Confession time: Aside from the delicious meals enjoyed at our lake-side hotel, we didn’t eat any Chinese food in Dali. Living in Shanghai, we can get top-notch versions of all of China’s regional cuisines, so it just wasn’t a priority for us. Moreover, in the wake of Lijiang’s scant restaurant selection, we were pleasantly surprised by the plethora of excellent options for world cuisine in Dali Ancient Town, which enhanced the charm of the place.
Namaste Indian restaurant is tucked away off a busy street inside a converted old house. The rusty stove has been reincarnated as a well-stocked bar and seating arranged in the nooks and crannies of the ground floor. Run by a Tibetan family, we were greatly impressed with the variety of truly authentic Indian dishes on the menu. The chicken biriyani was moist and well seasoned and the aloo gobi masala had me wrestling the bowl away from my date to get the last drops. The naan was a little dry, but it’s generally just a vehicle for the sauces anyway.
A few doors down, the sunny Bakery 88 lures in passers-by with its irresistible display of pastries and cakes, and keeps them happy with shelves of imported french wine, organic jams and a refrigerator case of charcuterie. We stopped in once for afternoon tea and returned the following night for dinner. The menu is small, with only a few sandwiches, pastas and appetizer platters, but that just makes it easier to choose what you want. Glasses of the house white wine cost 36 RMB (6 USD) – very reasonable by Chinese standards – and were accompanied by a free bowl of pistachios. At 14 RMB (2.30 USD), the cheese platter was a steal. Both of our pasta dishes – spaghetti bolognese and linguine alfredo with asparagus – were excellent.
The Sweet Tooth cafe is another delightful spot to while away the afternoon. We had such a hard time deciding between the amazing looking desserts that we ultimately indulged in a mini-feast of four different items! The two pies – peanut butter and mint cream – were outrageously sinful and completely devoured. Hubby ordered a slice of the German chocolate cake, of which I’ve never been a fan, over my vocal doubts that it wouldn’t satisfy. To my surprise, I ate more of it than he would have liked and now count myself a convert to the variety. We also had to try the chocolate chip cookie, touted as the best in Dali. I don’t know if that’s true, but I appreciated its salty notes which balanced our sugar overload. In case you need more reasons to go, the owner employs the hearing impaired and supports their community in Dali.
While not exactly a meal, I can’t forgo mentioning the Belgian waffle stand, the first I’ve come across in China. Although already quite full from the above “field work,” I was unable to resist this crunchy treat. A plain waffle dusted with sugar costs a mere 20 RMB (about 3.30 USD). If you enter Dali through the South Gate on Wenxian Lu, the stand will be on a pedestrian-only lane to your left, just past the bell tower and behind a large fountain. Get there quickly as it wasn’t attracting much Chinese interest and might not be around forever.