After sunset in Lanzhou, I wandered out to the Zheng Ning Night Market (Dianping), a lengthy one-block extension lined with food stalls of sorts. Seriously.
Amid the variety, there were a couple recurring kinds of stalls, not all of which I took the leap of faith to try. But there are definitely plenty of options to make Zheng Ning worth the visit for the gustatorially adventurous.
The market’s most famous stall (and the one by far with the longest line) is Lao Ma (老马牛奶鸡蛋醪糟, Dianping), which serves essentially one dish, a sweet milk broth dessert with beaten egg dropped in, along with raisins, peanuts, black sesame seeds, sugar, and a dollop of fermented rice. Eaten hot, the concoction is tremendous, with the earthy crunch of sesame and peanuts blended into the pungency of the soft, fermented rice, granular textures that give way to the silky, creamy strands of egg. Plus, it’s also special to watch the grizzled, taqiya’d Muslim master, hardly cracking a smile, expertly make the stuff four or five bowls at a time.
Nowhere else was there a dedicated stall making these to order, but plenty of stalls had a small station for this. Noodles were also a big deal, with these brightly-colored spreads of peppers, beans, tomatoes, squash, and other ingredients for stir-frying. Here, the noodles are thick and chewy, like a dry version of udon, stir-fried on a blazing hot wok (while you sit and watch) with a hodgepodge of vegetables and a light dusting of chili flakes. A steaming bowl arrives, throwing off a perfume of tomatoes and green peppers. This I see more as a working man’s bowl, easy, filling and substantial, straight-forward, just enough heat to be interesting but not enough to be overpowering. The downside is that it’s not all that interesting, certainly when compared to the fatty, acidic punch of southern Yunnan rice noodles or pad thai or any other wok-fried street food noodles I can think of at the moment. But then again, a bowl costs like five or six RMB, tops.
And there were plenty of things that I didn’t eat. Cold lamb heads, offal, and blood sausage, chopped on site, are other local delicacies, with knee-height tables surrounded by happy eaters munching away.
But, I did grab one of these delightfully greasy griddled cornmeal buns, which are slightly and vaguely reminiscent of tamales or pastels, but with a soy-sauce-laden ground pork filling, plus a cracked egg. The other versions come with a slice of spam or a spoonful of onions.