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The perils of drinking rice wine for lunch – Lintao County, Gansu Province




Feeling somewhat dehydrated after walking round the Labrang Monastery in the morning heat we stopped for a late lunch in Lintao. There’s not much to the town but a taxi driver directed us to one of the better restaurants.

Our driver requested a table in a private area as he was getting bored of the attention that I seemed to get as a white chap in the more remote areas. The restaurant didn’t have any private rooms so put us in a corner booth behind a translucent curtain. Our waitress hurriedly opened most of the windows behind us, to let the hot and smokey room get some air.

The large menu was divided up neatly into sections. The first section was lamb; the second section was drinks. There was no third section. We ordered some lamb, some lamb and some lamb, plus a variety of teas.

My Eight treasure tea (BaBaoCha) arrived first and it became apparent why there were no vegetables left to put on the menu:
BaBaoCha by BastChild on Flickr
Depending on who you ask, the Eight Treasures consist of Green Tea with Wolfberries and Chrysanthemum, along with a mixture of dates, longan fruit, jasmine, lily buds, lilyturf root, raisins, Medlar fruit, Dragoneye fruit, the jelly-like Tremella fungus, walnuts, sesame and anything else lying about, all sweetened with rock sugar. It’s delicious.

Halfway through the meal a chap who looked like he’d arrived for the early lunch service and been drinking ever since stumbled through the curtain. He stared slack jawed for a moment, and shuffled off to tell his friends “Laowai, Laowai!” in a loud whisper.

A few minutes later he reappeared, with two equally inebriated friends peeking out from behind his massive bulk. Despite his size he had quite delicate hands, in which he held a tray of earthenware shot glasses. From the glazen stare and the smell of his breath and clothes I guessed they contained rice wine. Our driver tried to shoo him away, but didn’t have much hope against three drunken farmers.

Chinese Rice Wine (Baiju) is often 50% alcohol and usually made from rice(!). This brand was distilled from sorghum, which I’d not yet tasted so felt somewhat obliged to give it a go.

I’ve had some very bad experiences with rice wine, and have twice sworn never to drink it again, but he was very insistent so I took one and knocked it back. Surprisingly it was actually quite decent (or as decent as rice wine gets), unlike the homemade paint-stripper pretending to be rice-wine we drank north of Chang Mai and the other time in Thailand when I woke up in possession of an AK-47.

In my experience, one shot of rice wine is ok. Two shots create a nice warm feeling in the stomach. Three shots tend to lead to lots more shots. Lots more shots leads to exciting adventures, sudden sleep, an extreme hangover and profuse apologies.

Pleased, he held out another glass, which I shouldn’t have taken. After another ‘Ganbei!’, they all tilted their heads back to face the ceiling and swigged theatrically. I leaned back and threw the contents of the glass past my mouth and out one of the many windows behind me.

They were too drunk to notice that particular window was closed…

A manager came to see what all the noise was about so I stayed standing to hide the dripping glass as he fussily shepherded them away. Whilst I cleaned the window, which appeared to be a first in the history of the window, the driver ordered us some more lamb chunks. I’m no longer a frequent drinker, but even after a single shot the heavily spiced, slightly fatty lamb tasted so much better that when one of the farmers reappeared with two more bottles in hand I was tempted but still declined.

When we left an hour later they were still going strong and I was still avoiding disapproving looks from my travelling companions.


BaBaoCha by BastChild on Flickr





Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.


  • You’ve got to watch that rice wine mate, nasty stuff! I’t on a par with the banana or palm wine’s. Certainly wipes out a few brain cells thats for sure. I’m very interested on the story of waking up with an AK47, do tell….

    • We were hiking somewhere very near the tip of the Golden Triangle, and from what I can piece together the bar we were in was closing, so we bought their beer fridge and it’s contents. Understandably a passing border guard wanted to know why 4 foreigners were carrying a fridge out of a bar and we got chatting.

      The now warm beer, and a few cheap and dirty bags of rice wine were drunk and in the morning I had his gun (minus the magazine) and a very sore head. He and the bar-owner were waiting outside the camp-site with the fridge, hoping to swap it back for his rifle. Everything was returned to their original owner, minus a few beers, and hopefully he didn’t get into too much trouble from anyone other than his wife.

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