What you need to know
Fifteen famous restaurants in China's southern city are connected by a new bus route.
Guangzhou's affinity for food is clearly undeniable when a public bus route revolves around some of the best places to eat in the city.
Near each of the 15 stops of newly opened bus route 104, is a well-known Cantonese restaurant or food stall. It’s typical that I only discovered this delicious twist on the mundanity of public transport a week before I was due to leave Guangzhou, but I had no choice but to sit down and tuck in.
At Haiyin Bridge (海印桥) the bus stops by well-established clay pot rice restaurant Minji (民记). The original store opened in 1979 on Guangzhou’s main shopping street, Beijing Road, and moved to its current location in 2000. This was recounted to me by an elderly customer, Mr Wang (王叔叔), who said that he ate here every other day, and that they will even deliver to his house if he’s not feeling up to going out.
The unassuming restaurant serves piping-hot, sizzling clay pots. Whether you order tender beef or fatty pork on your rice, they all come with an egg freshly cracked open on top. When my dish arrived, I reached straight for my phone to snap the requisite picture, only to be interrupted by Wang's frantic waving as he motioned for me to start mixing the beautifully displayed ingredients, both to cook the egg and to stop the rice from burning the bottom – though I have to say those charred bits taste the best.
For super-traditional, not-for-locals Cantonese food, get off at Yuexiu South Road (越秀南路) and head to Fengwei Guan (风味馆). This shop has been open for 33 years, and their signature dish, "three star beef soup" (牛三星汤), has stood the test of time. The "three stars" of this dish are cow heart, liver and loin. I provided a riveting spectacle for the waiter, who chuckled when I ordered it, and assured me not to worry if I couldn’t finish it as it’s often not to the taste of foreigners.
As a haggis eating Scot, I was up for the challenge… but this was something else. Between the overpowering smell of the "three stars" and the spicy white radish that peppered the soup, it was a little too much. While I appreciate its long-standing position as a classic Cantonese dish, I stuck to my portion of changfen (肠粉), or "Chinese lasagne" as I like to call it. Thin sheets of steamed rice flour noodles are layered and stuffed with meat, veggies, or most often shrimp. This establishment’s version, named "Chen Village Noodle" (陈村粉), is served with a hearty helping of beef stew on top and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Needless to say, it was more than welcome after the strong soup.
Wenming Street (文明路) is a hub of Guangzhou food and snacks, one of the most popular of which can be found at Dachang Yuanwei Dunpin (达扬原味炖品). The dish to savor here is a flavor-packed black chicken soup, served in a coconut. The soup is flavored with ginger and goji berries, which besides their pleasant flavors, are also said to be a good remedy for a high temperature.
But it’s the unique combination of the sweet coconut and almost bitter black-skinned chicken that make the dish. The busy staff, who are always immaculately dressed in matching white shirts and black leather waistcoats, have often run out of coconuts by the time early evening rolls around.
You can have the same soup served in a round bowl, mimicking the coconut, but it’s not quite the same and it's worth a second visit to get that coconutty kick. There are very few seats in the original tiny shopfront, which doubles as the kitchen, but the owners have purchased two more small rooms, one down the road and one down a nearby alley, where customers can sit and enjoy their soup. Don’t be surprised if you are walking down Wenming Street and pass people carrying steaming coconuts!
This merely scratches the surface of what’s in store at each stop along this ingenious bus route. With a free day and some friends to share with, it's more than possible to taste every stop.
Read next: Tasting Tradition on the Streets of Guangzhou
Editor: TNL Staff