Videos of chefs cooking stir fried rocks have been popping up on Chinese social media over the past few weeks, stirring up controversy over the practice.
Called “suodiu”, which translates to “suck and dispose”, the dish actually involves more than heating up some pebbles. The small river stones are fried up with chilli oil, garlic, scallions, ginger and chilli peppers, then served in handful sized portions to customers.
How to eat this? Well, it’s in the name, you suck the flavour and allegedly minerals out of the rocks, which some say have a naturally fishy taste that is enhanced when fried at a high temperature, then spit them out. Some vendors allow customers to take the pebbles home as a souvenir.
Despite the apparent lack of ingredients, a portion of stir fired rocks costs about €2, which has further increased the controversy around the dish. Others have pointed to the choking hazards of suodiu, not to mention the possible dentistry disasters that may occur in a lapse of attention.
Although videos of busy night markets, street vendors or villagers frying up freshly fished pebbles on riverbanks are trending now, the practice is hundreds of years old. According to local tales it originated in the province of Hubei, often referred to as the “Land of Fish and Rice”, when boatmen turned to sucking the minerals out of river stones while travelling along the Yangtze River for so long their supplies of meat and vegetables would run out.
The Tujia people, an ethnic minority from the Wuling mountain range that borders Hubei, as well as Hunan and Guizhou, have also been linked to suodiu.
While in the 1950s boatmen were still forced to stir fry some rocks several times a year, by the 1980s, the dish had faded out, according to Chinese media Radii. As the regions started to prosper economically, boatmen started using motorised vessels, which allowed them to travel much quicker along the river and greatly reduced the risk of becoming stranded without supplies.
Responding to the increasing visibility on social media, some have taken to sarcasm asking whether the next dish would be mud, so customers can actually swallow it, while others have stressed that the dish was made during very “bitter days” and it’s not a right subject to be poking fun at.