A TASTE OF TRADITION
Qingping Market has played a vital role in Guangzhou’s commercial life for decades, serving the agricultural and herbal-medicine trades from its sprawling quarters on the western side of the city. In earlier days Qingping’s meat and fish vendors were famous (or notorious) for selling much of their product live or freshly butchered; a few visitors surely converted to vegetarianism after wandering through those market stalls. In the 2000s, however, Guangzhou began imposing stricter sanitation measures, cracking down on vendors’ more visceral practices. The atmosphere is much tamer now, but Qingping remains a favored haunt for home cooks and restaurant chefs alike—and, not least, for devotees of Traditional Chinese Medicine, whose staple ingredients are sold here in vast quantities. And the market offers a glimpse of a China less seen today, as you stroll among rows upon rows of exotic spices, dried mushrooms, goji berries, and ginseng.
After you’ve roamed the stalls and worked up an appetite, head to the award-winning YouLian CaiGuan restaurant nearby, celebrated for its delectable Qingping chicken, a more tender breed from a nearby mountain town. Baiqie ji (白切鸡), or “white cut chicken,” gently poached in brine, is a hallmark of Guangzhou’s subtle yet flavorful cooking style. Order a small portion, served bone-in with a dish of ginger-scallion oil for dipping, and pair it with a side of tender mustard greens with pork cracklings. The no-frills dining room has as much character as the stern ladies taking orders from ravenous crowds.
Ready to walk off lunch? Head south, cross the main road, and take the pedestrian bridge to charming Shamian Island. Once given over to foreign concessions, Shamian still houses the American consulate and other well-preserved examples of stately Western architecture. There’s not a whole lot on this narrow sandbank island beyond the odd shop and café, but it’s great for people-watching: Chinese folks love taking selfies with Shamian’s broad lanes and green foliage for a backdrop.