A Brief Introduction to Yunnan Cuisine

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China is a veritable smorgasbord of regional cuisines. From succulent Peking Duck in Beijing and the anesthetizing heat of Sichuan’s pink peppercorns to the subtle sweetness of Shanghainese and vinegary tang of Hunanese, there are dishes and flavors to suit every palate.

China’s Yunnan Province occupies the southwestern-most corner of the country and is home to significant numbers of ethnic minorities such as the Miao and Bai peoples. Shared borders with Tibet, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have added to the diversity of the region and helped to create another unique facet of Chinese cuisine with ingredients as varied as its ethnicities.

The most noticeable difference is the inclusion of cheese on the menu. Many Han Chinese are lactose intolerant so dairy products aren’t widely available. Whenever we needed a cheese fix, we headed to our favorite Yunnan restaurant in Shanghai, Lotus Eatery, for a giant helping of sliced goat’s cheese lightly fried in oil. Lotus Eatery serves their version with a mixture of salt, pepper and spices for dipping, though we’ve also had the cheese served with sugar. Either way, it is delicious!

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Fried goat’s cheese at Lotus Eatery

Southeast Asian influences can be found in dishes such as the ground meat “salad” at Lotus Eatery. Chock full of cilantro, lemongrass and fiery red and green chilies, it might be the Chinese version of the Thai classic, larb gai. Talk about the best of both worlds!

Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet, another popular Shanghai establishment, boasts succulent roasted eggplant smothered in ground pork that is very similar to a dish we used to order at Simply Thai, one of our go-to Shanghai restaurants.

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“Dai Minced Beef with Chili and Lemongrass” at Lotus Eatery

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“Fingered Citron Eggplant” at Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet. It looks nothing like the menu photo but is still quite tasty!

Vegetarians might have an easier time with the food from Yunnan, as the region’s fertile fields produce a bounty of agricultural delights. At Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet, thick slices of lotus root are lightly battered and fried with copious amounts of garlic, chilies and spring onions. The result is fiery, savory, crunchy deliciousness.

Lotus Eatery features a similar dish, minus the batter and plus some ground pork (because in China, everything is better with ground pork, apparently). You’ll also find lotus root in Hunanese cuisine, cooked in vinegar instead of oil.

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Batter-fried lotus root at Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet

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Fried lotus root with ground pork at Lotus Eatery

Potatoes are a staple of Yunnanese cooking and are prepared in a variety of interesting ways. Lotus Eatery serves up heaping helpings of spuds mashed with chili powder, cumin, spring onions and a few other indeterminable spices that will have you coming back for more. At Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet, you can get wedges of shredded potato fried with onion, dried chilies and mushrooms, another Yunnan staple.

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“Grandma’s” mashed potatoes at Lotus Eatery

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Fried potato and mushrooms at Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet

Another dish from Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet worth mentioning is the fried egg and peppers. The creaminess of the egg combines with the searing heat of the chilies to create pure magic. We were battling with our chopsticks for the last few bites!

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Twice-Cooked Egg with Green Pepper at Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet

Lotus Eatery has two locations, though we always went to the original on Yangzhai Lu. The beer there is stored in a make-shift cool room out a second-floor window, and the comings and goings of service staff provide good dinner entertainment. Taxi drivers can have a hard time finding the place, so be sure to tell them the cross street Xinhua Lu. Most dishes range from 18-38 RMB (3-6 USD), though you can get a platter of bee pupae for 16 dollars if you so desire.

Shanghai

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Dreaming Yunnan Gourmet is located on Yunnan Road in Shanghai’s Huangpu District, not far from the Bund. Most dishes range from 18-49 RMB (3-8 USD). Go early as the kitchen can run out of popular dishes.

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 Have you ever tried Yunnanese food? What was your favorite dish?

 

Heather Hall

Heather Hall

Passionate about travel, food, history and animals, Heather brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along. The Virginia native has lived abroad since 2011, first in Shanghai, China and now in Riga, Latvia. Follow along as she explores the cultures and cuisines of Europe on her blog, Ferreting Out the Fun!

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16 thoughts on “A Brief Introduction to Yunnan Cuisine

  1. Dude, you are killing me. I so wish we had known about you when we were visiting Shanghai—would have been so awesome to meet up and tackle some of this food together. One of my biggest regrets about our time in China was that we weren’t able to visit either Sichuan or Yunnan provinces, as I’ve heard they have some of the country’s best scenery and food. And now I see that I could have at least tried some Yunnanese cuisine while in Shanghai! Gah! All of these dishes look fantastic though that eggplant dish might just take the cake. I LOVE what the Chinese do with eggplant… so much tastier than whenever I try to prepare it (slathering it with minced pork probably doesn’t hurt…).
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…The Secret to Happiness: Savor the Small StuffMy Profile

    • I would have loved to show you around! I was late to the game on Twitter, with it being blocked in China. Yunnan and Sichuan definitely have incredibly scenery and food, though we found the best versions of both cuisines in Shanghai. Many people from other provinces are moving to Shanghai for better jobs and opportunities and they crave food from home! And the Chinese really are experts in eggplant. I will be forever spoiled!

  2. Almost all of these dishes I can get here in Dongguan in a local restaurant. Although I’ve never been to Yunnan, I’m very familiar with its cuisine. I simply love fried lotus root and goat’s cheese. It’s so yummy!
    Agness recently posted…Why Couchsurfing Is NOT For MeMy Profile

    • I’m glad you can get these dishes in Dongguan, they are all so tasty! Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to find them in Washington, DC 🙁

  3. I’m not sure if I tried any of these dishes on my visits. My palate is not as adventurous as yours, but I sure didn’t go hungry in Shanghai!

    • Because Lotus Eatery was so difficult to get to from where we lived. It took us over an hour the last time we went and hubby soured to the experience (though I still think the food was worth the effort.) I was afraid our taxi driver wouldn’t be able to find it and then we’d be stuck out in the boonies without a backup plan. I’ll do better in DC, promise 🙂

    • Thanks, Lesley! One of the greatest benefits of living in Shanghai was the exposure to all the different kinds of Chinese food. Yunnanese was definitely a favorite. I hope you get to try it sometime!

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