
This dish highlights for me just how often Chinese cuisine continues to surprise and delight. This cold dish, served at the start of a meal, is elegant and complex with a contrast of textures and flavours that brings every ingredient to life.
You would be forgiven for thinking this was a noodle dish, when in fact it is carefully coiled shredded bottle gourd, dressed with aged Shanxi vinegar, chilies, and finely sliced cooked scallions(yangsheng hulusi  养生葫芦丝). The textures and flavours are simply sublime, a little crunch, the deeply complex vinegar, the light heat of the chilies.
Of course, it does help that it’s served in Datong’s most exquisitely beautiful restaurant, the Phoenix Court, in a Ming Dynasty house that has been home to this restaurant for several hundred years (since 1518, to be exact). The surroundings are extrardinary with gold phoenixes flying across the ceiling and heavy carved mahogony tables.
Where to try it: The Phoenix Court Restaurant, Huayan Temple Street, Datong 凤临阁烧卖: 大同城区华严寺街
5. 养生葫芦丝


6. Scissor-cut Noodles 剪刀面
Shanxi’s noodle fame is well-deserved with more than a hundred varieties of interesting shapes, sizes and textures. I loved watching the skill of these young noodle chefs in Taiyuan as they made scissor-cut noodles from a spindle-shaped piece of dough held in their hand, using what appeared to be a pair of giant dressmaking scissors to slice long thin noodles with gently tapered ends.
The noodles are served with a variety of rich sauces – in this case a ragout made from pork, yellow beans, cubed tofu, and green bean pickles (below left).
Other varieties include mao er duo or cat’s ear noodles (below right), tiny triangular noodles with curled edges, perfect with a thick and hearty sauce.
Where to try it: All over Shanxi, although Taiyuan has a great concentration of restaurants specialising in noodles.
6. 剪刀面


7. Savoury Pork Pastries 肉饼
Bing means anything round and flat, so a pancake can be a bing, and so can a savoury pastries like these. These ròu bǐng 肉饼 are pure theatre in the making, one pair of hands taking the soft and pliable dough and at lightning speed pushing it into long flat tongues to be seasoned with lamb fat and pork mince, then rolled and flattened, dipped in sesame seeds, and cooked on a griddle by an even faster second pair of hands.
Hungry customers crowd around, waiting for the next batch to appear. Piping hot, the flaky buttery pastry melts in the mouth, with salty pork giving the pastry a delicious flavour.
Where to try it: Taiyuan’s night market, on the corner of Wulongkou Jie and Heitu Gangzhong Hengma lu 太原五龙口街黑土巷中横马路
7. 肉饼


8. Shaomai 烧卖

Shanxi shaomai 烧卖 are delicate versions of their Hong Kong and Shanghai cousins. The dumplings are wrapped in skins as fine as paper, ruffled at the edges, and filled with a rich, smooth pork filling. The best way to eat them is dipped in Shanxi’s famous vinegar, a special variety expressly used for dumplings.

Where to try it: The most well-known shaomai in all of Shanxi come from Datong, where they are served in every restaurant and many street stalls




8. 烧卖
哪里可以尝到它: 山西最有名的烧卖产自大同,那里每一家饭店和众多街边摊都有。

9. Doufu Nao 豆腐

Imagine this dish: spoons of soft-set silken tofu, still warm, slipped into a steaming meat broth then topped with chili oil, chive paste, and a little red-fermented tofu. The whole combination of salty, hot, herby, meaty tastes and the smooth, soft texture makes this one of Shanxi’s most popular snacks. Especially warming in winter, people eat it all year round at all times of the day and night. Soul food.
Where to try it: This dish is not indigenous to Shanxi and in fact can be found all across northern China. Look for a vendor on the street with two huge canteens – one contains the soft-set tofu, and the other the broth.


9. 豆腐脑


10. Tian Sheng Bing 


Yet another bing, these puff pastry circles the size of a cookie are all about flakiness and crunch. In both sweet and salty varieties, they’re a little hand-held snack for morning or afternoon.

A note here: As with many of the street foods I try, I ask the name, make a note of it, and translate it later. Sometimes though, the name doesn’t make obvious sense and there are multiple possible translations. Perhaps I heard it wrongly? Please let me know if I’ve made a naming error!

I loved watching these come out of a street-side bakery the size of a cupboard by the dozen, then lined up neatly in a wicker pannier on the outdoor counter. The black (or white) sesame seeds denote whether the tian sheng bing is sweet or salty.

Where to try it: Look for these in bakeries all over Shanxi.




10. 添胜饼