I must admit, I still don’t quite get it. According to social media adventurers, a new ‘non-dish’ is going viral among Chinese street food vendors. It’s a non-dish, because it contains herbs and spices, and cooking oil. But there’s no actual food in it…
‘Classic’ Fried Stones, with herbs and spices, and garlic and hot peppers.
You gotta be kidding me…
They kid you not!
The craze is called suodiu, meaning ‘suck and dispose’. For about (US)$2.30, you get a cupful of small round stones that have been stir-fried in spices and other flavourings in regular cooking oil. No real, substantive food is involved. Unless you count the garlic and diced hot peppers.
The idea is to suck the flavouring off the stones and then spit the stones out.
“Do I have to bring the stones back to you when I’m done?” one customer asked a vendor, who replied, jocularly, “No. Just take them home as a souvenir!
You stretch your imagination
When you first hear about fried stones, you’re sure to stretch your imagination – trying to figure out what’s with the stones. Until the thing is explained to you.
When I read the CNN Travel headline, I immediately thought, “Oh! It’s like baking flatbread or tortillas on a hot stone. Or cooking on a Himalayan salt block.”
Nope. Too much imagination in play, there.
Everything that’s old is new again
Soudiu is said to have originated in the eastern Chinese province of Hubei, known as ‘The Land of Fish and Rice’. And it’s not really a new thing.
It apparently goes back hundreds of years, when boatmen on the Yangtze River were stranded by spring flooding – and starving. It’s said they gathered small, rounded river stones, and used them to bulk-up the condiments and culinary supporting actors they had on hand. At least, the stones gave them something resembling substance.
The ‘dish’ was perpetuated as a substitute for real sustenance when the usual foods were scarce. Hubei boatmen would eat fried stones several times a year to celebrate and perpetuate the tradition. But by the 1980s, the tradition had died out, with the passing of the last of the old boatmen.
Not exactly unique
I know that some of you reading this will be champing at the bit by now to remind me that this ‘style’ of dining is not unique to the Chinese interior.
The fable of The Stone Soup is believed to have originated hundreds of years ago, in Eastern Europe. The first published reference comes from France, in 1720. From there, versions cropped up across Europe and the British Isles.
The chief difference between Stone Soup and Fried Stones is that, by the time it’s finished cooking, the soup is chock-a-block with real food!
The thing is… I have to wonder why the stranded boatmen didn’t just toss a net in the water and catch some fish for dinner!
~ Maggie J.