A history spanning soldiers and snails

Updated: 2018-09-21

  The history of rice noodles began during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) in Guilin, in what is now the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Troops from northern China were dispatched to the southeastern region to build a canal for shipping provisions as part of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's efforts to unite the country, according to the book Guilin Rice Noodles by Zhang Di.

  Years of hard labor and a lack of proper food left the workers with stomach problems, so they ground rice - a staple in South China - into flour or a sticky rice-water mixture. The resultant paste was then dried and cut into long strips that resembled the wheat-based noodles eaten in the workers' hometowns.

  The cooked noodles were accompanied by a briny stock of spices and herbs simmered together that further eased stomach pains and improved general health.

  Over the years, rice noodles spread across China's southern region, including the provinces of Jiangxi, Hunan and Sichuan, leading to a range of derivatives that differ in shape, moisture and cooking styles.

  In Guilin, for example, a bowl of rice noodles usually features fermented brine poured on top, just like the original method, while in Sichuan they are served with beef, chicken or pork broth with a pinch of red pepper flakes. In Jiangxi, rice noodles are accompanied by a thick sauce that collects at the bottom of the dish mixed with other ingredients, such as green onions, peanuts and pickles.

  Despite the various flavors, the basics of the production process remain largely unchanged. Rice grains are rinsed and soaked in water for several hours, then crushed in a wet mill into a thick white paste, similar in texture to clotted cream. The mixture is left to sit for several days to allow the solids to accumulate at the bottom, after which they are filtered out and dried into a starchy paste that can be sliced into the desired shape.

  In recent years, food manufacturers have responded to the rising demand by producing a variety of dried noodles that make grinding and cutting redundant. However, aficionados insist that nothing can rival the taste of fresh rice noodles with their slick and springy texture.

  The latest popular rice noodles to hit the market are boiled and served in a stock made from river snails.

  In Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, where the variation originated, about 800,000 packets of instant river snail rice noodles are produced every day, according to the local government.

  Source: China Daily

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