1 Month in Yangshuo - Report
I recently returned to the United States from a 2 month trip to China. My travels took me through Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou before I arrived in Yangshuo, where I stayed for one month. After that, it was on to Yunnan for 10 days (Kunming, Dali, Tengchong, Ruili and Mangshi), then Shanghai for a few days before heading back.
In this post I will focus on the food in Yangshuo. Like many have noted on chowhound, Yangshuo (and Guangxi province in general perhaps) is not known for its food, and probably isn’t anyone’s top food destination in China. However, this is not to say that the food here isn’t good – because there is PLENTY of great food if you know where to find it. I was fortunate enough to make friends with some local ‘chowhounds’ (I gave them this title – they had never heard of this site), and I also had time to do lots of exploring myself. So hopefully this piece of writing will help visitors eat better in Yangshuo. After all, most people come here for the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, so it’s certainly a worthwhile destination for any kind of tourist.
There are three categories of restaurants in Yangshuo: restaurants for Western tourists, restaurants for Chinese tourists, and restaurants for locals. There are some restaurants that have some overlap between 2 or 3 categories, and I don’t think that the separation is ever intentional or divisive in any way (I’m sure most restaurants would like to be popular with everyone). But the three groups eat in distinct ways, so it makes sense that places cater to each group differently.
The streets closest to the river in the center of town have lots of Western food, especially Gui Hua Lu and Xian Qian St. Meanwhile, lots of restaurants aimed at Chinese tourists are located on New West Street, a small mainly-pedestrian road that connects between the bus station and West Street proper, which is filled with tourist shops. Local restaurants can be found throughout the city, but especially near the market and on the roads that lead out of the center of town.
During my stay, I kept track of the best things I ate. I don’t speak Chinese, and some of these places would be challenging without a Chinese speaker….but probably with enough patience, some pointing to other tables, and a phrasebook, anyone could be successful at any of these places. I apologize in advance that some names of restaurants are missing completely, and others might not be super accurate. Most of my favorite places were aimed at local residents, since I found that many restaurants catering to tourists could be quite hit and miss – some dishes would be really tasty and carefully prepared, while others would be greasy and/or flavorless. I never really had any bad meals anywhere though.
So, here we go:
City in City
The restaurant inside City in City has another name too I think, but I’m not sure what it is. But it’s on the second floor of the City in City complex, which is on the corner of Die Cu Lu and Cheng Zhong Lu. Any person who speaks English in Yangshuo will know where this is. I was told that this is one of the best restaurants in Yangshuo, and I thought the food ranged between good and great. I ate here twice during my stay, both for more “special” meals. The best thing I tried, and the only thing really worth making a special visit for IMO, is the mushroom soup. I don’t know for sure if this soup is 100% vegetarian, but it might be – the broth is clear and full of delicious mushroom flavor, and there are several types of mushrooms in the soup. I am pretty sure it comes in different sizes depending on how many people are in your party. This is some of the best soup I tried anywhere in China, so I definitely recommend it. Other things I liked here were the crispy pork and some of the cold appetizers (which you can choose from a cart they bring around). The menu has pictures and possibly even some English, and there are choices that would suit all different tastes. I just ate there three weeks ago and nothing else really stands out to me though – but eating here certainly won’t be a bad meal.
Another one of the top Chinese restaurants in Yangshuo, the soups here were also the highlight for me. We tried two different medicinal soups from their menu (you can also order them at sister restaurant 7th Heaven). I can’t remember the exact descriptions, but one had pig’s stomach and the other had ginseng….both were really good (and I’m not normally a pig stomach fan). The eggplant dish we tried here wasn’t as great – a bit too greasy compared to other versions I tried during my travels. But Cloud 9 is worth a trip for these medicinal soups, and I bet the other ones (there are about 10 on the menu) are good too.
Now is where the names of the restaurants start to get a bit sketchy….
“Dumpling Place” on New West Street
This was a new restaurant when I arrived in Yangshuo, and I never saw it super busy, so I hope it survives. The restaurant offered a full menu, but specialized in steamed Shanghai style dumplings (I believe the proprieter is from Shanghai). They had one English menu, and I only ate here twice. The xiao long bao and mini-XLB were both excellent – this was before my visit to Shanghai, which meant that at the time I was eating them, they were the best I had ever had. I tried the steamed taro dumplings, which I thought were weird and not good – the filling reminded me of taro play dough. But the vegetable steamed dumplings were great. Steaming is done on a steaming machine out on the street, so that’s a good way to find the restaurant. But it’s just about halfway between the bus station and the part where New West Street curves toward West Street – and it’s on the south side of the street.
“Chicken Restaurant” on road toward Guilin
This restaurant is quite far from all the tourists (and everything for that matter) on the outskirts of town. It’s one of the last restaurants you get to if you are heading out of town toward Guilin. To get here, go past the market and up the road past the gas station. The road leaving town toward Guilin is divided at this point….the restaurant is in the last cluster of buildings on the left, just before the road becomes single lane in each direction again. So if you’ve left town completely, you’ve gone too far.
I was brought here by my Chinese friends to have chicken. Perhaps they serve other things too, but apparently nothing else is worth ordering. You can have a half or whole chicken, and you can have it in soup form or dry stir-fry form. We had the dry stir-fry, which is served in a wok on a hot plate on the table. We paid 40 RMB for a wokful of chicken, cut up into small pieces (all parts of the chicken were included), in a spicy sauce made with chilies, ginger, ginseng and dried dates. On the side we were served really good homemade chili sauce, although the chicken stir fry was already spicy on its own. After eating the chicken, we got some green veggies to throw into the wok (I think it was cabbage here). Rice was self-serve and included. I saw another table eating the soup, which looked good as well. We decided not to order it though, since on that same night, we went and had dinner part II at the “Fish Restaurant”
“Fish Restaurant” on Jing Feng Lu
This restaurant is also outside the normal tourist areas. It’s on Jing Feng Lu, about 400 meters south of the traffic light, on the east side of the street. This means that if you are coming from the traffic light (it’s currently the only traffic light in Yangshuo), it’s on the left. Perhaps there are multiple menu items here as well, but we (and everyone else in the restaurant) had come for their special carp dish.
In the downstairs of the restaurant, we chose our fish from the tank – the amount we paid for our meal was based on the weight of the fish. They ‘conveniently’ only had big fish when we were choosing, but it was still only about 64 RMB for a huge wok-ful of food that easily fed 5 of us. We were seated in a private room upstairs (they have a few), tables are covered in plastic wrapping and each have a hot plate. Our fish was pan fried, then served in a wok with some sauce made with various pickled vegetables (celery, carrot, radish, chilies, etc), as well as fresh tofu, fried tofu balls, tomato and scallion. This eventually began to bubble away after we turned on the hot plate. While the fish was very good, I LOVED the tofu balls, which soaked up the super-flavorful sauce. The sauce here wasn’t spicy, just really delicious. Here we were given water spinach as our vegetable to put in the broth at the end, although we were super full and couldn’t eat it all.
I didn’t eat too many lunches or dinners out other than the places just mentioned….I once tried the Sichuan Hot Pot place on Gui Hua Lu, and it was very good. Lonely Planet mentions another Sichuan place near the market, but no one I asked remembers this place ever existing. So don’t go look for that one. I heard great things about the all-vegetarian restaurant next to Magnolia Hotel, and I passed by many times, but never got to try it.
The other categories of meals I ate in Yangshuo were: breakfast, snacks, and nighttime BBQ.
The traditional breakfast in Yangshuo is rice noodle soup, usually made with pork broth, noodles, some sliced roasted meat, and a variety of pickled condiments. This is what I usually ate, and I had a few different favorite places for it.
The other popular breakfast food is steamed buns, sometimes plain and sometimes filled with bean, sesame, peanut, pork, etc. etc.
My favorite place overall for breakfast was outside of town in the village of Ima. This tiny restaurant is on the side of the road, and it’s an area super popular for scenic bikerides. So one option for visitors is to take an early morning bikeride there, have breakfast, and then continue biking toward the river and stone bridge which are popular sights anyway. Most people in Yangshuo should know where the village of Ima is, so you can ask anyone….but to get there, take the road that leads west from the traffic light. Follow it for about 4 km until you get to a village – the restaurant will be on the right. If you get to a sharp-right turn in the road, you have gone too far. The noodle soup here costs 2.5 RMB, and I thought they had the best broth of any place I tried in Yangshuo. They top the soup with peanuts and some crispy fried donut, as well as scallions, pickled string beans, and pickled bamboo shoots. Unlike many other places, you don’t really get to add your own condiments here, but they made the soup really well so it didn’t really matter. The steamed buns are also excellent, especially before 10 AM – they make red bean, peanut and black sesame. The texture and taste of the buns here is perfect – just the right chewiness and a nice yeasty flavor. You can often see them making them in the back behind the restaurant.
Back in town, by the market, there are plenty more breakfast options. For soup, I went to one of two places. The soup place on the side of the market (on the alley at the west end of the market) had several choices for meat. You chose your meat and noodle, they added some soy/oil/etc….then you got to add your own condiments and broth from a big vat. I always chose roast pork as my meat. Here they use fried soybeans instead of peanuts. Small soup is 3 RMB, larger sizes available too.
In the front of the market, between the west and central entrance, there’s another good soup place. Here you have to buy a token from the lady sitting out front, then give your token to the server in the back. The beef brisket is very good for a change from roast pork, and my Chinese friends liked the liver and intenstines….but still I usually had the roast pork here too. The condiment bar here had some nice options as well, including really nice pickled cucumbers, and a fresh salsa made with tomatoes that was almost identical to Mexican salsas I’ve had at San Francisco taquerias. The tomato salsa is very popular though and by 9:30 AM it always seemed to be gone. Small soup is 3 RMB, larger sizes available too.
Inside the market, I often bought little pork buns from the place just inside the middle entrance. 4 for 1 RMB. Larger steamed buns here and elsewhere typically are 2 for 1 RMB. In the back of the market, I liked the buns that look like cinnamon buns, but are actually savory and made with sweet soy sauce and scallions. I would see this variety around town too.
When I got sick of Yangshuo style breakfast, I often went to a place that made Cantonese fresh rice noodles. This is on the same street that goes west from the traffic light toward Ima. If you are leaving town, it’s on the left on the first block. Look for the nifty steaming contraption out near the sidewalk.
The fresh rice noodles are made by pouring some rice milk into a metal try, topping it with scallions, some egg or pork, then steaming for a few minutes. Then they roll it all up, and top it with sweet soy sauce and some delicious homemade green chili salsa. The guy who ran this shop spoke some English, and he comes from Guangdong province (hence the Cantonese style breakfast). I think they had other Cantonese food in the evenings, but I never tried it….and they also had normal Yangshuo-style noodle soup.
For non-Chinese breakfast, there were also plenty of options. I often had coffee at Café China and Café Mimosa, both very nice and reasonably priced. I also tried some banana pancakes here and there, as well as fresh squeezed OJ. This stuff isn’t hard to find though, so no need to write more about it here.
I drank a lot of bubble tea and juices in Yangshuo. There’s the Tropicup chain right on Cheng Zhong Lu near City in City, and there’s another place on Shen Shan Lu…heading north from the intersection near City in City, it’s on the left. In particular, the slushes and juices were good here – I was in Yangshuo during mango season, so the mango drinks were great.
Fruit was available all over the place – near the market, near the Li River, along all sorts of streets. In May and June, I ate a lot of the Chinese bayberries and lots of mangosteens. And mangos. And oranges, bananas, lychee, peaches, plums, and some cherries by the end of my time there.
I liked the steamed buns at another place that was open for breakfast, but also during the day and afternoon – this is about halfway between the gas station and the market on Pan Tao Lu, on the south side of the street. They had several types of steamed buns with interesting fillings, like mushroom and pork and green chives.
At night, there were stinky tofu stands by the park – in Yangshuo, the style is small pieces of tofu with dark brown (almost black) coating. I am not a fan of stinky tofu, so I didn’t partake, but on non-rainy evenings, the area by the traffic circle near the park is good for stinky tofu and some BBQ as well.
After about 7:30 or 8, the east side of the market becomes a night market with several BBQ stands. The only place I ever went to was its own restaurant basically, just to the left after you enter the market from its eastmost entrance. Their BBQ display is set up out front. Highlights here included the BBQ fish and the BBQ small oysters. When I had the oysters, they were BBQd with a bunch of garlic and a light tomato based sauce, so the final taste reminded me of Italian food. Really good. The second time I went they didn’t have these though. On both visits I had the BBQ fish, made in a style from Southern Guangxi (Nanning area). Here they used carp, which is bony but still good – the fish is cooked, then put on a silver tray atop a huge bunch of green chives. A sauce made with pickled vegetables, cumin, and other spices is added, along with a bunch of fresh mint, peanuts, and some crispy puffed cereal-like thing that had an uncanny resemblance to Kix cereal. The silver tray sits on a BBQ at the table, so the sauce heats up and cooks the chives, which by the end are soaked in the sauce. I really liked this, and it was unlike any Chinese food I’ve had anywhere before. Flavorwise, there were some definite similarities with Vietnamese food, especially once the mint got wilted into the sauce.
After I enjoyed the fish at the place in the market, my friends informed me that another BBQ place makes the same type of fish, but even better. This place is RIGHT next to the bus station, right where New West Street begins (go through the bus parking lot, through the gate, and you are there – again, only open at night). We went a few nights later, and it was better indeed. It was a bit pricier since we had tilapia instead of carp, but definitely worth it since tilapia’s bones are so much easier to deal with. The style of BBQ fish was very similar, with the bed of green chives, cumin, peanuts, pickled veggies, mint, etc….but no Kix cereal at this place. But I still liked it better than the version in the market. I don’t know if much English is spoken, but I noticed that the BBQ stall had a picture of the BBQ fish, so you can point to that. Also, everyone else there will probably be eating the same thing. Tables are outside here, while at the market they are indoors.
All of the BBQ places in town, including the ones mentioned, have items for display which you can choose to have BBQd. Choices range from spicy chicken and beef, to pig’s penis, to panko-coated pumpkin, to skewered green chives and broccoli. There are a bunch on New West Street, and a bunch in the market, and some others throughout the town.
I did manage to take some pictures of both food and signs for some of the non-named places in this post. So I will try to attach those to replies on this thread.
But in conclusion, if you are going to Yangshuo, you now have no excuse for not eating well! The local food is cheap and delicious if you know where to look. To end this post, I’ll list the foods that are really worth seeking out:
Mushroom Soup at City in City
Black Sesame Steamed Bun in Ima
Fish w/ pickled veggies at “Fish Restaurant”
BBQ fish Nanning-style from place near the bus station (night only)
Looking through my notes and found another place that I forgot to mention - Lou's Bakery. There are at least two branches, but I always went to the one closest to the center of town. They have good egg custard tarts, always fresh out of the oven - 12 for 6 rmb.
They make western style baguette which is OK if it is toasted - but don't expect too much.
Their mochi were very good - rmb 1.50
was there for 3 days and did enjoy the food. i liked those noodle soup pickled condiments so much i always took a lot. in Wuyishan they also have similar condiments yayyyyy. did you see whole dogs at the market's food stalls? maybe it's only available in the winter.
nice write up [i actually read all of it]. i on the other hand keep photographic record of everything i eat and drink, which is not so good for when it comes to describing the taste...