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Apr 17, 2012 01:19 PM

Mystery Chinatown Sauce

I was doing my regular grocery shopping at my usual Chinese market, and I came across a sauce (pictured below) that I didn't recognize - "Gulao Mianchi" - A quick Googling came up with nothing. Anyone heard of it? Gulao is a city in Guangdong, IIRC, and Mianchi is the name of a city in Henan - quite far apart. I'm sure one or the other word has different meanings, though.

So I'm wondering if this is simply some kind of bean paste (it was on the shelf near the various BPs) in one or the other's regional style? I appears (through the jar) a bit different than a Doubanjiang - darker, really black, and very thick, almost solid. What's making it confusing is that there aren't any english ingredients on the label - the only English is the brand and product name.

Granted, it's only $1.49 or something, so I should probably just buy it and find out - just wondering if anyone's heard of this stuff before, because I sure haven't, and I know my Chinese regional ingredients pretty well. (Not as well as some others here, but pretty good for a gweilo...)

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  1. Here's the Baidu entry on Gulao Mianchi:

    Mianchi is miso. According to that link, Gulao miso is a specialty of the city of Heshan in Guangdong province. This particular miso came about around the year 1850.

    1. Gulao (古劳 Gǔ láo) refers to ancient. (That may be a Cantonese variant, often the characters 古老 are used.) It is a type of fermented salted bean paste.

      2 Replies
      1. re: scoopG

        If Wikipedia can be believed ( ), Gulao is a small township under the city of Heshan. The name came from Gu and Lao, which were the two biggest clans of this town.

        1. re: Cheeryvisage

          Thanks...I know Gu and Lao are both surnames. Gulao is now on my list of villages to visit!

      2. For just $1.49, I'd be more then tempted to just buy it, taste it, & then experiment with what it might combine well with. :)

        1. Thanks for the info, folks - yeah, I figured it was a bean paste of some kind or another - whether it's sweet, spicy (doesn't appear to have chilies in it, but you never know) or what I just couldn't figure out without ingredients. Suppose I'll just pick up a jar and report back.

          5 Replies
          1. re: sgordon

            sg- I would not expect chilies in a Cantonese bean paste!

            1. re: scoopG

              Well, nothing on it said "Cantonese" - so, who knows? That fact that it wasn't red suggested the lack of such, though, as those at least have some kind of red tint usually.

              Anyway - I bought it. Nothing terribly exciting inside. Basically tastes like standard black bean sauce, only ultra-thick, maybe a little thicker than a normal Japanese miso, and a bit one-note. VERY concentrated - the jar could last me a year. Not really of much use if you've already got fermented black beans in your pantry, though, so I probably won't even wind up using the rest.

              1. re: sgordon

                Thanks for the report/review. Since I ALWAYS have fermented black beans in my pantry & only buy black bean sauce/paste to add an occasional dollop to ramen soup, doesn't look like something that would excite me.

                Again - thanks!

                1. re: sgordon

                  It does seem to be made in heshan '鹤山市' (a city in Guangdong), though it's kind of cut off (bottom left).

                  1. re: sgordon

                    Well, scoopG and Cheeryvisage above mentioned its provenance...

                    Also, under the weight info (...370g etc...) is the phrase 广东省著名商标 (traditional: 廣東省著名商標) which says it is a famous trademark of Guangdong.

                    I might think it'd give a different taste profile to something other than your fermented black beans? (In combination with whatever else you put into a particular dish) [I did find one recipe where it is used in the sauce for a dog meat stew... :-) ]

                    Another source for it:

              2. Like everyone said, it looks to be a bean paste: 麵豉醬 There are tons of different version of bean pastes, just like there are various versions of soy sauces.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Well, bean pastes can vary pretty wildly in terms of flavor, from a mild white Japanese miso that's redolent of butterscotch to a Korean doenjang to a Szechuan doubanjiang to... well, to this stuff.

                  On the other hand, while there are better and worse brands, most soy sauces have the same -basic- flavor profile, with a couple major variations like sweetend soy sauce and "white" shiro soy.

                  1. re: sgordon

                    :) I don't know. There are certainly the so called thin (light) soy sauces and the thick (dark) soy sauces, and those can taste very different to me. Then, if you count the thick soy sauce paste, then it tastes very different:


                    Anyway, this is definitely a bean paste from what I can see.

                    1. re: sgordon

                      Hmm. I don't know your preferences - but I'm wondering if your tastes run towards the fiery Sichuan, Korean, Hunan types of cuisines? Perhaps you find Cantonese dishes and ingredients too plain for your taste? [Do you like a simple steamed fish with scallions and ginger with soy sauce?]

                      1. re: huiray

                        Not sure who that question is aimed at, huiray - or why you're asking. Nobody's said anything good or bad about Cantonese cuisine. Or anything, for that matter.

                        As to the taste profile, which you asked about above: no, it really just kind of tastes like concentrated fermented black beans. Only major difference is the texture. Maybe there's a reason this "famous" Guangdong paste isn't really so famous... I mean, not every place called "Famous Ray's" is actually famous, after all...

                        1. re: sgordon

                          (((Shrug))) It probably isn't that famous here in the US or in the West, but could well be famous or widely used in China or surrounding areas? After all, I don't think they're really marketing it to English-speaking people (or regions) since, as you originally pointed out, the only English on the label is the name - and even that is much smaller than the name in Chinese. :-)

                          [It seems to me that the trademark/brand designation is granted by the Guangdong state authorities, not self-declared by the company - as a "Famous Ray's Ribs" might be... Anyway, my post regarding that designation on the label was more in response to where you had said that "Well, nothing on it said "Cantonese" "]

                          I remember when I was growing up my mother used pretty straightforwards bean paste, pretty thick and concentrated - your description of this sauce sounds familiar - for various dishes, including steamed short-cut pork ribs, fish, that sort of thing - and introduced additional flavors with the use of other ingredients. But that was a long time ago.