Tag Archives: jiuquan

Rhubarb Ground Zero

Ever since arriving in Gansu province, home of the ‘barb, i’ve been quizzing the locals on what they know about the veggie.

“I’ve come here to find out about the birthplace of rhubarb”, I proffer (once we’re finished with the usual where are you from/are you married/how much do you earn shenanigans.)
“What’s Rhubarb?”, my taxi driver asks, feigning interest.
“It’s a plant. Green leaves, red stalks etc etc etc. You know it?”
“Never heard of it”
“Really? It was first grown in Jiuquan – about 20 minutes away from here”
“I’m from Jiuquan”.

I can’t quite believe my luck. I’m not sure at what point I found this spot on a map so fascinating – but here, in the clapped out Hyundai with me, was a real Jiuquanren.

“So… tell me about it! You’re from Jiuquan, but you’ve never heard of rhubarb?”
“Jiuquan is a rural city. Jiayuguan is an industrial city.”

That was about as far as I was getting. So, the waitresses in the restaurants:

“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Jiuquan” (why is everyone in Jiayuguan, a city of 200,000 people, from the next town down the road?)
“Fantastic! That’s where rhubarb is from, isn’t it?”
“What’s rhubarb?”

My traveling companion, Chris, initially amused by my quest, now doubts its authenticity. Maybe this is all some big joke? If even the locals have never heard of rhubarb, well, perhaps it came from somewhere else?

I take a moment – and then pile back into the car, destination Casa de la Rhubarb.

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Jiuquan: Home of Rhubarb

Prospect of huge rhubarb groves over the hill not looking promising

Prospect of huge rhubarb groves over the hill not looking promising

Surrounded all sides by snow-capped mountains and endless desert, the Hexi Corridor is a pretty unforgiving place if you happen to stray off the main path.

This was the main artery between China and Central Asia, and still the route of the main train line out to the Western provinces. It also partly explains Gansu province’s ridicuous shape, although how anybody could possibly approve this kind of geographic administrative nonsense is quite beyond me.

Although it appears to have grabbed more headlines in recent years as being the jumping off point for China’s space programme, this valley hosts a string of fertile oasis towns which gave rise to bumper crops of precious rhubarb, which is indigenous to the region.

Of these towns, Jiuquan is our very own ground zero on the Rhubarb Rhoute. People, this is where it all began.