Lo Mai Fan: Food in Southern China

Lo Mai Fan, South China’s ugly looking miracle.

Wrapped and cooked in curious looking lotus leaves, you could be misled into thinking that there’s something very pretty waiting inside.  Lo Mai Fan (sticky rice) or Lo Mai Gai (sticky rice with chicken) is a sloppy, sticky mess – and for God’s sake, please don’t expect colours because you’ll be hugely disappointed.

The mucky, brownish-yellow tint doesn’t really inspire hope in a Lo Mai Fan virgin.  But that’s food in Southern China for you. You’ve just got to have faith.

Lo Mai Fan may not look like a supermodel.  But trust me when I say, “he’s a grower”.  This delicious sticky rice will grow on you with each mouthful, and you’ll soon be wondering just how many portions are socially acceptable before you appear insatiable.

How to Eat Lo Mai Fan or Lo Mai Gai

Lo Mai Fan is made with glutinous rice and a selection of fillings including Chinese dried mushrooms, Shitake mushrooms, skinless chicken, waxed Lap Cheong sausages, and maybe even a salted egg yolk if you’re lucky – all of this is lovingly wrapped in banana leaves or lotus leaves, ready for heating.


Steamed to lock in all the moisture, unravelling the leaves for the very first time can be a humid affair.  Breathe in that unique aroma and revel in the excitement as your chopsticks break through the sticky rice enclosure.

I love tearing through the gooey grains to reveal moist mushrooms and the brightly coloured yolk of a duck egg.  The egg is salted and adds a sharp dimension to the moist rice and mushrooms, so very little seasoning is needed, but I still like to add a splash of dark soy sauce to my Lo Mai Fan or Lo Mai Gai.

I didn’t fall in love straight away, but as my taste buds became attuned to the savoury and wholesome sensation of sticky rice and melt-in-the-mouth fillings, I started to feel more and more comforted by the carbohydrates.  Before I knew it, I was gluttonous for the glutinous kind.

Great Food in Southern China Doesn’t Always Look Great

Our parents were right when they told us not to judge a book by its cover.  People say that a small percentage of taste can be dictated by sight.  But what our parents told us still stands.   Food in Southern China doesn’t always look amazing, but the taste is always worth the risk. 


Expect dishes in their most primitive form; steamed fish complete with head and tail, pig knuckles poached with no facade, whole salt-bake chicken with no beautification, and Chinese broccoli with stalks and buds still attached.  This is the Cantonese way and you’d better get used to it if you want to discover the tastiest food in Southern China. 

Lo Mai Fan can be found in many dim sum restaurants and food hawkers across the Southern region.  Food in Southern China is a huge part of the Guangdong (Canton) culture so you won’t struggle to find places to eat.   When you’re tired and weary, stressed and sweaty, or just feeling a little jaded from the loud, abrupt Chinese population, pick up a few Lo Mai Fan wraps from the old woman pushing the cart down the street.