Guizhou Cuisine


Guizhou Cuisine: Spiciness and Sourness

by Author Name

PUBLISHED August 17, 2021 • 10 MIN READ

Guizhou is the first province in China to consume chilies. Lajiao, the Chinese translation commonly used nowadays for chili, was called Fanjiao in ancient times. Chilies were imported from the Americas to China around the end of the Ming Dynasty. In ancient times, Guizhou suffered from shortage of salt and economic hardship. As a result, people had to take spicy chilies as an alternative to salt, buying cheap chilies to flavor the tasteless diet. During Emperor Qianlong’s reign, General Annals of Guizhou (gui zhou tong zhi) and A Brief Account of Qiannan (qian nan shi lüe) include records of chili, thus confirming the consumption in Guizhou of chilies during this era.
More importantly, chilies grown in Guizhou are of excellent quality. For centuries, the most famous chili-growing places have been Zunyi, Huaxi and Bijie.
According to Guizhou’s eating habits, spiciness is for sure the core of tastiness, but to be accurate, only half the core, for the other half is the indispensable sourness. In Guizhou, spiciness has never been more important than sourness, yet the sourness can never outshine the spiciness. The spiciness and sourness mix perfectly here, creating an irresistible lure to the taste buds.

Why is Sourness An Essential Flavor in Guizhou?

Although the southwest of China produces salt, Guizhou somehow has no salt mines. Salt is scarce in Guizhou, particularly in the southeast of the province. Therefore, Guizhou people like to make sour and spicy dishes so as to make up for the lack of salt. Besides, it is often humid and cold here, the sourness may help sharpen the appetite and ease dysentery. And surely there’s one more reason — the special microbiome necessary for sour food fermentation breeds only in humid environment which is common in Guizhou.

Guizhou Cuisine·Sour Soups

Sour soup is a signature dish of southeast Guizhou. There are two types: the white one from the Miao ethnic group and the red one from the Dong ethnic group. The white sour soup is made with native rice, like Indica rice, Japonica rice and sticky rice, along with the rice-washing water or rice soup; while the red sour soup is fermented from wild tomatoes preserved in jars.
The white sour soup is a traditional dish for the Miao people in southeast Guizhou. It looks clear, tastes sour but after a while seems to get a little bit sweeter once the taste is acquired, and it is quite appetizing. Actually it is easy to make. First, boil the washed glutinous rice, then sieve the rice out, pouring the rice water into a jar and sealing it – this is the rice soup. Every day afterwards, add new rice soup into the jar in the same way, until the container is half full at which point it is sealed up for fermentation. Another way is that on the second day, you can just add the rice-washing water in to get a more limpid soup.

Guizhou Cuisine·Kaili Fish Soup

There is a saying in the south-eastern part of Guizhou Province: “One may stumble on the road if he or she consumes no chilli for three days”. Sour soups are popular in all counties and cities in Qiandongnan Autonomous Prefecture, especially in Kaili City, as the fish in sour soup is usually called Kaili fish soup. The ingredients for the dish are sour soup, green onion and the locally raised cat fish or grass carp. The base soup is naturally fermented rice soup, and is cooked with various kinds of ingredients such as Litsea pungens, pickled tomato sauce and chopped chilli.

How Much Spicy Can You Stand?

In Guizhou, all chilli-based condiments can be used as dipping sauces. The classification of dipping sauces in Guizhou is beyond counting. Just to give you some examples, the fermented chilli, pickled pepper, Ciba chilli, chilli with fermented soy beans, chilli oil, fried minced chilli, etc.

Guizhou Cuisine·Fermented Chilli

In Guizhou, basically all the dishes can be consumed with fermented chilli. Even the fried rice tastes better with a spoon of it. The sourness and spiciness of the chilli make it the best ingredient of almost every dish. The recipe is actually easy to follow! Every year between August and September when the chilies ripen, get some fresh, small ones and chop them together with ginger, garlic and pepper. Then put some condiments like salt, sugar and liquor and seal all the ingredients in a jar – there you have it!

Guizhou Cuisine·Spicy Chicken

You may all have heard of spicy chicken, but speaking of the best, for sure it is the Guiyang spicy chicken. Chop a whole chicken into pieces, pour a couple of spoons of oil in the pot, and stir-fry the chicken. Then add the Guizhou chili sauce and some condiments, and the spicy chicken is done, with a mixed aroma of garlic, chilies and the chicken. In Guiyang, people also like to use the left-over spicy oil of this delicacy to cook tofu, radish and vegetables. They even cook noodles with this oil, which has inspired them to invent a special sauce of spicy chicken flavor. This is indeed very delicious!

Guizhou Cuisine·Sticky Rice

There are two types of schools in Guizhou, the one that eats sticky rice for breakfast and the one that does not have breakfast.
As the classic breakfast in Guizhou, sticky rice can be found easily on the morning street here. Made as if it is a sandwich – a thin layer of sticky rice, with various ingredients added on top – cured meat, pickled radish, peanuts, shredded potato, sliced kelp and chopped zhe’ergen, pickled mustard tuber, and the indispensable chili oil, then covered by another layer of sticky rice. Ta-da! A rice sandwich! Yummy!