So, you’re in China, you want to blend in as much as possible, and think your stomach can handle it? Eating like a local may take some time to get used to, especially if you’re used to eating food cooked in a clean kitchen with sterilized equipment. However, it is certainly the cheaper option with tons of variety, types, and flavours. Unless you speak a bit of Chinese though, there is high chance that you’ll have very little idea what you’re eating. If you’re comfortable with that and don’t have any life-threatening allergies, then enjoying the local cuisine is definitely an excellent way to immerse yourself in the local culture, and probably have a few good stories to tell too.
If you’re new to China or Yangshuo, the first lesson to learn is to forget your pots and pans, your oven and your spatulas. The chances that the place you’ll be staying in will have limited cooking equipment, and by the time you’ve bought everything in you may as well have eaten out for a month. Of course, for the avid chef, there is plenty of ingredients floating about the local markets with all kinds of flavours you can experiment with. Head slightly out of the centre for the markets with the best prices. You can expect to find lots of fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices, as well as nuts and spices. You can also get a variety of meats at the market, although it is up to you whether you trust meat that is out in 36-degree heat, uncovered and next to a road. If you’re a bit unsure and are feeling adventurous, pick yourself up a live chicken and see how far you can get with it.
Ultimately, unless you particularly love cooking, preparing 3 meals a day is probably going to make your life unnecessarily hard.
China is, of course, famous for its street food culture. It can be found in abundance – usually at a bargain. Make sure to stay away from West Street, the main street in Yangshuo built to cater for westerners and Chinese tourists. Head slightly out of town and you’ll find exactly the same variety, for a much fairer price.
The kind of food you can expect to come across is dumplings, fried rice, fried noodles, tofu, and anything else that you can fry. Something that can be seen every few meters is Chinese BBQ – a small BBQ set up on the side of the street or in a small building with a few tables and chairs around it, and an array of different kinds of foods on skewers. There is usually around 10 things to pick from, including different kinds of meat and vegetable – what they exactly are is anyone’s guess. Choose your weapon(s), hand it to the guy behind the BBQ and he’ll cook it and plate it up for you. Very greasy, oily, and typically Chinese. But 100% yummy.
If you’re after a classier meal, Yangshuo has a diverse collection of restaurants offering typical Chinese cuisines such as Dim Sum and Hot Pot. Try going slightly outside the city centre for some better deals, but restaurants in the centre are not outrageously expensive and certainly more practical. You’ll be spoilt for choice after walking around for 2 minutes.
If you want to stick to being a local and not a tourist, you’re going to want to stay clear of ‘Beer Fish’. This is Yangshuo’s “signature” dish, however, it is said that it was purely created for tourists who, more often than not, will go giddy for anything with alcohol in the title. This is a less than average meal, not really worth spending your money on. However, you may want to try it once just to say you have…
Whatever food you manage to get hold of in Yangshuo, it is probably going to be very different from typical Chinese food you may find in your home country – in both a good and bad way. The tastes will be much more authentic, and the ingredients much more bizarre – brains and dog are not unusual to see on offer, for example. Chinese food is not for the faint hearted, both physically and mentally. But come in with an open mind, test out your skills as a local, embrace the culture, and you will surely not be disappointed!