(CNN) – Other foods are often followed by many people.
But it is very rare for a scented dish to become a national favorite, which is exactly what happened with luosifen, which is currently one of the hottest culinary trends in China.
Just like the notorious durian fruit, this vermicelli cooked with vermicelli has resonated on Chinese social networks thanks to its infamous scent. While some claim the scent has a slightly sour taste, others say it should be classified as a biological weapon.
Luosifen originated in Liuzhou, a city in the autonomous province of northwest central China. It has rice vermicelli soaked in spicy broth, topped with locally grown ingredients including bamboo shoots, green beans, radish, peanuts, and tofu skin.
Although there is the word “snail”; in its Chinese name, it is practically not found in dishes but is used to flavor the broth.
Chinese workers produce packaged luosifen soup at a factory in Liuzhou City.
Tan kaixing / Imaginechina / AP
Ni Diaoyang, the head of the Luosifen Liuzhou Association and the director of the Luosifen Museum in the city, told CNN Travel proudly: “It takes only three bowls to eat.
For a Lieu Chau local like Ni, in addition to the initial stench, a bowl of luosifen is a delicious concoction with a rich and complex flavor – sour, spicy, salty and succulent.
In the past, it would be difficult for non-locals to share Ni’s enthusiasm for the region’s exotic food – or even to try it. But the luosifen magic has suddenly spread beyond its birthplace and across the entire country, thanks to a form of DIY ready-to-eat.
Pre-packaged luosifen – which many describe as the “luxury version of instant noodles” – typically has eight or more ingredients in vacuum packs.
“Prepackaged Luosifen is truly a specialty product,” said Min Shi, product manager at Penguin Guide, a leading Chinese food review website.
“I have to say it has an impressive consistency and quality control in taste – even better than some locally produced stores,” she added.
Noodles inspired by ‘industrial thinking’
While the Covid-19 pandemic nearly wiped out the worldwide restaurant industry, the crisis turned out to be a blessing for luosifen makers.
Aerial view of the luosifen factories in Lieu Chau.
Huang Dou / Imaginechina / AP
Then in 2014, Liuzhou entrepreneurs came up with an idea: Mass production of noodles and packaging them.
At first, it wasn’t easy. Noodles, first made in shabby factories, will last only 10 days. Authorities have cracked down on some factories for hygiene concerns.
Failures do not slow growth in a city known for its assembly capabilities and standardization.
Government efforts have resulted in numerous research and technological upgrades in the preparation, processing, sterilization and packaging of food. Today, most luosifen packs on the market have a shelf life of up to six months, allowing anyone near or far to enjoy the same flavors with minimal preparation. .
“When inventing the luosifen packages, the Liuzhou people borrowed from the city’s ‘industrial thinking’,” Ni said.
The soul of soup
While snails may stand out as the most unusual ingredient in luosifen, local bamboo shoots are what brings the vermicelli to life.
The supposedly annoying scent of Luosifen comes from the fermented “suan sun” – sour bamboo shoots. Although produced in the factory, each pack of bamboo shoots sold with luosifen is handcrafted in the Lieu Chau tradition, the producers say.
Bamboo shoots are prized in China, their crunchy texture and soft make them a supporting ingredient in many gourmet recipes.
But as the bamboo grows rapidly, its flavor window for bamboo shoots is very short, which poses many challenges for preparation and storage.
A Chinese worker packs pickled bamboo shoots to create a special scent for luosifen.
Tan kaixing / Imaginechina / AP
To keep the freshest, farmers in the suburbs of Lieu Chau wake up before dawn to go hunting. Aiming at the top of the tree, as it had just emerged from the ground, they carefully cut off the shoots above the rhizome. Before 9am, the trees are harvested and delivered to the processing factories.
The bamboo shoots will then be peeled, peeled and shredded. The slices will be soaked in the soaking solution for at least two months.
According to Ni, the pickles’ secret sauce is a blend of the local Lieu Chau spring water and the perennial pickle juice. Each new batch contains between 30 and 40% of the old juice.
Healthy convenience food
Ni said: While admitting it was inspired by convenience foods, packaged luosifen should not be classified as such. Instead, he prefers to call it a “local specialty food”, since neither the quality nor the freshness is compromised.
“Luosifen producers use spices – anise, peppers, dill and cinnamon – as natural preservatives in addition to flavoring,” Ni said. “Depending on the recipe, there are at least 18 spices in the broth.”
Instead of adding flavoring powder, luosifen broth – often concentrated in packages – is created through prolonged cooking, with snails, chicken bones and pork marrow boiled for more than 10 hours.
An elaborate process is also applied to the vermicelli – the main character of the dish. From grain milling to steaming, drying to packaging, it takes at least seven processes over two days – time that has been largely shortened by automation – to achieve a perfect “al dente” state. .
However, when cooked, the noodles will become silky and slippery, while at the same time losing the rich flavor of the bowl.
“People at home now have higher expectations for convenience food, and it’s not just about filling the stomach; they want to take part in a ritual to make something delicious,” Shi said. to speak.
Bowls cross the border
One of the most watched videos of luosifen is that of Li Ziqi, a Chinese blogger who introduces traditional cooking styles, with everything made from scratch and sourced from the romantic countryside.
Her luosifen video, which includes her hand sawing bamboo shoots and snails, has been viewed more than 53 million times on YouTube.
Li, an ambassador for traditional culinary culture, even established her own brand of luosifen. Her company, Hangzhou Weinian Brand Management. The representative said he is currently setting up a dedicated factory and securing a bamboo shoot farm for exclusive supplies.
But even an influential person like Li Ziqi is only cautious to keep an eye on overseas markets. Xiaodao Li, the brand manager for Li Ziqi, said it did not have any export plans during this period.
“Luosifen is a dish that depends on the authenticity of the ingredients,” he said. We want to ensure the supply of the domestic market.
“However, we have seen many foreign friends who initially rejected the idea, but ended up swallowing the whole bowl. So we will not rule out the possibility of water testing in some region.”
Indeed, having been raging in China, this dish is now popular with fans in the rest of the world.
From January to August, international sales reached $ 3.1 million – 22 times their total export value in 2019.
However, the biggest challenge, according to a leading luosifen exporter, is meeting the different customs inspection requirements.
Yao Hanlin, brand chairman luosifen Luobawang, said his company had to adjust the formula and technique. For example, the brand developed a fish-based broth specifically for the US market, as the country bans certain ingredients of animal origin.
For the Japanese market, they must supply shoots that do not contain specific mineral elements.
Yao said that after addressing these customs barriers, they are working to diversify products to serve more palates by adding tomatoes, hot peppers and hot and sour flavors.