China is famous for its traditional drinks and foods, especially in Sichuan where the food is notoriously spicy. China has a real knack of promoting and demoting local ingredients and local cuisine. Sichuan locals will laude their spices and complain about the salty food in the north. Vice versa, Chinese northerners complain about the sweet foods of the south and oily foods of the west, but shout loud and proud about their traditional ways of cooking. Chinese rice wine however, is something that can be appreciated by all the Chinese and us foreigners too!
A lot of tourists, expats and students who pass through or live in Chengdu also learn about the punchy Chinese white wine (白酒), with an average alcohol content of 50% and above, it is not for the faint of heart! It is sometimes said that because of its clarity, Chinese white wine is the vodka of the east. Yet, baijiu is much, much stronger. Indeed, only three summers ago I sampled homemade white wine from a farmer in southern Sichuan. I ended up sleeping in a cabbage field and I was drunk for two days!
Far less people have heard of Sichuan’s rice wine. I’m not talking about Sake or the Shaoxing wine used in the cooking of Chinese cuisines. I’m talking about the sweet, sometimes syrupy alcohol that goes with the Chinese food. With an average alcohol content of 15-20%, it’s much more enjoyable and perfect if you’re not a beer fan!
As a finished product, rice wine goes under many names as vendors choose to add local ingredients, and style their own product on the taste of the area. All rice wines however are made from gluttonous rice 江米, the same stuff you see in zongzi (粽子) eaten during the dragon boat festival. Rice wine is usually served in little clay urns, sealed at the top with red cloth with the waxy skin of the wine. It is drunk out of small porcelain bowls. Another important thing is that rice wine can be served cold. Unlike sake or soju, rice wine can be served with ice, making it a perfect summer drink!
To experience the heart of Sichuanese culture, it is important to try rice wine. Even though every provinces’ palates vary, and northerners scorn the sissy sweet alcohols of the south. The key to understanding Sichuan is through the stomach. Or out the stomach, if you down too much! Rice wine as a sneaky way of creeping up on you, especially when you’re drinking from tiny cups and relishing the sweet sugary flavour.
If you want to know where to drink Chinese rice wine with your friends, or for more fun city facts in Zhuhai, Chengdu and Qingdao; check out InternChina’s facebook page!
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