Yunnan Food, Part 3 of 3.

Nine months in China and I’m still not sick of the food. Here’s why:

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Just a few of these little dried peppers make even something as simple as this cabbage super-delicious.

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Every once in a while, when I’ve had a rough day and the restaurant doesn’t have any beans, tofu, bamboo, or other sufficiently filling stuff, I’ll break down and have an omelette. Always incredible.

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“Liang Fen,” ie “cold powder.” Green peas made into a powder, I guess for easy storage, then reconstituted (is there a better word for this?) into a kind of jelly. Sliced like thick noodles, covered with cilantro, peanuts, soy sauce, vinegar, and MSG if you’re not quick to customize the order. A welcome break from noodles and rice.

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$0.40 worth of mangoes.

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I ordered this vegetable because it was the only one in the case I didn’t recognize. The boss told me it was some sort of wild root; it had the texture of celery but pretty much no taste at all, which fact was made up for by the fermented soybean, tomato, and hot pepper sauce. Oy! Later someone told me that this was the heart of the banana tree. I still have no clue.

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Fava beans.
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A first: Chinese-style mashed potatoes. Filled with chives and Yan Cai, a kind of Chinese sauerkraut. Less rich, more savory than we’re used to.

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A rare plate of raw veggies: cucumbers with red peppers, cilantro, and vinegar. When you eat it, you’re supposed to say “SHUA-ANG” – “invigorating!”

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One thing significantly less than amazing: this lacquered coconut. I thought it had just been smoothed, but I think they actually coated it with something to keep it from going bad. Unfortunately, the coating seeped into the flesh and juice. Everything tasted like paint thinner. From now on, I’m only buying coconuts with hair still on them.

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Some kind of local street snack: two roast rice cakes inside a crepe, with a few spoonfulls feach of herbs, peppers, fresh pea curry…and MSG. $0.50 per wrap, but bosslady so enjoyed me enjoying it that she gave me a second for free.

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No need tor dumplings today.

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Fried rice noodles with chives.

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Oyster shrooms.

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When one dish isn’t enough and two is two many, best to order some greens. Little bitter, nice and garlicky.

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Don’t get me wrong, corn on the cob is great. But so are cor kernles and edamemes fried up with peppers and gigner.

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Some kind of local green-pea lookalikes; filled with seeds and super bitter. Not recommended.

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Green punkin.

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The vegetable soups here tend to be pretty simple – just leaves and broth. Not so with this one: punpkins, carrots, and taters made their way in as well.

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Fiddle(r?)head ferns in fermented soybean sauce.

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Raw banana heart salad. Another one of those wonderful mixes of coolness and spice.

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Fried rice cakes.

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Bee larvae and sauerkraut salad. Better than it sounds!

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Cold street noodles with an extra helping of tofu and veggies. The lady kindly ignored my no-meat request.

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I pulled into a restaurant after dark and a table of eight invited me to pull up a chair and join them. Free beer and leftovers!

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Good old tofu – I almost never eat this stuff since there’s generally such a preponderance of unprocessed beans and other veggies. Still, far be it from me to turn down a free plate.

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Less-than-happily pestling some Dai minority-style Baba Ghanoush: roast eggplants mashed with cilantro and peppers, served nice and goopy so you can scoop it up with your stick rice. Awww yeah.

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Steamed pineapples? Yeah, the inside is cored out, the fruit is minced, then mixed with sticky rice and cooked inside the the pineapple. No styrofoam take-out box necessary!

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Fried crepes with various fruit powder fillings.

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Finally, the king of them all. Probably the best thing I’ve eaten in China. So good that I asked the boss at least three times if he was sure he didn’t put chicken in it. Which itself is weird, because I don’t actually miss chicken, nor do go bonkers for it when I do wind up eating it, nor do I generally think that if a dish is really flavorful it must contain meat. And yet, something about this dish was so amazing that I couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything in it other than the single pruyple lump I had pointed at in the fridge case. What was this magic stuff? Stir-fried banana flower! Look it up on wikipedia: the bunch of bananas grows all upside-down off of a kind of proboscis/appendage on the tree, and below the center of the bunch hangs a purple flower that looks kind of like a mini-football. Peel off the purple skin and you have a yellow middle layer, followed by a really meaty white heart. Somehow it’s all stringy, like eating pulled pork or jerk chicken, but a little softer, less chewy. Mix with the standard litany of spices, peppers, garlic, scallions, etc. It was so good that my mind went blank while eating it. I can’t even talk about what was so amazing about it. All I can recall is the awe. And that it cost $1.50.

It’s decided: I must live somewhere where the climate supports banana trees.

Thus ends my nine-month dive into real Chinese food, and I know my chronicles have barely scratched the surface. Stuff I ate but didn’t record; stuff I passed but didn’t photograph; stuff I never knew to ask for; stuff from places I never made it to. It seems one really could travel in China for the better part of a lifetime and still not run out of new things to eat. Such has been my life since last August, at least – amazing stuff, almost every day, almost always less than $2, almost always ready as quick as a drive-though. Equally awesome: very very very few cases of Delhi Belly, and only one that took more than one trip to the loo to clear up (which, for the record, I blame on Shangri-La’s 3500m altitude). And, not a pound gained. Though it’s probably safe to chalk that up to the 6000 calories I burn on every day of riding.

I’m at a loss for words; I can’t believe the end is really here. Goodbye, Chinese food. It’s been an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure to have you power me for the last 12,500 kilometers.

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3 Responses to Yunnan Food, Part 3 of 3.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hell to the yesssss

  2. ian chen says:

    welcome to China.welcome to Sichuan.

  3. ian chen says:

    welcome to China. welcome to Sichuan.