Friday, July 20, 2012

Niu Nai Lao Zao

If you eat enough street food, it becomes clear that a lot of popular local foods in China are very similar to the foods in the next town over. Oh, sure, they say they are very different, but the differences are often small and occasionally indistinguishable to an outsider. Take, for example, Yang Za (羊杂) (miscellaneous sheep organs). Cities all over Northern China include this in the ranks of their traditional local street food, but really it's just variations on a theme. The Yang Za in Yinchuan tastes about the same as the Yang Za in Xi'an as the Yang Za in Lanzhou, the capital city of Western China's Gansu Province. While they all taste good, it's nice when you come across something that really is unique. Lanzhou's Niu Nai Lao Zao (牛奶醪糟) (Milk with Fermented Glutinous Rice) is just such a dish.

There it is. As I said, it really looks different than most of the foods you'll see in China. The ingredient list includes milk, eggs, fermented rice (basically like rice wine), black and brown sesame seeds, raisins, peanuts, and sugar. Individual vendors may alter the list here and there, but they should all include the milk, eggs, and rice. The ingredients are combined and cooked in an iron pot over an open flame.

Consider it like a milky soup. It's fairly thin, though the rice (very, very soft), raisins, and peanuts are there to add some texture. The taste is sweet and dominated by the milk and egg flavors, with a hint of wine present to add some kick. I have previously documented my adoration for sweet foods, so it should come as no surprise to you that this was a highlight for me in Lanzhou (a city with many contenders for the highlight reel). I am not entirely sure whether this is considered a dessert or a meal. Either way, it tastes great and offers some neat variety from the standard fare on Chinese streets. If you're in Lanzhou, don't pass this one by. It can be found in the night market for around 5 RMB.


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