Welcome to another post from my Xizhou Food Guide series, where I highlight different specialty foods from Xizhou, Dali, Yunnan.
Two weeks ago, my coworker and I took the afternoon off to explore a nearby village that is famous for tie-dye. The village is on top of a large hill, so as we approached the top I switched to a lower gear on my bike when I heard a loud, metallic crunch. The damage was just as bad as it sounded.
Of course, the only bike shop in the whole town was closed, so we called a friend to help pick us up. As we waited, we walked around the food market and stumbled upon a local bakery. After asking the (very patient) vendor what the name of a certain cake was about 30 times, we finally gave up and decided to just try it.
lt would be difficult to over-exaggerate my obsession with this cake. The outside is thick and soft, made of a combination of buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and a thick molasses-like brown sugar. The buckwheat flour gives it a richer, nuttier flavor. The top has a coat of egg and honey wash, which gives it a sweet shine and slight crunch, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and nut slices. The inside is stuffed with rose jam and a generous layer of a lemon-rose sugar. It is glorious.
Thankfully (or maybe unfortunately…) it turns out that a bakery in Xizhou also carries these heavenly buckwheat cakes. We finally learned the name, qiao bing (乔饼), which literally means “buckwheat cake.” It turns out that all the Muslim bakeries in the area carry this specialty, although each one has their own special filling. The one in Xizhou carries the lemon-rose sugar variety, but we’ve also tried a red bean filling and a peanut-sugar filling.
‘Bing’ is sort of a catch-all word for any baked good that isn’t clearly a cake. It has been translated as cookie, cake, pancake… really it is whatever you want. While that makes it very easy to remember the name of baked goods, it makes it extremely difficult to find what you are looking for specifically. After a bit of Internet searching, I am convinced that this is a specialty exclusive to Yunnan. I found “Yunnan qiao bing” on Taobao, but no other information anywhere else. Buckwheat is too common of an ingredient, and ‘bing’ is too general of a name.
I had to have the recipe. My coworker and I talked to Lao Tou, the man who runs the Xizhou bakery, if he could teach us how to make qiao bing. “Yes, 10 days from now,” he said.
Odd. But hey, if he would teach us this magical recipe, then sure.
10 days later, we excitedly came back and asked if he was ready to teach us. We agreed to meet the next day at 10am. For the next two hours, we got to stand in the back room, watching him make the cakes. We didn’t get the recipe, probably because 1) we just seem like weird foreigners, 2) he has been doing this for 40 years and doesn’t use a recipe, and 3) his recipe is likely a secret.
As we watched him, we tried to figure out what he was doing.
“Hmmm… what’s that dark liquid in the unlabeled container?”
“Ok, he’s using only the egg whites.”
“It looks like that flour to sugar ratio is maybe 2:1?”
But really, we had absolutely no idea.
To be honest, I am not feeling very hopeful about finding the recipe or being able to duplicate this at home. But I have Taobao, and I have another 5 weeks. Wish me luck.