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Portable Stove That is Used to Cook and Sell Food in the Streets of China

TAIZHOU, China- I was quickly overtaken in the streets by an old woman with a bamboo yoke over her shoulders bearing loads attached at both ends. These yokes — which are essentially just a split piece of bamboo that has attachments or rope at each end — are used to transport all manner of goods [...]

TAIZHOU, China- I was quickly overtaken in the streets by an old woman with a bamboo yoke over her shoulders bearing loads attached at both ends. These yokes — which are essentially just a split piece of bamboo that has attachments or rope at each end — are used to transport all manner of goods in China: from pales of water to clothing, spare machine parts, street vending supplies etc . . . But I stopped with a start when I realized that one of the bundles hanging from this lady’s yoke was flaming.

As she moved through the streets she was also cooking tofu. Hanging on one side of her was a sheet metal reinforced cupboard full of cooking supplies and raw food, hanging from her other side was a charcoal burning stove that had a wok full of boiling oil and tofu on it.

I was duly impressed that this woman could cook and walk at the same time, and I followed her for a way down the street very amused. After a short while she produced a stool from her cupboard, sat down, and opened shop near a busy street junction in front of an upper class department store. Almost instantaneously after sitting down she was ready to do business. Her tofu cubes were now cooked and she began skewering them on thin wooden sticks, prepping them for sale. I approached and bought a stick for 2 RMB (30 cents), and got a closer look at her set up.

Street stove for cooking tofu

Her stove, which appeared to be a cylindrical metal bucket, was placed inside of a wooden carrier — which looked to be a bench that was flipped upside down.  Attached to the legs of this carrier were strips of bamboo that were bent into a crescent shape and tied to the rope which was connected to the yoke. The sheet metal cupboard on the other side had a drawer  built into it, and was attached to the yoke in the same manner.

Her cooking gear was not uncommon in China, as many street vendors here carry stoves and other cooking gear around cities attached to bamboo yokes, but the speed at which she was able to just sit down and immediately start vending was truly impressive. She cooked as she walked then sat down and sold her tofu when she got to a good place for business.

The independent economy of China is bustling, there are people selling all over the streets here in droves. I’m unsure of the legality of much of this independent vending — sometimes I see the police moving street vendors on — but if this old woman was not permitted to set up shop and sell in the location she was in when I’d met her all she had to do was stand up, raising the stove, cupboard and all, and split. Surely, she could subvert most police attempts at shutting her down as she conducted business on the streets throughout the city.

Portable street stove on a bamboo yoke

Filed under: China, Cooking, Food, Tools

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3526 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • André Vieira June 7, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Very good article. This is one of the reasons why I like vagabondjourney so much. It is very unique and you seem to have the ability to make something apparently common or regular into an immensely interesting subject.

    Was the tofu tasty? eheh

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    • Wade Shepard June 7, 2012, 7:50 pm

      Thanks Andre,

      Much appreciated. Yeah, it was pretty good. Funny how just about everything that’s been deep fried tastes good.

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