Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Friday Food 126 – Wu Dalang Pancakes

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 hitting the streets.

I’ve mostly avoided street food in this series. I avoid street food. In Liuzhou, that is. It just isn’t very good.

Back in 2003, the then mayor, a very short fat man nicknamed the Hammer, set about demolishing the city. He had an aversion to street food (not that he ever ate anywhere except in banquets). All the night markets were closed down, including my favourite, which ran down what is now the lower stretch of the main pedestrian street in the city centre (from McDonald’s and the Xinhua bookstore, neither of which existed at the time, towards the river) . It was packed every night and there were dozens of stalls selling pretty much everything, but the favourites, by far, were the Xinjiang charcoal grilled lamb kebab places.

The Hammer destroyed them all. Later he was promoted to Nanning where he tried the same thing. They ran him out of town.

There are a few places around the city with minimal night time street food, but nothing like we had before. And nothing at all in the city centre.

But in the day time, there are a few of people hawking their wares from the back of their converted tricycles.

There are a number of people doing stuff on sticks, mainly pork and squid, but they are fried in filthy looking oil rather than charcoal grilled. I wouldn’t touch them with your bargepole.

The fried tofu people scrape a living.

Spicy Fried Tofu

Spicy Fried Tofu

But for me one of the more interesting contributions are the Wu Dalang Pancakes (武大郎烧饼). Not from any gastronomic point of view – they are pretty horrible and sad. They are basically regular pancakes fried in the same filthy oil as above; coriander leaf (cilantro) and chilli sauce is added then they are served wrapped around one of those revolting Chinese pink Spam-like cheap sausages made from mechanically recovered ‘meat’, which I would only eat under extreme duress. Actually, probably not even then. The term “pink slime” is too user friendly.

wudalang pancakes

Wu Dalang Pancake Stall – Liuzhou

Wu Dalang Pancakes

Wu Dalang Pancakes

No, what interested me was the name. For something so cheap and nasty, there is a deep well of Chinese culture behind the name.

Wu Dalang is a minor character from The Water Margin (水浒传), one of the four great classics of Chinese literature. His story was also extracted from The Water Margin and retold in a less important, but still regarded as a classic novel, The Plum in the Golden Vase or The Golden Lotus (金瓶梅). This novel is renowned for its highly erotic and graphic content.

In both novels, Wu Dalang is a short, ugly man of little talent. His younger brother Wu Song is a heroic champion, one of the main heroes of the novel, who struts around killing tigers with his bare hands and suchlike.  The two were orphaned at an early age and Dalang effectively brought up his kid brother.

Dalang somehow marries a beautiful, but immoral woman, Pan Jinlian (潘金莲). She stays at home supposedly attending to household matters while Dalang attempts to support them by selling pancakes on the streets. (Thank the lords. There is a connection!)

Wu Song returns from a trip away doing heroic stuff and Pan Jinlian attempts unsuccessfully to seduce him.

She then has an adulterous affair with some other hero whose name is not relevant to Liuzhou street food, and is caught by Wu Dalang. Worried that she (and her paramour) are going to be exposed she kills Dalang.

Wu Song returns from yet more heroism (It’s a busy job being a hero in a Chinese novel) and discovers his brother has died, supposedly from natural causes. He is highly suspicious, but the local officials, magistrate and coroner etc have all been bribed (on a pancake salesman’s wife’s income?) so he gets nowhere until he forcefully extracts a confession from Pan, whom he then kills, decapitating and disembowelling her. He also tracks down her lover and kills him.

This is a highly condensed version of the tale, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, Dalang may just have been killed for selling such horrible pancakes. Did they make pink slime in the Song dynasty?

. This entry was posted on Friday, May 30th, 2014 at 7:00 am and is filed under Food and Drink, Friday Food. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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