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Sep 23, 2013 09:13 AM

Classic Guilin Rice Noodles - Oakland Chinatown

There are a few reports starting to trickle in about this place in Downtown Oakland in a different discussion, but I decided to start a new thread about this particular restaurant.

The other discussions are here:

I was excited to hear about this place in Oakland, since Guilin food (let alone any food from Guangxi Province) is pretty rare in the United States. I have spent 2 months living in Yangshuo (which is just south of Guilin), and during my time in China, I ate Guilin rice noodle soup nearly every day for breakfast. I have a pretty good documentation of all the food I ate in this area during my 2009 stay here:

Anyway, I am very happy to report that the Guilin mi fen served at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is quite similar to what I regularly ate in Guangxi Province. I certainly wouldn't say it's the best version of the soup I've ever had, but the important components are all there, creating a taste sensation that I hadn't experienced since summer of 2010.

There's a whole series of Guilin mi fen (Guilin rice noodle) on the menu, and basically you just get to choose which meats (or combo of meat) you want. I chose "salty beef and crispy pork" based on our server's recommendation, though this is also the classic version depicted on the picture menu, which is both printed and above the kitchen on the wall. Other meat choices are bbq pork, beef brisket, and beef tripe.

I really enjoyed both meats in my soup, and the salty beef reminded me of the salty pork that I was used to eating in Yangshuo. Interestingly, beef consumption in the Guilin area is quite uncommon, so at most noodle places I went to, beef woudn't have even been an option. It would have been pork broth with various choices for pork cuts in the soup. But anyway, back to Oakland.

My bowl of noodles was $6.50, and it was a pretty large serving of round spaghetti-like rice noodles (just like in Guilin/Yangshuo, and also the same as the noodles in Vietnamese bun bo hue). Inside the bowl there was also a fair amount of brown sauce. This sauce is the seasoning for the noodles, and in this restaurant, the rest of the broth is served on the side. On top of the noodles were pickled long beans, peanuts, garlic, scallion, and a half hard-boiled egg. The pickled string beans and peanuts are both key components. In Yangshuo and Guilin, the best noodle places had multiple types of pickles you could add into your soup, creating a sour/spicy element, but pickled long beans were one of the most common types. These pickles have a distinct taste, and my dining companion didn't love them. I, on the other hand, really love it, though probably partially thanks to the nostalgia factor. The peanuts also lend a nice crunch, which is a nice addition to the breakfast. One of my favorite noodle places in Yangshuo offered bits of crispy donut as an add-in to noodle soups, and we were able to accomplish this at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles as well, by ordering a deep fried dough stick on the side ($1.99). I broke this up and put it in my soup for even more crunch. I ended up using all of my broth in my soup, though if I had wanted a more concentrated flavor, I could have added less.

The tables had three seasonings for soups: a lighter chili/garlic/bean paste, a darker smoky chili paste, and a bottle labeled "Seasoning for Guilin Rice Noodle." I'm pretty sure the seasoning was the same stuff already in the soup, but the bottles are there in case you want to add more. It tastes to me like a mixture of soy, water, msg and five-spice, but I'm not totally sure.

So, the Guilin Rice Noodles were a pretty big success in my opinion. Not as good as in China, but definitely on the right track. They definitely give a good sense of a common dish from a region that's barely represented in the United States.

Meanwhile, we also tried another regional soup on the menu, which is Liuzhou Spicy Snail Noodle Soup. I have never been to Liuzhou, which is also in Guangxi province, south of Guilin, so I wasn't super familiar with this dish, but it seemed like a pretty good version (assuming you like it). Here's a wikipedia article about the dish:

Unfortunately, neither myself or my dining companion really liked this soup. It had a clear snail taste, and my DC said he could pick out bits of snail (though apparently this soup doesn't necessarily have actual snail pieces in it). It did, like wikipedia says, have pickled bamboo shoot, bean curd sheet, greens, peanuts, and chili, mainly in the form of chili oil poured on top. This made the soup both too oily for my taste, and also quite spicy....though I could certainly imagine how a person could really like it anyway. It also had fried gluten puffs, which I love, though they really soak up the chili oil, making them spicy. The noodles in this dish are smaller (more like vermicelli).

We also tried a "grain soy milk", which had a grainy texture. It was fine, and served cold. I would rather have smooth soy milk.

Tea was included, and service was friendly and helpful. We were there for breakfast at about 10 AM. Our Cantonese server said the owner of the place is from Guilin. The restaurant is actually really large, since there is a section in the back behind the kitchen, and many tables in front. I hope they do enough business to fill all these seats, especially since many dishes were are essentially fast-food (our soups took about 5 mins to assemble). There are still some other interesting things to try on the menu: clay pot soups (also look similar to what I ate in Yangshuo), and steamed lotus leaf w/ rice. So, I am certainly looking forward to going back and also hearing what others think.

The restaurant is at 261A 10th St. Oakland, 94607. It's pretty big and you can't really miss it. Telephone is 510-250-933. Open every day from 9 AM until 8 PM. Guilin Rice Noodles are eaten at all times of day in China, but especially for breakfast, so ordering them at any time of day would not be out of place.

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  1. The hours are interesting: 9 AM is a bit too late for breakfast on weekdays for most people, and 8 PM is too early to close for dinner.

    2 Replies
    1. re: vincentlo

      I'm pretty sure this is what they said on the phone, but I could have gotten it wrong.

      1. re: vincentlo

        They open at 8:30 weekdays. The "all matching healthy breakfast" is a great value at $3.50. You choose round or flat noodles, a protein (the marinated brisket is great), and an an additional topping such as dried lily flowers or bamboo shoots. There's also a choice of drinks if you dine in; I was given a cup of tea as I waited for my to-go order.

      2. Thanks for that useful post. I have never been to Guilin, but frequent a couple of "Guilin Mifen" places in Shanghai when I am there. I did a blog post about a visit to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles (by coincidence I also picked the salty beef and crispy pork combo) comparing it to the versions I was familiar with in Shanghai for authenticity. The main differences were that in Shanghai I never had it served with the broth on the side, nor did it normally include the half boiled egg. Are they both de rigeur in Guilin?

        Thanks also for your description of the snail soup. It's something I wanted to try but was unsure of whether it contained whole snails. I didn't relish the thought of sucking snail meat out of the shells in public (though that wouldn't faze my Shanghainese wife).

        Out of curiosity, have you seen the movie "My Rice Noodle Shop," about a group of Guilin expats in Taipei whose lives are reconstructed (or deconstructed) around a table in a rice noodle shop? There are references to (and footage of) a famous spicy horsemeat rice noodle shop in Guilin, which is Number 1 on my noodle shop wish list. Do such establishments still exist in Guilin, and have you had "spicy horsemeat rice noodles"?

        4 Replies
        1. re: soupçon

          The half boiled egg inside the soup is not something I saw in Guilin/Yangshuo, so I am not sure where that part comes from.

          The soup on the side is not what I expected either, but at most of the places I went in China, you chose your meat, and your pickles, and then they seasoned it and finally added broth at the end. If you were getting your noodles 'to go' you would sometimes get the broth in a separate container from your noodles, and add it yourself later. So I guess the broth on the side is not too different a process. Either way, the plain unseasoned broth is added's either them doing it in the kitchen, or you doing it at your table.

          I have not seen the movie My Rice Noodle Shop, but I'll check it out!

          1. re: Dave MP

            The half egg is very common. I see it every day.

            1. I went back for a late lunch. I had the "Special small bowls rice noodle" for $8.50.

              There was a platter with five small bowls surrounding a bowl of broth. Each bowl had noodles, each with a different protein topping. There was one bowl with each of the standard choices:
              * salty beef
              * beef tripe
              * beef brisket
              * barbecued pork
              * crispy pork
              Each bowl had the crispy peanuts and the pickled long beans. Some bowls also had chopped garlic. But no hardboiled egg.
              It took me a while but I finished everything. Highly recommended, though not cheap.

              Vegetarian options appear to be limited to tea and water -- the only greens in the entire establishment are the chopped scallions.

              Interesting that three of the five items were bovine -- I can only imagine cows grazing on the scenic karst hills of Guilin.

              Also the "salty beef" was the least salty of the beef items.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Joel

                Thanks for the report!

                There are a few other greens in the snail soup! But yeah, I was remarking to someone yesterday that this really isn't a good spot for vegetarians. :)

                According to the menu I have, the small bowls version is $8.50. Was it an equivalent amount of food to a regular bowl of noodles?

                Yeah, it's interesting that there's so much beef. There are definitely no cows grazing on those karsts...just water buffalo for plowing, not eating.

                1. re: Dave MP

                  I think the proteinaceous toppings in the $8.50 multi-soup were, in total, more (by weight) than the ones in the $6.50 version but the noodles might have been the same volume. Hard to judge.

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    from my very limited understanding of edible meat sources in Guilin -- they're more likely to use horses or dogs for red meat there, than water buffalo, right ? did you see dogs and cats in the markets for sale intended for human consumption?

                    1. re: moto

                      Dogs were for sale in the markets, and are pretty commonly consumed. I don't think people commonly eat cats though, and certainly I didn't see any in the markets I went to. I never saw any horse meat, and I don't think I ever saw any horses (alive or dead) anywhere in the Guilin area.

                      Water buffalo are used in the fields, not for human consumption. I suppose it's possible that they sometimes get eaten, but this is rare. There was some beef available in the market in Yangshuo, but very little compared to pork. Lamb was probably available too but is not commonly eaten by locals. I think the consumption of beef or lamb by locals in Guilin/Yangshuo is mostly pretty recent though.

                      This is starting to be somewhat off-topic for a discussion about Oakland, but I did live in the Guilin area for 2 months and I wrote my dissertation about local cuisine in that area, so I would be happy to talk about it more elsewhere (like in General Topics)

                      1. re: Dave MP

                        Here's the answer for horsemeat noodles:

                        "[horsemeat's] heyday was, some time after the War in Resistance against Japanese. At that time the people in exile gathered in Guilin, because of war, many soldiers and horses went and came and horsemeat were easily got, so horsemeat noodles business was booming."

                        Roadkill, as it were.


                        As far as beef goes, one probably could ask the same question about Vietnam or other parts of SE Asia where beef is the meat of choice for soups/curries.

                        And have you seen my movie "Cow"? Maybe we have the Dutch to thank for beef noodles in that part of China.

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Horse meat is very common in Guilin. So is Water Buffalo - not rare at all. Most of the 'beef' you were looking at was actually buffalo meat. Did you see any cows?

                          Dog meat is eaten in winter.Cats tend to be eaten further south, but even there, rarely.

                  2. I finally had a chance to try this place out. This was the first time eating Guilin noodles, so a complete newbie. Even though I hated the texture of the thick noodles, everything else about the dish (toppings, chilis, soup) were all very good and the combination of flavors was unique and multi-dimensional. The pickled long beans were essential to the flavor combo, I loved them. The chili sauce, fried peanuts, meats were all carefully prepared, and there are enough components that each bite is slightly different. This noodle soup is quite different from other asian noodle soups and I can see why it is so popular in parts of China.

                    The noodles are similar to the noodles in bo bun hue. Because I don't like the thick round noodles, I've been ordering bo bun hue with skinny rice noodles. I plan on returning and seeing if the folks at CGRN will substitute the noodles for me. If so, this will likely end up in our regular rotation.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: felice

                      They already use the thinner rice noodles in the Spicy Snail soup, so I'm guessing they will be happy to accomodate you, even if it means taking the "classic" out of "Classic Rice Noodles."

                    2. Thanks to everyone who posted on this place. It's now in my weekly rotation. I've tried two different soups - the ground meat topping one, and the salty beef/crispy pork combo.

                      I tried the ground meat one first, because in my limited Guilin rice noodle soup eating experience, the topping was some sort of spicy ground meat. I ordered it to go, which was dumb (if I am to be honest, it was because I'd left my phone at work and I couldn't figure out how to entertain myself while waiting for my noodles), and it came with the noodles and toppings in a shallow container, and a quart of clear chicken stock on the side, plus a little container of their chili paste. With the chili paste and a small amount of broth mixed in (I probably only used half), these noodles totally hit the spot.

                      I had the salty beef/crispy pork version at the restaurant, and thought it was great. It's not an enormous amount of meat, but it's really delicious, and it was still pretty filling. I was extremely confused though - they brought out the bowl with noodles and toppings, and I waited for a while for the soup without starting until the waitress passed by and told me to eat them dry, and drink the soup separately. The little cup of broth came as I was halfway through the noodles - it was different from the ground meat noodle broth, cloudy and slightly medicinal. I enjoyed it between bites of dry noodle but don't know if I would have liked it as much mixed in.

                      I've been lucky to work in a neighborhood with a lot of different lunch options, but it's been hard to find a lunch that's quick, filling, and that doesn't leave me feeling greasy and heavy. I've actually also found that portion sizes for a lot of noodle soup and bun places are a bit too big, but my Asian guilt keeps me from leaving food on my plate, even when I'm full. I find the portions here just right, and I leave lunch feeling great.