The Southeast Asian of Wenchang's Food & Architecture

By Sun Chengnuo / HICN / Updated: 18:45,06-October-2021

Strolling through downtown Wenchang, one can easily feel the influence which southeast Asia has had on this land. This is particularly the case on the historic Qilou (also called arcaded buildings or shophouses) lined streets with their distinctive architectural style. To a person visiting the area, these streets almost seem as if they’ve stumbled back in time to another era. In addition to the style of buildings, the cafes, tea shops, and snacks also evoke Southeast  Asia in a way that not only satisfies one’s physical appetite but also makes one lose one’s way in pleasant thought.

Wennan Old Street,Wenchang

Wenchang’s Wennan Old Street is one of the three major groups of shophouses built in Hainan in the early 1920s. At this time, many people from Wenchang were regularly doing business in Southeast Asian countries. After years spent living abroad, when these businessmen made the decision to invest in buildings in their hometowns, the result was a mixture of Chinese, western, and Southeast Asian styles. Running from north to south along the winding river road to the sea, the buildings to either side of this stone-paved street are primarily two or three-storeys high and decorated with mountain flowers, parapet walls, and stained glass windows. 

Wennan Old Street,Wenchang

Wennan Old Street,Wenchang

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Southeast Asian cuisine is strong flavors such as the bitterness of coffee, the spiciness of curry, the sweetness of pastry, and the sharpness of citrus. The ethnic Hainanese merchants of Malaya and other Southeast Asian countries often ran cafes or tea shops, and when they returned back to Hainan, they brought with them no longer exotic “local” foods and eating habits. This, in turn, changed the eating habits of Hainan locals and promoted innovative development in Hainan’s catering industry.

Laobacha (Grandfather’s Tea)

One of the distinctive foods native to Southeast Asian cuisine comes from the tropical plant Banlan. Commonly found in modern-day Singapore and Malaysia, it is popular both for its aroma and perceived therapeutic value. Mixed with fresh coconut water, Banlan leaves are used to make a broad variety of snacks both sweet and savory. The exotic flavor of Banlan was brought to Wenchang in the 1930s as seedlings and has remained an integral part of local food culture ever since.

Banlan Cakes

Banlan Cakes

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