Friday, 15 June 2012

The Culinary Wonders of Yunnan 云南

Banquet fatigue is not an affliction that I find too many people sympathetic to, but I think I've found the perfect cure: Yunnan cuisine. Yunnan is located in Southwest China, and is home to no less than 24 ethnic groups (comprising around a third of the population) in addition to the majority Han Chinese. Many of these ethnic groups can also be found in nearby Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. As such, the vibrant refreshing flavours found in Yunnan cuisine share many similarities to the food found in those countries. This makes it the ideal antidote to the sometimes-overwhelming hospitality that business visitors encounter in China.

In particular, the vegetarian dishes at Dian Ku Yunnan Restaurant (滇酷云南餐厅) were amongst my favourites during this (or any) visit to Beijing. (That last sentence extolling the virtues of vegetarian food was one I NEVER expected to write as a food blogger!) Dishes like stir-fried eggs with jasmine (茉莉花炒鸡蛋) were a revelation. It was quite weird eating a dish of eggs and edible flowers with the intensely fragrant, slightly bitter tones normally associated with jasmine tea. This dish is heaven on earth and one that goes really well with bamboo tube sticky rice (竹筒饭).

I also loved the Ruili pea congee (a terrible translation on the menu) that hails from the city of Ruili (瑞丽). This dish consists of wobbly blancmange-like strips (made from a kind of pea-flour) called doufen (豆粉). These strips didn't really taste of anything, but the accompanying spicy sesame oil dressing packed a punch while the herby-nutty topping gave the dish a contrast in textures.

Other vegetarian fare that hit the spot included fried towel gourd buds (炒絲瓜尖). This is another inadequate translation that doesn't really describe a tasty dish consisting of the buds and leaves from a young loofah plant stir-fried with dried chillies, garlic and ginger. The only (slightly) disappointing dish was the Ruili green papaya (瑞丽青木瓜); this Yunnan version of the famous Thai salad som tum was refreshing, but sadly lacked any real fire.

Lest you think I've gone completely veggie on you, we did order a couple of dishes with meat in them. First up was the air-pot chicken soup (气锅鸡), an amazing steamed chicken soup that came with abundant amounts of exotic mushrooms and goji berries. Like the rest of the meal, the flavours were ever so pure and natural.

Less successful was the crossing the bridge noodles (过桥米线), which disappointingly came ready assembled rather than in the customary D-I-Y style where you build your own bowl of rice noodles. There was nothing wrong with this dish; it's just that it compared unfavourably with the food that came before.

Although not strictly dessert, the meal was rounded off with pineapple sticky rice (菠萝饭). This was very moreish with the sweetness of the mixture of both black and white sticky rice cut through by the tartness of the pineapple. And while some quite potent black rice wine was on offer, we stuck to Yunnan’s other most famous drink: pu-erh tea (普洱茶) to accompany our meal.

I really liked Dian Ku; not only was the food top-notch, but the dining room was pretty cool, too. I don't remember much about the service, which probably means it was decent enough. However, as I mentioned in the last post, Beijing isn't the easiest city to get around. With that in mind, if you can't easily get to Dian Ku then alternative Yunnan restaurants in Beijing include: Dali Courtyard, No Name, South Silk Road and Yunteng Shifu (please don't laugh at my review of the latter, it was written when I had blogger L-plates on).

Dian Ku Yunnan Restaurant 滇酷云南餐厅
Address 地址: 北京 朝阳区和平西街小黄庄路1号
Tel 电话: +86-10-8428-5435


  1. I had stir fried pomegranate flowers at a Yunnan restaurant in Shanghai called Southern Barbarian. The memory of it still makes me smile. Egg with jasmine is very intriguing indeed!


  2. I didn't think the Yunteng Shifu review was so bad, speaking as someone who is very much a learner blogger!

    Another great post, thanks for sharing.

  3. OMG that looks so amazing. Yunnan is going to the top of my 'i want to visit' list...

  4. I'd love to try stir fried flowers! I can only imagine how fabulous those jasmine flowers were.

  5. Wen - ooh! Pomegranate flowers! The use of various flowers in Yunnan cuisine shows that foraging was being done in China a long time before the Danes and all the other johnny-come-latelys.

    Vicky - sometimes I still feel like I'm wearing the L-plates!

    Lizzie - I want to visit, too. So far my only experiences of Yunnan food have been in Beijing. It's good but I know it will be better in Yunnan itself.

    Su-Lin - I've been doing some research and I've spotted jasmine flowers on the menu at Cay Tre (Old St) but with a 'in-season' caveat.

  6. That's the way vegetarian food should be! I actually really do love my vegetables, I think asian cuisine tend to put a lot more emphasis on actually making them taste good instead of as plainly blanched as a side to roast meats, the way the yunnan people have done it has been really inspiring. love the stir fried flowers!

    Also, intrigued by the air pot, what is that??

  7. Yeah, now I really want to go too - we gave it a miss last time round as it looked liked it totally deserves a month all by itself. Maybe next year... Loving the fresh sounding veggie flavours. I wonder if anywhere in London does good Yunnanese?

  8. Shu Han - the chicken and the other ingredients of the soup are placed in the air-pot, which has a 'chimney' in the middle. A lid is then placed over the air-pot, and the whole pot is then put over a boiling pan of water. Steam then comes through the chimney to cook the chicken and other ingredients. A soup is then made as the condensation from the lid falls back into the air-pot.

    Grubworm - sadly, I know of no specialist Yunnan restaurant in London. However, the odd Chinese place may do 'Crossing The Bridge Noodles', and some Vietnamese and Thai places may serve dishes found on Yunnan menus. I do have hope, though, as Yunnan restaurants have opened in New York, Sydney and Melbourne, which begs the question: why not London?

  9. My personal fav for Yunnan is Dian Feng Lou. For some reason, it gets far less attention than other Yunnan restaurants in Beijing. Could be that the location is a bit obscure but worth the effort.

    Bld 1 Huadu Tuanti, 75 Bing Jiao Kou Hutong, Deshengmen Wai Dajie, Xicheng District

    Their 'over the bridge' noodles is the best I have had in Beijing. Their mint salad and saliva chicken are really good too.

    1. Anon - thanks for the tip. It seems the popularity of Yunnan restaurants in Beijing shows no signs of abating.

  10. My turn to be ridiculously jealous of your meals. Next time I'm in China I'm bypassing Beijing and just going straight to either Yunnan or Sichuan. Or both. I was blown away by how different Yunnanese food can be from the other provinces.Did you have their other rices - like ones mixed with nuts/beans or potatoes?

    1. HF - sadly I didn't get to try the rice mixed in with nuts/beans/potatoes. And yes, Yunnan is up there as a must-visit destination.

  11. The "Ruili pea congee" is also a Shan Burmese dish called Shan Tohpu Thoh(k) in Burmese (Shan Tofu Salad) - I love it.

    Our tofu is made from gram/chickpea flour, not soybean.

    See further esp the photos at the bottom.