There are many kind of noodles and rice noodles in China.
In recent years, many Chinese-style convenience foods have also begun to become popular in the Chinese market, replacing shelves originally occupied by Japanese brands.
However, there has never been a Chinese food that has grown as fast as Luosifen (螺蛳粉 , snail rice noodles). If you want to choose the protagonist of Chinese food in 2020, then Luosifen will certainly be elected.
Five years ago, this kind of food could only be eaten in a small city in Guangxi Province, China. Five years later, annual sales of Luosifen have exceeded 10 billion yuan (about $1.5 billion).
To sum into one sentence, Luosifen is only a kind of rice noodles with smelly snail-pig bone soup, but the success behind it is influenced by multiple factors such as history, culture, commerce, and taste.
Before this kind of food becomes popular overseas, everything you should know is in this article.
How popular is snail noodle?
Before I introduce what Luosifen is and what it tastes like, I’d like to describe how popular Luosifen is this year.
If you are a reader living in China, you can just skip this paragraph. Because both Chinese and foreigners living in China can feel how popular Luosifen has been in China in the past year.
But for foreigners, we may need to repeat some news about Luosifen to illustrate this point.
According to a report released by Liuzhou, the government of the origin of Luosifen, Liuzhou sold 10.56 billion yuan (About 1.603 billion dollars) instant Luosifen this year as of December 17, 2020. Considering that the price of a pack of instant Luosifen is about 20 yuan (about $3), it means 5.2 billion packets of instant Luosifen.
The local Luosifen industry was worth only 500 million yuan (about $76 million) in 2015, meaning production of the food has increased 20-fold in the past five years.
At the beginning of 2020, all brands and factories in this region produced an average of 2.5 million packets of instant Luosifen per day. But by September, the region produced an average of 3.25 million packets of Luosifen a day. But this still does not satisfy orders from online shopping sites.
According to data from Liuzhou Customs, the total export value of instant Luosifen from January to September is about 24.468 million yuan (about $3.521 million), 26 times that of 2019.
In August, Li Ziqi, China’s best-known food vlogger, set up a factory in Liuzhou to produce its own brand of Luosifen. In October, a Chinese real estate developer decided to build a Luosifen-themed park in Liuzhou. In the same month, KFC in China began to sell instant Luosifen. In November, Want Want, a Chinese food brand, launched its own instant Luosifen.
The above data show that Luosifen, as a brand-new instant food, is rapidly becoming popular in China.
In fact, as we all know, instant noodles are not as delicious as noodles in restaurants. The instant Luosifen is not as good as the Luosifen in the restaurant.
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Without counting the Luosifen sold in restaurants, the sales of it in Liuzhou exceeded 10 billion yuan, which is faster than any other food in the Chinese market in the past.
Although I have introduced it as one of many fast-growing Chinese instant foods in the rise of Chinese style instant foods, it now seems that Luosifen should be the protagonist.
Why on earth does Luosifen have such magic? You should finish reading this article before you go to Amazon or AliExpress to place an order.
What is Luosifen? How does it taste?
If only five words are used to describe Luosifen, then it is smelly, sour, spicy, umami(鲜), and slippery(爽).
In fact, this simple description of the ingredients does not express the unique taste of Luosifen at all. Luosifen is a smelly food, and it is more smelly than the well-known smelly food durian and stinky tofu. The smell combines with sour, spicy, and screwed umami to form a delicate balance, making it a delicacy.
Luosifen uses bone soup and river snail as the base of the soup, rice noodles as the main ingredients, and adds sour bamboo shoots, fried beancurd, shredded fungus, fried peanuts, green vegetables, and yuba.
Luosi(螺蛳) in Luosifen(螺蛳粉) means snail in Chinese. To make Luosifen, you must first stir-fry the clean snails, and then cook soup with pig tube bones, chili, onions, garlic, ginger, perilla, grass fruit, cumin, Amomum, and other ingredients.
This soup is the basis of Luosifen. According to a study by Sichuan University, the “best” Luosifen soup is made of 15% pig bones, 12.5% snails, 8% fermented vegetables, and 2% spices. But we all know that there is no precise recipe for Chinese cuisine. Therefore, in each store, each brand in the proportion of ingredients is different.
But at this point, it seems that Luosifen only contains snails as a raw material for bone soup noodles. What makes Luosifen so unique in taste? The answer is sour bamboo shoots.
In many reviews of Luosifen, sour bamboo shoots are called the soul of Luosifen.
Sour bamboo shoots are a kind of fermented food produced in Guangxi Province, which is different from fermented bamboo shoots made in other parts of China. It has a strong odor, which comes from the pentanone produced during fermentation-the special smell of blue cheese also comes from this substance.
In the process of fermentation, some of the bamboo shoots are broken down into a variety of amino acids, which have a complex and concentrated taste. Just put a small number of sour bamboo shoots in the Luosifen and the taste of the whole bowl of soup is mixed.
Finally, the choice of rice noodles. It takes rice that has been in stock for a long time to make Luosifen rice noodles because the rice noodles made from this kind of rice have lower stickiness, better elasticity, and smoother surface.
Due to the addition of chili, sour bamboo shoots, and snails, Luosifen soup has a strong flavor, whether it is sour, spicy, or smelly. Therefore, a rice noodle with low viscosity is more suitable for it. In each mouthful, only a small amount of soup will stick to the rice noodles, so that people will not feel bored.
It is worth mentioning that although its name is Luosifen (snail rice noodles), there is no snail in the authentic Luosifen. Because the snail doesn’t taste good after cooking the soup, it won’t appear in the guest’s bowl.
But I still have to remind you that although Luosifen is delicious, it’s not for everyone. Like durian and blue cheese, some people hate this smelly food.
In addition, never eat Luosifen in public places, such as the company’s pantry or canteen, which is considered immoral even in China.
The Origin of Luosifen
There are three different theories about the origin of Luosifen, among which the latter two are more credible. But let’s tell these stories in chronological order.
1. Luosifen originated in the Tang Dynasty
According to legend, Liu Zongyuan, a famous litterateur in the Tang Dynasty, was demoted to Liuzhou to work as an official. Because he was in a bad mood and not acclimatized, his appetite decreased and his body was weak.
The local doctor was unable to diagnose what disease he had, so there was no cure.
One day, his cook picked up some snails while washing vegetables by the Liujiang River and put them into the daily rice noodles. Liu Zongyuan loved it so much that he regained his appetite and became healthy. So since then, Luosifen has become a famous local delicacy.
However, this statement lacks verification, there is no data to prove it in the official history, and there is no local record of Luosifen in the subsequent dynasties. Therefore, it is not credible enough.
2. Luosifen originated in the 1970s by night market stall
In the late 1970s, China’s Cultural Revolution ended, and although Reform and Opening Up had not yet begun, the private market economy began to recover.
At that time, many Chinese began to go to state-run cinemas to watch movies. But at that time, Chinese people had only one public holiday a week, so most people went to the movies on a weeknight.
After the movie, many people will feel hungry, and most of the restaurants are closed. The owners of some roadside food stalls seized the opportunity and began to sell two kinds of food around the cinema, one is boiled or fried snail, the other is rice noodles with bone soup. Both kinds of food have been common in Liuzhou for hundreds of years, but it was not until the emergence of these roadside stalls that people began to try to put them together. Because when you stand by the side of the road and eat without a table, you can only take one bowl.
Over time, people found that directly using snails to cook rice noodles can bring better taste, so Luosifen appeared.
3. Luosifen originated in the 1980s from an accident
This statement is similar to the previous story, but it is more specific.
One night in the early 1980s, several young people from other places came to Liuzhou on business. They arrived in Liuzhou very late that day, and the local restaurant was basically closed. Only one rice noodle stall left some unsold rice noodles, but the bone soup used to season the rice noodles were gone, so the stall owner poured the remaining snail soup into the rice noodles with some green vegetables and peanuts. After eating, the young men exclaimed that it was better than the rice noodles they had eaten before.
The stall owner then improved the formula and fixed it to form the Luosifen we eat today.
Of the three legends, the third is the most credible. Because today’s most authentic Luosifen does not contain snails. Snails are only used to cook soup, not in diners’ bowls. But in the previous two descriptions, snails were specially added to rice noodles as an ingredient.
However, Liuzhou is actually a very small city in southwestern China, and there are few written records about Luosifen until it became popular all over the country. Therefore, no one can be sure when the Luosifen originated for now.
How is Luosifen popular in China?
Compared with stinky tofu and preserved eggs, two of the most popular smelly foods in China, Luosifen became famous very late.
Although Luosifen has been one of the most distinctive foods in Liuzhou City and even Guangxi Province since the 1980s, it has never become a common food in China outside Guangxi Province.
The reason is simple: compared with stinky tofu and preserved eggs, Luosifen has more ingredients and requires high freshness of ingredients. Before the local government encourages the development of the industry, it is almost impossible to open a Luosifen store in other cities because it is difficult to buy authentic sour bamboo shoots and fresh snails.
In addition, Luosifen is regarded as a dinner rather than a snack like preserved eggs and stinky tofu.
When a smelly food restaurant opens on the streets of other cities, the first thing most people think of before entering it is not “this may be a specialty food” but “why this restaurant smells rotten”. People may try a smelly snack out of curiosity, but a strange smelly meal. No, no.
As a result, before Luosifen became famous, it was almost impossible to eat it in other cities in China.
In 2008, Luosifen became the provincial intangible cultural heritage of Guangxi Province. In the application report at that time, the author wrote: “the Luosifen made by combining rice noodles and snails is a great creation in Liuzhou, and its unique traditional handicraft skill is Liuzhou’s precious intangible cultural heritage.”
Becoming a provincial intangible cultural heritage does not make Luosifen popular immediately, but lays the groundwork for its success. This drew the attention of one of China’s best-known food documentary crews to the food.
On May 14, 2012, the Chinese food documentary “a bite of China” achieved excellent results in the Chinese market. In its first episode, the Gift of Nature, it mentions sour bamboo shoots and Luosifen. At that moment, Luosifen made a one-off exposure to hundreds of millions of potential consumers.
This food documentary once sparked a social phenomenon in China: on the night of each new episode, people watched the documentary in front of the TV while searching for food on Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce site.
But when Luosifen appeared, people found that there was no Luosifen sold on the whole Internet. Because as mentioned above, Luosifen is not simple food, and no one has ever tried to make it into a prepackaged instant food before.
In March 2013, nearly a year after the documentary was released, the first merchant to sell instant luosifen appeared on Taobao.
In 2014, the local government began to realize that Luosifen seemed to be able to spread throughout China, so they began to help local businesses produce and sell instant Luosifen.
Instant Luosifen solves two of the problems mentioned above that make it difficult for the food to sell in other regions. People may not easily walk into a smelly restaurant, but try a pack of smelly instant noodles that have been featured in documentaries? Ok.
And Luosifen lives up to its reputation as a star food. Anyone who has tried it can’t resist tasting it again.
Therefore, Luosifen has become popular in China.
In 2019, a video of Li Ziqi, a famous Chinese vlogger, let more people know about Luosiefen. This time, even overseas consumers are aware of this smelly food from Guangxi, China. Orders from Southeast Asia and South America led to a nearly 30-fold increase in instant Luosifen exports compared with the previous year.
The COVID-19 epidemic in early 2020 led many consumers who had only heard of Luosifen to buy it for the first time. Because when the whole city is closed and can’t eat out, people always want to try some new and Luosifen is the most distinctive of these “new instant foods”.
Although as a small city, the economic development of Liuzhou has been good, with a GDP of 312.835 billion yuan in 2019.
However, the booming of the luosifen industry has brought a new turn for the better in the city’s economy.
Instant Luosifen manufacturing has created more jobs than other industries, allowing many of the previously unemployed and poor to find jobs. Liuzhou used to be an industrial city, and the development of the Luosifen industry has also given the city a chance to get rid of the pollution problem caused by heavy industry.
Although the output value of Luosifen still accounts for a minority in the local industrial structure. But Luosifen is still in the early stages of the transition from local food to national food, which means there is plenty of room for the industry to grow.
Maybe one day, Liuzhou and Luosifen will be able to replicate the legend of Shaxian delicacies. Before that, I think you should buy a bag of Luosifen, to taste the popular taste of China this year.