Fast Food

Luosifen

Comfort food at a time of crisis

Luosifen-w

What is it?

A famous snack from Liuzhou in Guangxi province, called luosifen – also known as river ‘snail rice noodle’ in English – is notorious for its pungent odour. First, chewy rice noodles are tossed in boiling water before being added to a broth made of river snails, pork bones and spices that usually include cinnamon, star anise, clove and ginger. Other toppings like minced pork, tofu skin, crunchy peanuts and bamboo shoots are added to the noodles, along with a glug of chilli oil for a kick.

Why is it famous?

Much like stinky tofu, luosifen is an acquired taste. River snails, after lengthy boiling, give off a fishy aroma. Other fans of the dish say that the strong smell comes from the preserved bamboo shoots in the noodles, however. But no matter, luosifen lovers claim that it’s the stench that gives it such a unique flavour. Last year government officials in Guangxi applied for national “intangible heritage” protection, as well as UNESCO recognition for the unique dish.

More recently, the rice noodle has been a subject of chatter on Chinese social media. The reason was that the Guangxi government had promised to dispatch 31,000 boxes of luosifen to Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, two weeks later the government had been unable to ship enough of the pre-packaged noodles into the virus zone, where demand was said to be far in excess of supply. The shortage became one of the highest trending topics on Sina Weibo, generating as many as 350 million views on the social media platform. Jiemian, a news portal, then titled the rice noodle as the “most popular food item during quarantine”.

“The reason for luosifen’s popularity is very obvious: a packet of the rice noodles usually contains 180 grams of ingredients and 120 grams of dry rice noodle stick. There aren’t that many instant foods that offer such satisfaction. In addition, the noodles are sour, spicy and savoury. That caters perfectly to the taste buds of young consumers today,” one of its manufacturers explained.

However, makers of the dish are warning that it will take some time before they can keep up with demand. “Now the whole country is asking for luosifen. We have orders for at least five or six million packages of the rice noodle that still needs to be filled,” Chen Sheng, another manufacturer, said. He reckons that his factory is already churning out 150,000 packs of the rice noodles a day, compared with just 80,000 before Chinese New Year in late January.

Where to eat it?

Adventurous eaters can purchase a pack of luosifen from China’s most popular lifestyle influencer Li Ziqi via her virtual storefront on Tmall (see WiC480 for her profile). Her stock of the dish, which comes with dried rice noodle sticks and a separate pack of broth, are already sold out but if you reserve now the package will be ready to ship within 40 days. A pack of three will set you back Rmb40 ($5.65), not including shipping.


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