Stir-Fried Rocks: China’s Hottest New Street Food

A long-lost dish from Hubei province has returned — but it’s off to a rocky start

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Hayley Zhao
1:26 AM HKT, Thu June 15, 2023 1 mins read

Stir-fried rocks are a thing now — or rather, they’re a thing once again.

A recent viral video in China shows a man skillfully frying rocks in a mix of garlic, oil, and chili pepper. He introduced it as suodiu (嗦丢), literally meaning “suck and discard,” referring to how the dish was eaten (sorry to disappoint; you’re not actually supposed to eat the rocks).

The suodiu in question was sold for 16 RMB per serving (around $2). The steep price tag shocked viewers, who felt that there was hardly anything edible on the plate.

The admittedly peculiar dish actually has a long history in China. Originating in Hubei, a province often referred to as the “Land of Fish and Rice,” suodiu was first invented by boatmen in the region.

There’s no written record of the dish’s first appearance, but according to the oral history of the area’s boat workers, it’s said to have existed for several hundred years. Suodiu was a rare dish, something that was only eaten when food and vegetable supplies were completely depleted.

The rocks, usually taken from the river, are said to have a slightly fishy taste when stir-fried. During the cooking process, ingredients like scallions, ginger, and garlic are first fried together to release their aromas. Then, add your rocks, cook over a high heat, and serve. Unsurprisingly, the flavor was thought to go well with alcohol.

Stir-fried pebble on a plate

Until the 1950s, boatmen would still eat suodiu several times a year, but by the time the ‘80s had arrived, the dish had faded into history. Reactions to its resurgence have varied — some consider it a cheap marketing gimmick, while others worry that diners could choke on the smooth rocks if not careful. Some even find the whole thing a bit offensive.

“My father used to tell me the story of these fried rocks. The bitter days that he couldn’t dare to look back on are now an internet sensation. I don’t know how to feel about this,” one wrote on social media network Weibo.

The return of stir-fried rocks comes at a time when China’s younger generation is taking an especially irreverent and sarcastic approach to questions of food, work, and money.

Cover image via Weibo

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