A foodie tour through Wuhan, China
This article has first been published on our AES blog in August 2020. To read more exciting articles on various Asia-related topics, please click here.
The author Stella Li was born and raised in Wuhan, China, and is currently pursuing her M.Sc. in Biostatistics at Columbia University, New York City. In the article, she introduces some of her favorite Wuhanese dishes. In case of any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out to her via LinkedIn.
I am from Wuhan, China,...
...and as an expatriate living abroad, never had I thought that my city would be world famous one day. There were times that I had thought of telling people I am from Shanghai or Beijing, so I can save myself from the excruciating task of introducing my town to people who have never heard of Wuhan in 15 seconds. As the most populous city in central China and the unofficial “the Chicago of China”, Wuhan did not get its due attention before the Covid19 pandemic. As one can imagine, it is not ideal to have your city associated with an extremely infectious disease. All kinds of presumptions and stereotypes have been made as the result of anger and frustration, with the most infamous one being “bat eating.” As a Wuhanese, my mission today is to introduce a few totemic Wuhan dishes that I grew up eating and I still dream about them once in a while since I am now indefinitely trapped in America.
The view on Han river and parts of Wuhan's skyline
Wuhan sits on the confluence of Yangtze River...
...and its tributary, the Han River, and is also called the River City (江城) because of this geographical reason. Historically full of docks and fishermen, the city’s days start early. No matter what your day looks like, most Wuhan people would always grab something quick at their favorite breakfast spot before starting the hustle and bustle of their lives. This tiny chunk of time in the morning has almost become sacred as this will probably be the only time a hard working Wuhanese have for themselves. Therefore, breakfast is the most important meal of the day for Wuhan people and most people would not skip this ritual.
Wuhan breakfast dishes tend to be heavy and savory but will most likely to be paired with a sweet drink, like egg and rice wine or soybean milk (not the typical western soymilk!). Here are two breakfast dishes that I personally think best represent Wuhan breakfast.
A typical morning scene in the hustle and bustle of Wuhan
Hot Dry Noodles 热干面
For the truly authentic flavor, alkaline noodles must be used as the main ingredient. The noodles are cooked just until very al dente in a mixture of water and sesame oil, and are then cooled, tossed and warmed in a mixture of peanut or sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili.
Most Hot Dry Noodles shops will pre-cook the noodles before they open up the shop in the early morning. Once you have the noodles, the rest of the steps are just within seconds. The quick and easy process of preparing the dish is one reason that the dish is so popular in this busy industrialized city.
The process results in a delicious serving of noodles which are coated with a strong sesame flavor. The dish is sold by numerous street vendors across the city, who sell it from the early morning until late in the evening. Additional ingredients and garnishes vary according to personal taste, using different elements such as pickled cowpea and pickled radish.
The outside layers of Doupi are thin pancake lookalikes made of mixture of mung beans, rice, flour, and eggs, and is then grinded into a paste. The paste will be later spread into a thin pancake. Stuffed between the top and bottom pancake is a filling made from rice, and usually no more than three extra ingredients - typically pork, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. Once assembled, Doupi is pan-fried until golden, cut up into small pieces, then sprinkled with chopped scallions and served in small bowls.
For more information regarding Wuhan breakfast, I highly recommend these two videos to watch:
Wuhan’s Famous Crayfish 小龙虾
Like many cities, crayfish is a summer stable in Wuhan. I love to go to a crayfish place near the river side with friends, and order two giant bowls of crayfish, usually one plain and one spicy, paired with a bun of other food and drinks, such as beer and Hot Dry Noodles. If you are lucky, you can get an outside seating on a nice summer night, and just spend hours catching up with friends while getting your hands busy eating this delicious dish. After, we would just to walk on the riverside to digest the food and enjoy the famous Wuhan riverside light show, and grandmas’ squad dance (广场舞).
So far, I have been drooling writing this blog...
...and I hope you are too, but the purpose of me writing this is actually to show you a tiny fraction of Wuhan that has been left out from media coverage recently. Being in the United States, racist incidents directed towards Asian community here has skyrocketed since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not until very recently when my two close friends told me that they had been yelled at “You guys brought this virus here, get the f** out of here” on NYC streets, I had always naively thought these things are surreal and far away from my everyday life since I have not experienced them personally. Me, as a native Wuhanese, who spent most of my life in this city, and saw what my family and so many of my friends have endured in this pandemic, it is quite hurtful to see the use of terms like “bat eating people” and “kung-flu”. As all other human beings on this planet, no one is invulnerable when facing either a global pandemic or prejudice, so let’s be kind to each other, and get through this difficult time together.