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