Everyone who ever travelled China knows: Overeating is a thing. It comes naturally. Be it because people invite you for an abundance of food at a turning dinner table, or you just happen to stroll through food alleys and night markets. I’ve been there and I’ve seen (nearly) everything. For today let me focus on one rather improbable place: The amazing food street Mao’er Alley in Taiyuan.
Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
Taiyuan is in itself one of these improbable places. A four million (maybe more) city that no one has ever heard of. Just like with Grinnell in the Midwest I got to travel there because of my job. Spoiler alert: I will be there more often in the future. And let me put it like this: The food is much more interesting than the city. This one reminded me of my hometown, full of concrete and charcoal smell, just 20 times bigger. There is one upside: All around you can find amazing old heritage sites like thousands of years old wooden towers and temples.
Still, a place east of Beijing, in a flat and dry landscape: One must wonder how such a variety of foods and old culinary tradition could have developed here. There is a strong Mongolian influence, the border is situated only 5 hours by car from Taiyuan. But they also have famous oyster dishes, even if the sea is far away. It is a kind of a culinary miracle. And it really is off the beaten paths…
Taiyuan is one of the most famous places for noodles and its tradition is old. Sliced noodles for example go back to the 12th century. One of my all time favorites are fried shanxi youmian noodle, an oat based noodle, flatened and rolled into tubes, fried and served with thin fried potato slices and coriander. Heaven!
But there are so many more varieties of them. The thin sliced noodles dominate the picture, but you can find any type there. The variety is amazing and it’s gonna need a few more visits to try them all.
Once you enter the Mao’er Alley, one of the few place still featuring old architecture, you cannot help but falling into a food craze. The sheer variety of choices will make you feel dizzy and you might end up cursing yourself for heaving had a breakfast before. You simply can’t stop sampling foods, sweets, drinks and whatever flies by your mouth.
The aromas and scents will turn your nose into your food guide. Expect everything from heartily BBQ smokes to sweetest clouds of teas and candied fruits. That day I was unlucky: I had eaten breakfast. Major mistake. But I gathered my strength and made room in my belly. Here’s what I found.
When it comes to oysters, I’m a purist. Usually nothing but a splash of lemon is allowed to touch my fresh oysters. Given the remote location it makes sense to not eat them raw though. And what they did to them was amazing. Oysters are grilled with a splash of light soy sauce, some glass noodles nestled within the shell, a bit of garlic, hot chili slices and coriander. The oyster sits on the grill for some ten minutes. Beware: It’s hot! Interestingly it doesn’t lose its taste. However, it works: This combination seems to enhance the sea-salty taste and combine it with an interesting hint of earthiness. I was smitten…to say the least!
Intestines on a Stick
I’m not sure, which part from which animal I was actually eating. It was thin slices of some part of a stomach, cooked and seasoned with spicy sauce. Doesn’t sound appealing, tastes great. This absolutely not fatty part of the animal is light, chewy and goes extremely well with spicy sauce.
And the Stinky Tofu
Yes, I must admit: After all these travels through Asia I never came to try the stinky tofu. It does smell like death. But so does French cheese. Let’s curb our anxieties for a moment! I had a great variation of stinky tofu: It was blackened and white tofu, fried and served with a light sauce. The stinky part wasn’t that stinky anymore. I highly recommend this version for first timers. It was tasty in the way French cheeses are. Just get accustomed to the combination of flavors and textures. It is good!
Lamb Meat and Healing Teas for Desert
Approaching the far end of my stomach’s storing capacity I had a few bites of grilled lamb skewers. Amazing stuff directly from Mongolia. If you like lamb meat, you’re gonna love this. But still, at that point my belly was done. I was just one bite short of exploding. But the the saving power is never far from the danger, as Martin Heidegger says. Philosophers should know:)
There is a famous type of fruit tea, containing cooked pear with individually added healing foods. In my case I choose ingredients to calm the stomach and help digest. Think of a semi sweet tea with white fungus (a wonderful delicate looking piece of nature): This new up and coming super food is supposed to make you healthy and beautiful. I just got a cream from my favorite Korean cosmetic brand Innisfree with white fungus. Whatever it does, it does it well:) Do watch out for this stuff to arrive in the west! The tea however, had much more than just pear and white fungus. A variety of citrus fruits, rose hip, Chinese dates and goji berries is what I remember. A tasty dessert and feel good drink for a belly aching with delicacies…