Living in Guiyang, many foreigners go out of their way to find and cook foods from home. While comfort food is all well and good, you’ve got to be careful not to miss some of the city’s specialties, and sīwáwá is a fantastic introduction to Guiyang food.
Sīwáwá (丝娃娃), or silk babies, are like little vegetarian tacos. Every sīwáwá restaurant provides diners with a stack of soft rice flour wrappers, trays of vegetables and tofu, and the fixings for a good dipping sauce. For the sour soup variety, a pot of fermented tomato and baijiu soup is also provided, to pour into wrapped bundles.
On this visit, we ordered sīwáwá for three as well as a couple of side dishes.
xiāngkǎo wǔhuārōu — 香烤五花肉 — Grilled Pork Bellies
This dish is topped with zhéěrgēn, a root with a strong flavor commonly added to Guizhou dishes. It’s not my favorite, at all, but some foreigners are partial to it. It has a strong flavor, but in this dish the taste wasn’t dominated by the root and it created an overall nice effect. This is now a dish we order every time we go, as it’s a tasty meat complement to the otherwise vegetarian meal.
sī liàn jīn pái guō tiē — 丝恋金牌锅贴 — Crispy Fried Dumplings
These little guys are another pork dish, so definitely avoid them if your diet excludes pork. If you’re not, though, dive in! The dumplings are fried until a golden, crispy crust forms on the bottom, and served upside down so that you can tap through the connected batter with your chopsticks.
Sīwáwá! The little trays of filling include things like spicy tofu, pickled celery and radish, cold noodles, fresh strips of carrot, lotus root, cucumber, and more. If you run out of any topping, you can grab the trays and head over to the refilling stations, which are self-serve. Fillings are free, but if you want more than the 10 wrappers you were given, you’ll have to pay again.
This dish is 100% vegetarian, from the fillings to the soup and dipping sauce ingredients, so it’s an absolutely safe meal for vegetarians. Of course, other dishes on the menu may contain meat.
To prepare your soup sauce, you have an option of the ingredients pictured here. From top left, and clockwise from there, you can see 白醋 (white vinegar), 酱油 (soy sauce), 香油 (sesame oil)， 木姜子油 (litsea oil, a lemony-flavored oil that only needs a drop or two), and peanuts. Off in the corner there’s also toasted lajiao.
Don’t forget the crowning feature, however. after adding these ingredients to your sauce, you’ll want to grab the metal teapot full of sour soup to top it off. Don’t worry about how you’re supposed to mix it. Just add everything to taste.
When you’ve mixed it up and rolled up a little taco package, you use a spoon to fill the bundle with the soup mixture and pop the whole thing in your mouth.
The location we visited this time is in the food court of the Huaguoyuan Mall, on the level below ground level. A word to the wise: this place is crazy popular. Go outside of normal meal times and you may be lucky enough to get a table right away. Try to get in at lunchtime, as we did on our next visit, and you may end up waiting two hours for a table.
There’s a checklist menu at this restaurant, which is nice if your Chinese skills are a bit weak. If you need to wait for a table, you can check things off before you are seated, so that you can hand the menu to the server as soon as you get in. In these pictures, the very first check mark we made on the menu (with the number 3 next to it) is for the sīwáwá.