Please don't mind the stench: the heady delights of stinky snails
Luosifen, the river snail rice noodle known for its pungent stinky smell and spicy taste, has been trending on the food scene for the past few years.
This special local dish from Liuzhou, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, has made its way into supermarkets all over the country, reaching places where even the local appetite is traditionally light and sweet.
It's one of the best-selling instant foods in China and has left its footprint across the food scene.
In June, luosifen was made it to the latest list of national intangible cultural heritage released by the State Council.
As a signature food of Liuzhou, this one dish has made the city famous and prosperous.
The smelly legend
The highlight of classic luosifen dish is the slow-cooked broth stewed with river snails and pork bones, seasoned with a variety of spices and herbs, to deliver a rich umami and aromatic flavor.
Most luosifen dishes don't contain the actual river snails because they are discarded after the soup is ready. Rather, this dish features a wide selection of toppings such as dried radish, fried peanuts, fried bean curd sheets, wood ear mushroom, green vegetables and more. Braised duck feet, fried egg and braised pork trotters are three classic protein toppings that hardcore fans of luosifen find indispensable.
Now, some restaurants offer cooked river snails as a side or a topping, the meat of which can be taken out with a toothpick.
The stinky smell and taste of the luosifen, however, comes from the pickled sour bamboo shoot shreds, which is made by boiling the shreds of fresh bamboo shoots and then sealing them in a container until the taste becomes sour and stinky.
Luosifen is usually served hot with soup, but a dry version is also available, which mixes the rice noodles with the rich toppings and is ideal for the hotter weather. It's also less spicy without the hot soup with chili oil floating on top.
The best luosifen is no doubt the freshly made noodles found in the small eateries specializing in the delight, and dining in also comes with the cost of smelling like luosifen from head to toe.
Instant luosifen noodle packs that contain dried rice noodles, soup concentrate and the classic toppings is a convenient way to make and enjoy the dish at home, away from the crowd.
It's crucial to read the instructions, as most packs require boiling the rice noodles for certain time instead of soaking them in boiling water like the regular instant noodles.
If that's still too much trouble, there is the instant luosifen packed as instant hotpots that comes with a heating pack, although the texture of the noodle is less ideal compared with the freshly cooked ones.
For people with an extra heavy taste for luosifen, some brands have elevated versions with much more intense stinky and spicy flavors.
People developed different ways to enjoy luosifen beyond the rice noodle soup itself, and luosifen hotpot is one of the trending favorites. It's usually cooked and served at home by cooking two to three packs of instant luosifen without the dried noodles in an electric hotpot to create the broth, then simply cook the meats, seafood and vegetables of choice in the stinky broth.
Stir-fried luosifen is another soup-less recipe that first cooks the rice noodles and then toss everything together in the wok. The chili oil and vinegar is added in the end. Tomato luosifen is a mild approach that balances the intense flavors with the tomatoes.
A unique flavor profile
Today, the word luosifen no longer refers to the rice noodle dish alone. It's a special compound flavor profile that mixes stinky, spicy and sour tastes, and is highly addictive.
In spring, the green glutinous rice ball known as qingtuan is eaten during the Qingming Festival. Traditional fillings of qingtuan include red bean paste, meat or vegetables, but adventurous brands are introducing new, eye-catching flavors every year to attract the public's attention.
Qingtuan with luosifen filling is a novel creation, and the filling consists of all the key elements: pickled sour bamboo shoots, fried bean curd sheet, wood ear mushroom, rice noodle, pickled long bean and more.
The bun and dumpling brand Babi has a frozen luosifen dumpling product that retails for about 20 yuan (US$3) per box of 12 dumplings. To wrap up the iconic noodle dish in a bite-sized dumpling, the filling is composed of four main ingredients: river snail meat, pickled sour bamboo shoot shreds, sweet potato noodles and pork, along with chili oil, garlic, scallion and more to boost the flavor.
The dumplings can be boiled, pan-fried or steamed, and the reviews are mostly quite positive, as they are not intensely stinky. Some people are even cooking the dumplings in luosifen noodle soup for an elevated experience.
The potato chip brand Lay's once partnered with luosifen brand Haohuanluo to launch a luosifen flavored potato chip that recreates the sour, spicy and pungent taste of luosifen soup in crisps.
No.Wang, another top instant luosifen brand, launched a luosifen mooncake for the recent Mid-Autumn Festival.
The mooncake has a peculiar black-colored soft skin and dense filling of river snail, pickled sour bamboo shoots, nuts and more. A surprise element is the gongcai, a vegetable with special crunchy texture.
The luosifen mooncakes are all sold out, and the product page of No.Wang's Taobao shop says "see you again in Mid-Autumn Festival 2022."
If the stinky and pungent flavor of luosifen is not enough, then maybe luosifen-flavored curry maybe one solution. A curry brand called Ga Li Hen Mang ("curry is very busy") has a new luosifen curry product that's sold at Freshippo. The cubed curry condiment takes the base of Thai-style curry and incorporates the luosifen flavor profile, it is moderately spicy and can be used to make stews, stir-fries, soups and more.
Baman, an instant rice noodle brand, also has an ultra-stinky product of stinky tofu luosifen that includes pieces of actual Hunan-style stinky tofu, soaked in the stinky broth of luosifen.