Guizhou Cuisine: Why I Love It So Much

Jul 02, 2023Joshy Jin

Chinese food is renowned worldwide and considered the most popular cuisine. However, it's challenging to describe Chinese cuisine as a whole due to the vast array of regional variations. Each regional cuisine differs significantly in terms of ingredients, cooking techniques, and seasonings. Trying to encompass all of Chinese cuisine would be like attempting to describe Western cuisine—it simply can't be done. The officially recognised "big eight" cuisines; Sichuan, Fujian, Cantonese, Zhejiang, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, and Hunan, showcase unique characteristics and enjoy immense popularity. However, beyond these, there are approximately 30 additional regional cuisines and today we'll explore one of them: Guizhou cuisine.

Guizhou [pronounced: gway·jow] is a landlocked province located in the southwest region of China. Its mountainous landscape and humid, warm climate contribute to an abundance of beautiful ingredients that perfectly complement its cooking style. However, there is one significant challenge—the scarcity of salt.

In mainland China, salt is primarily sourced from wells and lakes, but unfortunately, Guizhou lacks these resources. Consequently, the province relies on imported salt from other regions, and its mountainous terrain poses transportation difficulties. As a result, salt became a luxury that the general public in Guizhou couldn't afford. To counteract the risk of hyponatraemia and maintain adequate sodium levels, Guizhou people had to find alternative ways to season their food and make it tasty without relying on salt—an achievement that seemed impossible in any other cuisine. Yet, they accomplished it, and their success is truly remarkable. The people of Guizhou have developed numerous methods to season their food and increase sodium intake, with one particular approach becoming the hallmark of Guizhou cuisine: sour stock.


Sour stock is prepared by fermenting ingredients that are naturally high in sodium, resulting in a tangy flavour. It not only fulfils the sodium requirements but also imparts a delightful taste and depth to the dishes. Sour stock has become an essential part of the Guizhou people's diet. Considering that hyponatremia can lead to muscle weakness, there's a saying in Guizhou that serves as a testament to this:

‘If you go without sour stock for three days, you'll stumble when you walk.’

Various types of sour stock exist, with the main ingredients ranging from meat, fish, and seafood to tomatoes, vegetables, tofu, rice, and flour. Different seasonings are used for each ingredient, resulting in unique characteristics for each stock, which are then utilised in various ways. One of the most famous variations is the tomato sour stock, commonly referred to as red sour stock in Guizhou. It features wild cherry tomatoes that grow abundantly in the mountains of Guizhou. These tomatoes possess high acidity and aroma. They are minced, mixed with ginger, garlic, red chillies and Chinese spirit, then left to ferment with the help of yeast. The ageing process typically lasts a minimum of 45 days, but as with any aged product, the longer it matures, the better it tastes. This red stock boasts a rich and spicy flavour from the ginger and garlic, a kick from the chillies, a tanginess from the tomatoes and fermentation, and an aroma derived from the Chinese spirit. It pairs perfectly with light proteins such as fish and seafood. 

In the early 2000s, restaurants specialising in Guizhou hot and sour fish stew began to appear in major cities across China. People were captivated by the intense flavours and enticing aroma delivered by the sour stock. Consequently, Guizhou fish stew restaurants soon became a common sight in every city.

Another unique and beloved aspect of Guizhou cuisine is the burnt chilli dip. When chilli peppers were introduced to Guizhou as decorative plants, their culinary potential was quickly realised. Chillies also contain sodium, vital for the locals. 

Although chillies are extensively used in various Chinese cuisines, Guizhou people have a distinctive way of enjoying them that sets them apart from other regions. They roast or bake the chillies until they turn dark, then they crush them. This process reduces the heat while enhancing the aroma, but most importantly, it creates a smoky flavour that is highly addictive. Mixing the crushed chilli with garlic or soy sauce and adding a bit of stock from the fish stew results in the perfect dip for those seeking an extra kick.

When I first tried this dish, I was astounded by its richness and fragrance, despite it being a vegetable stock at its core. However, as I delved into the complex preparation process, everything started to fall into place. Sour stock is a common element in Chinese cuisine, with each region having its own version. Yet, none can compare to the depth and aroma found in Guizhou sour stock. This dish was one of the first additions to my menu because I wanted more people to experience a dish that not only tantalises the taste buds but also tells a compelling story—a story of the Guizhou people working with the challenges of their natural environment and transforming it into something extraordinary. 

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