Every Friday afternoon on Lanpu Lu, a nondescript lane in Guangzhou's Yuexiu District, all manner of pandemonium breaks loose.
At 11am, the first perfectly seasoned BBQ skewer is served. By 1pm the street looks more like Yemen than Yuexiu and by 4pm, Guangzhou's sizable Muslim diaspora has packed up, leaving only a cloud of charcoal-tinged haze and piles of wooden skewers to hint at a celebration that will reconvene the next Friday.
It’s the kind of place that we would assume, based on his numerous televised adventures, Anthony Bourdain would be completely at home. You will see gentlemen in exotic, resplendent robes from Tunisia smoking a hookah next to a Uyghur man making yangrou skewers for a hungry customer next to a Chinese man hocking fake Rolex watches to passersby.
Count on being the lone laowai here – this isn't Hooley's on a Saturday night. If you are ambitious enough to make the trek out to Lanpu Lu, you are quite literally in for a treat. A perfectly seasoned lamb barbeque flavored treat, that is.
1. Finding the Market
You have two options to get to Lanpu Lu: bus or metro. The bus is slightly faster but far easier to get lost on if you aren’t familiar with the area. Take bus B10 west to 越秀公园 (Yuexiu Gongyuan) bus stop. From there walk west until you reach Jiefeng Lu, then hang a left and head south and turn right onto Lanpu Lu (兰圃路). Bus B10 departs from any BRT terminal at Gangding, Shipaiqiao or Tiyu Xi Lu.
If you want to take the metro, hop on Line 2 and head to Yuexiu Park Metro Station. Go topside via the B2 exit and take a short walk north before hanging a left onto Lanpu Lu.
If you’re anywhere near Yuexiu Park and find yourself lost, simply follow the horde of denizens who are all invariably walking to the market as well. Lanpu Lu is not marked clearly and is a tiny street. When you see a slew of tents and smoke from the grill, you have arrived.
2. What to Eat
Although you will see huge numbers of Muslim traders from North Africa taking a respite from the pell-mell rhythm that rules their nearby enclaves of Xiaobei and Sanyuanli, most of the food sold here is of the Xinjiang variety. That means lamb skewers and samsa (meat pies) constitute the bulk of what you will find. Making a cameo appearance is the circular bread emblazoned with neat patterns in the middle that Pizza Hut should totally use as their pizza crusts.
You will also find ice cream made from goat's milk – the perfect treat for beating Guangzhou’s oppressive summer heat.
Prices are more or less the same at each stall for any given food item. Simply find a stall that looks popular or is manned by a particularly genial cook and dig in.
3. Don't Miss the Canton Orchid Garden
Ocuppying an area of 39,000 square meters, the Canton Orchid Garden is China's first garden dedicated to the cultivation of orchids and a must-visit location in Guangzhou for orchidists.
Lanpu Lu feeds right into the Canton Orchid Garden, which is well worth the RMB8 entry fee. Since you trekked all the way out here, treat yourself to a refreshing walk around. This is a great spot to take a date: romantic, uncrowded and beautiful – the holy trinity of unfindable places in Guangzhou. Don't miss it.
Tasty barbecue skewers aren't the only thing for sale here. You will find a litany of fake watches, furs of dubious provenance and clothing that is undoubtedly the height of fashion in Tunis and Cairo.
Don't forget to haggle!
Furs of dubious provenance? Check.
RMB30 Rolex and Omega watches? Double check.
When it comes to buying food or the accessories for sale at the market, remember that bargaining is key. Those of you who have been in China for long enough to where you can determine the AQI within three points just by taking a quick glance outside probably have your barguing (half bargaining, half arguing) skills on lock. Those of you green behind the ears, all you need to know is the words 'duo shao qian '(多少钱), or 'how much?'
If the merchant selling you a lamb skewer or fake Rolex replies with a price you don't like, say 'wo de maya' (我的妈呀), which translates to 'oh my gosh' and walk away. Repeat this schtick at a different stall until you find a price you deem satisfactory. For more tips on haggling, see this helpful guide to bargaining in markets.
5. Be Respectful
One last thing: don't unwittingly bring in any snacks with pork – or alcohol – to the market. Don't be that guy.