Updated: Jul 5, 2020
Guilin (桂林) is a prefecture in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (广西壮族自治区), China, and consists of several counties. Being a popular travel destination for its scenic natural landscapes, it also has many local specialty food from its counties, especially from the various ethnic minorities in the region.
As I travelled through Guangxi, mainly in Guilin and also nearby Hezhou (贺州) and Liuzhou (柳州), I seek out and tried most of their specialty food.
1. Guilin Rice Vermicelli (桂林米粉)
Guilin's rice vermicelli is usually referred to as a dish by itself. But, it actually refers to the white noodle that is made from rice. All eating places are free to add any ingredients, such as vegetables and meat, to the vermicelli and call them "Guilin Rice Vermicelli". So, different Guilin Vermicelli dishes are served in different eating places, each having their own style and flavour. And they are usually soup-based.
Where I tried it? Yangshuo (阳朔老油条甲天下桂林米粉).
2. Guilin Horse Meat Vermicelli (桂林马肉米粉)
Among the various meats that can be added to Guilin rice vermicelli, horse meat stands out as a local favourite due to its easy availability in the old days. Guilin's Horse Meat Vermicelli has since been a popular local specialty that is often touted as "a must-eat when visiting Guilin". The dish simply adds slices of horse meat to soup-based "Guilin Rice Vermicelli". Peanuts, sour-spicy veggies and chilies can be added to tastes.
Both "Guilin Rice Vermicelli" and "Horse Meat Vermicelli" are top specialties available throughout Guilin and Yangshuo.
Where I tried it? Xingping Ancient Town (兴坪古镇) in Yangshuo.
3. Yangshuo Beer Fish (阳朔啤酒鱼)
When in Yangshuo, almost all restaurants will highlight the "Beer Fish" as their signature dishes. The fish used is live carp (鲤鱼) from the Li River (漓江) and without its typical fishy smell. The fish is usually fried before being braised with Guilin's top-quality local beer, which makes the fish meat tender and adds flavour to the sauce. This dish is usually sour-spicy.
However, carps are highly bony and not recommended for people who have never tried eating fish with bones before.
Where I tried it? Yangshuo.
4. Huangyao Fried Water Chestnut Vermicelli (黄姚炒马蹄粉)
Strictly speaking, Huangyao Ancient Town (黄姚古镇) is in Hezhou, not Guilin, but most of its visitors usually travelled from Guilin.
The local-produced water chestnut powder is used to make vermicelli. The vermicelli is commonly fried and added with either fermented soy beans (豆豉) or chilies, which are also local specialties of Huangyao. The springy noodles are further characterised by the sauce — salty with fermented soy beans and spicy with chilies. This dish is uniquely Huangyao with all its local tastes.
Where I tried it? Huangyao Ancient Town Xingfu Li Inn (黄姚古镇幸福里客栈).
5. Guilin Escargots & Braised Chicken Hotpot (桂林田螺焖鸡锅)
Guilin's escargots (or field snails) are well-known for its fresh and fat meat and are usually caught in large quantities in springs and autumns. Guilin's local chicken is of the smaller hill chicken (土鸡), farmed in the rural regions, with tenderer meat. Both are used to prepare two separate specialty dishes in Guilin: Guilin's Fried Escargots (桂林田螺) and Braised Chicken with Brown Sauce (黄焖鸡).
Some restaurants in Guilin created a third dish, called Escargots & Braised Chicken Hotpot, by cooking the two specialties together. So, diners get to try both of Guilin's specialties in one hotpot.
Where I tried it? Guilin City.
6. Gongcheng Oil Tea (恭城油茶)
Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County (恭城瑶族自治县) is located in the northeastern region of Guangxi Region and "Oil Tea" is one of the Yao ethnic minority's specialties. It was said that the longevity of Gongcheng people is due to Oil Tea. This Gongcheng specialty, often consumed as breakfast, can also be found in Guilin City.
Specially-selected tea leaves are fried with oil until the leaves give out its fragrance. Salt and ginger is then added to the fried tea leaves and boiled with water till boiling. The oil tea is then ready to serve after it cooled a little.
When eating, hot oil tea is poured into a bowl containing fried-and-dried rice (similar to popcorn, but is actually "pop-rice"), peanuts, mixed nuts and some condiments.
The mixture is allowed to soak in the oil tea for a minute before eating. The taste is bitter and salty, as expected, and with crunchiness from the nuts and "pop-rice".
Where I tried it? Guilin City.
7. Longji Bamboo-Grilled Rice (龙脊竹筒烧饭)
Cooking rice in bamboos has always been a specialty of the aborigines in Asian countries. In Longji Rice Terraces, the Zhuang and Yao people will put glutinous rice (sticky rice) in bamboos, add with ingredients before grilling them on a fire stove. The grilled rice will have a faint bamboo fragrance.
When visiting any ethnic minority villages, bamboo-grilled rice is a must-try.
Where I tried it? Tiantou Village in Longji Rice Terraces (龙脊梯田.田头寨).
8. Local Sweet Rice Wine (各地自酿甜米酒)
Apart from bamboo-grilled rice, ethnic minorities also specialised in making sweet rice wine from glutinous rice in every household. The fermented rice wine is usually sweet and has much lower alcohol content compared to other Chinese alcohols. After the wine is made, the fermented rice (酒酿) is consumed as snack — often sweet and has small amount of alcohol. The sweet rice wine is a preferred drink in minority villages and nearby towns.
However, do note that rice wine (米酒) in China is not the same as sweet rice wine (甜米酒). The former can be higher in alcohol content and not sweet — I made this mistake in Yunnan and had a hard time finishing that strong wine.
Where I tried them? In Longji Rice Terraces (above) and Huangyao Ancient Town (below).
See how I travelled around Guilin, Guangxi