Yunnan, the most southwestern province in China, has been one of the most charming domestic tourist destinations due to its splendid landscapes and diverse culture. It is also the city with more ethnic minorities in China, who account for around 1/3 of the province’s total population. However, when it comes to places of fine food, Yunnan might not be a top choice for most Chinese given the fact that its cuisine is not so popular across the country, especially compared to dishes of its neighbor Sichuan province.
This summer, I took a graduation trip in Yunnan. Not expecting highly on local food, I was unexpectedly amazed. Since the minorities group’s dietary habits differ from the Han Chinese’s (the majority group) to a large extent, local cuisine is of great distinctiveness in both ingredients and styles of seasoning. To be more specific, it seems that most local dishes and snacks I tried cannot be easily found elsewhere. Discovering food with unique ingredients came to be the most interesting and unforgettable part in my food adventure here.
Waterless Rice Noodle (Ersi)
Nothing can be better than starting a day with a bowl of refreshing waterless rice noodles, which are made from rice as well but differ in taste from common ones due to a particular production process. The one I tasted was served with pork and in broth. Customers are also allowed the freedom to add extra condiments as they wish: coriander, garlic, sesame, vinegar, red dried chili, Sichuan pepper, etc. Just be creative!
Mix all ingredients together and then take a mouthful. The pork was so tender after hours of stewing that no much chewing was needed. The slightly spicy broth tasted rich and complex binding with all spices. Bathing in it were waterless rice noodles, which had a very unique texture: stickier than common rice noodles, but far away from chewy. If you have ever tried rice cakes before, then it’s not hard to imagine the taste.
Chicken with Dried Sour Papayas
If picking one dish that goes well with rice, this dish is a must. It is also the signature dish of a tiny restaurant named Zhenhua, which has been providing authentic local dishes for years in the old town of Dali district.
To be honest, I found it odd to put dried fruit with chicken together initially. But just one bite, I became a believer and realized what a genius idea to combine the two ingredients together. Dried sour papayas, typical specialties in Dali, can either be eaten as snacks or as spices. Their delicate sourness even highlighted chicken, the main body of the dish, by easing greasiness in a stunning way, and thus made the whole dish stand out. Sour, salty, sweet, and lightly spicy due to a little bit dried red chili, this dish would satisfy foodies who believe in a balanced and complex flavor.
The heart of banana flower is used as a vegetable in South and Southeastern Asia. If you go to Yunnan, do not miss the chance to have a taste of this special ingredient! It can be eaten in various ways, either stir-fried or cooked in soups. But the most funny way is for sure to roast the flower wrapped in banana leaves, which is quite common in Xishuangbanna . As for the taste, I would say that it resembles that of artichokes, and that of bamboo shoots in spring.
Dairy Fan (Rushan)
Generally, Chinese are perceived to pay less attention to dairy food because it’s not on our traditional diet. However, Dairy Fan is one of the exceptional proofs of Chinese people’s creativity in diary products. It is typical of the Dali district in Yunnan, with the name originating from its fan-like shape.
If you are a cheese lover, you’ll probably fall in love with it as me. As a popular street food in certain areas of Yunnan, it is usually served either grilled or deeply fried, spread with various sweet condiments and then rolled around a stick. I would strong recommend locally made rose jam as the filling. It’s hard to tell which do I prefer because they both are incredible! When served grilled, it tastes creamy and elastic, which is exactly its original flavor. It is somewhat similar to the taste of mozzarella cheese but with a higher level of acidity. When served fried, it changes the structure and becomes a little bit flaky until golden brown, which is a sign of fantastic crispness in taste.
For those food lovers who are passionate about trying new flavors, Yunnan will be a heave-like place. Just one suggestion at last: no need to go to fancy restaurants, follow advices of local people, and then you may find deliciousness just around the corner of a street.