Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Another Bloody Update

I am happy to announce that the blood donation house has been resurrected. It is now parked at the south side of Liuzhou Museum.

blood house3

It was temporarily pushed away while they launched their BRT (Bus Ridiculous Time) system.

Previous stories A and B

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Luosifen Recipe

Several times over the years, I’ve been asked for a recipe for Liuzhou’s most famous dish – luosifen (螺蛳粉). It seems people want to try making this at home, far from Liuzhou.

There are two problems with this

a) No one cooks luosifen at home. No one. Not anyone. It is strictly an eating-out dish. Preferably in iffy-looking shacks. Liuzhou Hotel does do it (at three times the street price), and theirs is very good, but the best is still in the smaller restaurants, eaten while perched on a tiny stool on the sidewalk.

So. No one has ever, to my knowledge, thought to print a recipe for the home cook. No home cook wants one. The logistics involved would mean that a home-made bowl of the spicy delight would cost several times what you can get it for at the end of the street.

Noodle Time

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b) Each luosifen shop or restaurant has its own recipe for the soup base – and each keeps that a closely guarded secret. Minor wars have erupted in the past when Restaurant A thought Restaurant B was trying to steal their secret recipe.

So. No restaurant has ever published a recipe.

However, after intensive investigations, aided by NSA, GCHQ and Edward Snowden, using torture and blackmail etc, some details can be revealed.

The stock/broth/soup base is based on the local river snails (螺蛳). These are boiled, along with pork bones, for anywhere between 3 and 10 hours. Additional ingredients include black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Typically, no quantities are given. No one really weighs or measures anything. Each shop ‘knows’ how much of anything is needed. There may be other ingredients, too.

Snails boiling

Once the broth is ready, rice noodles made from ‘old rice’ are added. The ‘old rice’ gives the noodles a firmer, more chewy texture than other rice noodles such as those used in Guilin Mifen (桂林米粉), for example. Alongside the noodles fried dried beancurd sticks, pickled bamboo shoots, black fungus, lettuce, peanuts and preserved cowpeas are also added. A hefty slug of chilli oil is necessary for authenticity. You may add more chilli, pickles etc to taste. Then you are ready to rock.

Luosifen has a Facebook page.

Global Times Gets Something Right

GlobalTimeslogoThis is not really Liuzhou related, although Bama county is only a short distance to the west. Fenghuang is further away, in Hunan, but was a place I hung around in, way back in the 1990s, so I take a special interest. I still have friends living there.

It is only on a very rare occasion that I will praise anything in the Global Times. I only usually mention the sorry rag to mock its over the top toeing of the party line. This they indulge in to the extent that they end  up wrapping themselves in knots trying to justify the unjustifiable or categorically prove what is utterly bogus to be true.

However, this article, published today, pretty much sums up what I’ve been complaining about for years. I’m so glad to see a party publication come out with some sensible criticism for once. Whether it will make any difference is another question – anyway it’s probably too late.

they know they should leave the last pieces of pure land to those who own them rather than enter as destroyers.

I can think of a couple of regions where they might want to apply that philosophy. Or, to be more precise, where they have demonstrated that they definitely don’t want to.

Friday Food 119 – Purple Perilla

Friday food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This time we are looking at purple perilla.

Purple Perilla, 紫苏 (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is a herb in the mint family. It is a popular choice throughout South-east Asia and Japan as well as here in China.

zisu

Perilla comes in green varieties, known in Japan as shiso (紫蘇), their adaptation of the Chinese name, rendered in traditional characters, but the popular choice round here is the ‘purple’ variety. In fact it’s not entirely purple.

As you can see from the picture below which is of one leaf, one side is green and the other purple. This trait and the leaves’ sawtooth edges help to distinguish it from other purple vegetable which are superficially similar. Amaranth leaves, for example are either entirely green or entirely purple and lack the serrated edge.

perilla2

The same perilla leaf from different sides

In China, perilla is generally simply stir-fried as a leaf vegetable with garlic and/or ginger and served as a dish to accompany others. However it is sometimes used as a herb, such as in this recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop.

It is important to know that cooking the plant causes the red/purple colouring to leech out. In many people’s eyes this makes the vegetable undesirable if mixed with other ingredients.

Of course, perilla is also used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). What isn’t? They reckon it boosts the immune system and alleviates the common cold. Probably does a better job in the latter case than the useless injections everyone insists on having. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, but they won’t believe me. They also think colds are caused by cold. Nonsense. They forget that every time they get a summer cold. But, I digress.

Purple perilla is in the supermarkets now at around ¥20/kg. The bunch in the picture cost me ¥4.69 in 大润发 yesterday.

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Liuzhou Food

I’ve been documenting Liuzhou Food for several years and am extremely dismayed by reports of people planning trips to this fair city and who are checking out the local pizza places. What is wrong with you people? If you want to eat pizza, why come to China?

So, in retaliation, here are loads of picture of Liuzhou specialties.  All a hundred times better than anything Pizza Hut could dream up, make in their Guangzhou factory, freeze and deliver to Liuzhou to be microwaved by some kid on am ‘internship’ (aka slave labour).

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More here

Bu Bu Gao? Bu Bu Go!

bubugao

It is a good week for a whinge. Having trashed a restaurant yesterday, I thought I’d go into supermarket territory and get it all off my chest.

When the Hunan based company (步步高) BuBuGao opened their hypermarket on Liuzhou square last year, I was happy. An OK supermarket in the city centre was needed. They got off to a reasonable start, but recently I’ve been becoming more and more cynical and, frankly, annoyed by the place.

The service is hopeless; staff have no idea what they are doing or what they are selling. Much of the stock is mislabelled and the handwriting on their signs unreadable (not only by me – Chinese friends have found it undecipherable, too).

Their sushi selection is a disgrace. Stale, dried out rice and limp toppings. The roast meat section is a health hazard. Roast meats sit there uncovered for weeks. There are currently two whole roast rabbits which I know for a fact have been sitting there for two weeks.

roast rabbit

Roast Rabbit

The butchery section is bizarre. They chop things at random, but so do most Chinese butchers.  But the staff here have a real attitude problem. Patronising and smug. When they deign to actually be behind the counters. It is usually empty. Arrogant idiots. And the moron who spends half his day yelling through his PA system trying to impress the female staff and customers should be fired immediately.

Then there is the fish. Much of the fish has been sitting there for quite some time, too. Interestingly, they are currently stocking Pacific Saury, a fish which is famously at its best in Autumn / Fall, hence its Chinese and Japanese name,  秋刀鱼 which translates as Autumn Knife Fish (knife for the shape). So they are stocking it in spring when it is at its worst. Well done.

While you are at the fish counter, have a glance at the salmon counter and ask yourself how long those  tiny, overpriced samples have been sitting there. The ones there a couple of mornings ago had been sitting waiting since the start of the holiday, six days earlier. Sashimi should be fresh!

The checkouts are idiotically designed and usually undermanned (well actually, most checkouts seem to have at least two people – one to scan your goods and take your money and another one or two to keep the first one company with idle chit-chat.) Because the aisle is too narrow, if you have a trolley you can hardly get your stuff out of it and onto the conveyor-belt-free checkout desk.  You have to lean over the handles rather than stand to one side and have free access.

But beware. Some goods in the store have no bar codes attached. You can look at a pile of coriander/cilantro or some avocados, for example. Some bunches or packs have prices and barcodes; some don’t. Pick up the wrong one and you will be told off at the checkout. It infuriates me when they blame me for their screw-ups. And of, course they never suggest that any of the staff standing around doing nothing might go back to the weigh station to correct the problem for you. They expect you to go to sort out their mess by yourself. Customer service.

On one occasion, I attempted to buy a coconut which did have a barcode, but for some reason the checkout till couldn’t read it. The person on the checkout was so rude I just walked out leaving a full trolley of stuff for them to re-shelve, half of which she had already scanned. I hope it screwed up their computer. Then I went to 大润发 (RT Mart) where I should have gone in the first place.

But what annoys me most about Bubugao is the random pricing. Well, let’s be fair. Downright price gouging. Several of my Chinese friends and associates have said to me that the place is way too expensive.

Since they opened, they have stocked this cheap, plastic Emmentaler cheese which they sold for the inflated price of  ¥39.80. Other supermarkets have stocked this in the past for around ¥30. This week they have bumped the price up to ¥47.70 for 200g. (It’s the same old stock from last week.) They have to be kidding! I can buy the same cheese online for around ¥20 for 200g. This is just a total rip-off. Perhaps they think we can’ t get cheese anywhere else, so they can charge the sky. They are very, very wrong. I can buy better cheese for half the price elsewhere in Liuzhou.

ementaller

What amazes me is that they continue to sell stuff at inflated prices when the shop next door has it at sensible prices.

I’m rather partial to these crackers.

crackers2

Bubugao sell at ¥18 a packet. ILOVEME, right by BBG’s entrance has them for ¥10. Identical crackers.

They have butter at between ¥26.80 to ¥36.50. per 200g. I buy Anchor butter for ¥18 / 227g. Also, they had Anchor whipping cream on sale at a shocking ¥32.50 – again I buy a Nestlé equivalent for a mere ¥15. They are charging ¥42 for a 500ml can of Bodington’s Pub Beer, for example. I LOVE ME, a few steps from the checkouts has the same beer at ¥26.80.

I reckon the whole Bubugao concept is struggling. Most of the shopping mall restaurants are doing OK, but I seldom see anyone in the actual shops other than obviously bored sales staff wondering how long their job is going to last. I think they had ideas way above their station. This is Liuzhou – not Shanghai or Hong Kong.

But I’ll be damned if I am going to pay those ridiculous prices in their defective supermarket just to subsidise their lack of foresight.

大润发 (RT Mart) isn’t so convenient for me (geographically) but it is better than these jokers’ place.

Diplomatic Incident – Revised

I wrote and published this a few days ago. But then I felt unhappy. I had completely dismissed the place as a fake on the basis of a few publicity leaflets and a visit to the website of their Nanning branch. As I pointed out at the time, I had never actually eaten there.

So I decided to correct or substantiate my statements by visiting the place for an experimental meal. 

I’ve mentioned this place before. It is a restaurant on the 3rd floor of the Bubugao Plaza shopping mall. In the advanced depths of their delusion, they have persuaded themselves that they are an Italian restaurant. There is nothing, zero, zilch, niente Italian about the place. This is NOT an Italian restaurant by any stretch of the imagination.

LoveIK

Any real “Italian Expert” would probably know that Boston, Hawaii, Texas, Mexico and New Orleans (the supposed origin of the pizzas they list on their menu), are somewhere far to the west of Italy; or the east if you go the other way. They would also know that their signature dish, the “Thin crust pizza in Naples” as Google Mis-Translate translates for them is not in any way related or even on nodding terms with anything Neapolitan.

Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined (and legally protected). This shit comes nowhere even close. It is a close approximation of  an OK pepperoni and olive excuse for a pizza. Neapolitan pizza does not contain cheap, nasty, mechanically retrieved meat sausage or bottled, dyed olives. In fact, it doesn’t contain sausage or olives of any kind. But it does contain tomato and buffalo mozzarella (Their sad excuse for a pizza doesn’t contain the latter. And shows little evidence of the former.)

Not Naples Pizza.

Not Naples Pizza.

But something concerns me even more.

So. My visit. Apart from one almost happy experience, It was much worse than I even anticipated. I rolled up at 17:39 trying to be ahead of the 6 pm rush. Good thinking. The place was almost deserted. I found a seat and a young waitress handed me a menu then told me my name. Seems she knew me from somewhere. Then she left me alone to peruse the section on offer – bliss. I was expecting the usual Chinese waitress intimidation..

The menu begins with set meals then jumps to drinks then deserts then hops towards pizzas, noodles and rice dishes. Finally it ends up with a sparse four mains (sadly listed under the idiotic American term, “entrees”.)

Ten minutes later, I place my order. I have decided to go for the “Naples Pizza” just because it is the one they trumpet. I also choose the “Fresh Porcini Rice”, basically because I don’t believe it. Then I throw in a salmon salad. I also ask for a glass of wine from their extensive list of three, none of which are Italian. All of which are crap. Seven minutes later my glass of red wine turns up – ice cold! ¥18 

Italian experts who don’t know to serve red wine at room temperature? Still it does have the advantage that you can’t taste it.

First food to arrive is the salmon salad. Here it is pictured on the menu.

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Apologies for picture quality. I was using my cell phone to take pictures of bad pictures!

Here is what turned up:

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Yes. Some lunatic has decided to improve the salad by drowning it in Kewpie* Thousand Island Dressing. I hate Thousand Island Dressing! Bizarrely, it also comes with a bowl of soy sauce and wasabi. They are just chucking everything at it. Except anything remotely Italian.  I push it to the side and ignore it. ¥23.

Next, at 18:07, my pizza turns up. It looks fine, but, as I’ve said, nothing like anything recognised as a Naples pizza. As I’ve also said, it could be a reasonable, if dull, pepperoni and black olive pizza. It ain’t dull. The first bite has me gagging and downing the glass of water they kindly provided me with when I sat down. This thing is so oversalted! I am very salt tolerant, but I feel like I’ve just exceeded the recommended annual dosage in one small slice of pizza. It is inedible! Utterly disgusting. ¥33

Probably I should have stuck with the “Larry Italian Pizza” which features both “blacl pepper beef short ribs” and”kungpao chicken”. As eaten by every Italian on a daily basis! What drugs are these people on? And who the hell is Larry? Their dealer?

Just as I fall into despair, the dish I have least confidence in turns up. My “Fresh Porcini Rice”. To my astonishment this looks nothing like its depiction on the website or leaflets. It actually looks like a  reasonable Italian risotto. I take a tentative forkful and it’s delicious. Perfectly cooked and flavoured with those porcini. I’m happy at last.

But it’s a bubble about to burst. As I tuck in I begin to find foreign objects lurking within. Large pieces of raw, cheap, fatty bacon. This is not mentioned on the menu. Lucky I’m not a vegetarian. I wade through the rice digging out the intruders, then settle back to the rice and mushrooms. I still don’t know if the porcini were fresh or dried – I suspect the latter, but they were fine. However, they could have been washed a bit better. As I reach the bottom of the dish it gets grainier and grainer until I feel I’m eating sand.

I can’t say I was disappointed. I got more or less what I expected. Bad, non-Italian food. It wasn’t the worst meal I’ve had in Liuzhou (this was), but it ran a close second.

The bill.

The bill.

The diplomatic incident? Their latest promotional leaflet trumpets the joy of “Week cheddar cheese soup”. Another Google Mis-Translate disaster. The word ‘week’ gets thrown into the ‘translation’ as it is the literal meaning of the first of the two characters used to phonetically approximate “cheddar” (周打).

"Week Cheddar cheese soup"

“Week Cheddar cheese soup”

But this is not the major offence. The Chinese name is somewhat different. Wars have been fought over less than this – Hundred Year Wars

 According to the Chinese the soup is 法国周打芝士汤, which translates as ‘French cheddar cheese soup’.

French cheddar cheese? France might be the only country in the world which doesn’t make cheddar cheese. I can hear Napoleon and De Gaulle turning in their respective graves. The good people of Cheddar probably ain’t too happy either.

Can’t they see the irony in claiming to be Italian experts then attempting to sell French cheese which actually originated in England? There is nothing Italian about it! Idiozia!

This is just ignorance. As I’ve asked before, what makes people open restaurants ‘specialising’ in food they know nothing about? It can’t be about making money. Few do. One pizza place in Bubugao didn’t even survive the first month.

*Kewpie is a major Japanese producer of bottled mayonnaise and thousand island dressing, among many other factory food products.

Shadow Art

shadow art (Medium)

Shadow puppetry in China dates back to the Han dynasty (approximately around the time of Christ) and remains a popular art form.

I’ve mentioned before Liuzhou Museum’s occasional, free, short term exhibitions which are held in the temporary exhibit hall on the first (ground) floor. These tend to be displays of local artists’ work, photography, calligraphy etc. I’ve been to a few and, apart from calligraphy (which does nothing for me), none have disappointed me.

At the moment they have this Shadow Art exhibition showing artworks based on the ancient shadow puppetry. Here are a few examples:

shadow art9 (Medium)

shadow art8 (Medium)

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shadow art1 (Medium)

shadow art4 (Medium)

There are many more.

They are also showing puppetry in action, although I was unable to find out times when I visited today. All the staff had retreated to the shadows.

As I said, the exhibition is free and it runs until April 18th (closed Mondays).

Recommended.

 

Friday Food 118 – Chinese Haws

Friday food is an occasional article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This time it’s haw, haw, haw.

tanghulu man

Tanghulu Vendor – Liuzhou Pedestrian Street

All across China but particularly in the north,  there are street vendors selling candied fruit threaded onto bamboo skewers. Known in Chinese as Tanghulu (糖葫芦 or 冰糖葫芦, literally ‘sugar bottle gourd’), they come in a number of varieties depending on the fruit used: banana, strawberry, grapes etc. These are also found in Liuzhou. Not only are there the usual itinerant vendors, but a number of snack shops also sell the things.

This one below is on the corner of the pedestrian street, opposite Soho Bar.

tanghulu shop2

tanghulu shop1

There is another tiny shop among the greasy snack and sticky drink huts at the McDonalds end of the same street.

The Tanghulu shop is the tiny one on the left.

The Tanghulu shop is the tiny one on the left.

Most common of the fruits used  and certainly most traditional are candied Chinese haws or 山楂. These are the berries of the Chinese hawthorn  (Crataegus pinnatifida), a small tree. The bright red berries are about 1½”/38mm in diameter. The slightly bitter taste of the fruit is offset by the sugar candy coating.

Candied haws 2

 I  don’t recall ever having seen fresh berries on sale in any of the markets here; we are too far south. But they must be around somewhere.

As well as being used in this way, the haws are also used in the making of jams and jellies and in flavoured wines. The are also widely available in the form of ‘haw flakes (山楂片)’  made from the dried fruit and sugar. The little discs (the same diameter as the fresh fruit and about 1mm thick) are sold in every corner shop.

Haw Flakes

Haw Flakes

Haw Flakes - 山楂片

Haw Flakes – 山楂片

Perhaps most interesting, are the dried whole fruits 山楂干.

Dried Haws 2

These are available in supermarkets and in traditional medicine shops. Like everything else in China, they are thought to be of medicinal value (in this case particularly recommended for cardiac conditions) and are used to male a ‘tea’ which is often sweetened with sugar or licorice. They can, however, also be used in cooking. Sweet soups are a common usage, but they also feature in savoury dishes such such as chicken or spare rib stews etc.

River Bus Suspended – Too Much Water in River

no rbI have now learned that on Tuesday (April 1st, but no joke), two days after the service was launched, the river bus service was suspended for  much of the day. The reason: too much water in the river.

The bus operating company have now said that, although the river bus is not subject to traffic lights or traffic delays, it is more susceptible to weather conditions than regular transport.

The service will be suspended in times of high water (which can last for weeks on end), if there is too much trash floating downstream (which can be drawn into the propellers), if it is foggy (as it has been for weeks).

So, the bus only seems to operate about half the time and then we can’t get on anyway. The farce continues.


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