Xizhou Food Guide / Ersi (Rice Cake Noodles)

Welcome to another post from my Xizhou Food Guide series, where I highlight different specialty foods from Xizhou, Dali, Yunnan.

Recently, a coworker suggested we go hike Cangshan, the beautiful mountain range that overlooks our village. “A 1.5 hour hike with great views,” he said. “There’s a steep part, then it’s all flat. We’ll be back before lunch.”

Perfect. I gladly agreed, and set off with our group. We hiked for about 45 minutes through beautiful tea plantations, until we randomly stopped in the middle of the path. “Alright, here’s where we start the hike!” my coworker explained.

The seemingly random place we stopped was actually the extremely overgrown trailhead.It turned out to be a brutal 1 hour of non-stop, very steep hiking. Then, was 1 hour of hiking on a flat paved road that, I’ll admit, did have some gorgeous views. But oh man. Going up was tough.

When we finally came down, it was 2pm (not “before lunch” as promised…) and we were famished. My coworkers suggested that we try ersi, a local specialty that I see everywhere but surprisingly hadn’t tried yet.

Ersi (饵丝) is a form of rice noodles that are prepared in a way unique to Yunnan. Ersi is made of skinny slivers of erkuai (see below), which is rice that has been steamed and then compressed into a dense, chewy “cake.” Erkuai is literally translated as “ear piece,” due to the common shape it is formed into.

The resulting ersi, or noodles (literally “ear slices”) are thicker and chewier than regular rice noodles. They are a little harder to slurp than the usual slippery and skinny rice noodles, but they have a really hearty texture.

Many restaurants in Yunnan offer noodle dishes with the option to add traditional rice noodles or ersi. They can be used interchangeably, but the traditional ersi noodle soup is made of a light spicy broth, pickled vegetables, scallions, and ground pork.

Even though it was sweltering outside and we were sweaty and tired, the hot bowl of ersi felt perfect.

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