Yunnan Cuisine, though not yet well known in the West, is one of the best regional eating experiences in China. Many dishes borrow hot, spicy flavours from neighbouring Sichuan. Others, influenced by periodic migrations provinces such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, reflect the subtle, rounded taste of eastern and southeast Chinese cuisine. The year round availability and variety of vegetables provides a seemingly limitless menu. The Dali fields are very fertile yielding two crops a year, the principal crops being rice, wheat, beans, rape, maize and tobacco.
“Some of the more well-known culinary specialities include Xuanwei huotui, a strong, tasty, country-cured ham used as an accent in stir fried dishes and soups. Unlike in the rest of China, the Yunnanese appreciate dairy products. An excellent mild white cheese made from goat’s milk (rubing/rushan) is sliced and fried in shallow oil and sprinkled with a thin layer of salt or sugar. Other times it is coated with a layer of egg and cornflour and fried. A popular street food is to roast the cheese and spread it with a sweet rose flavored paste.
In spring, the tender, emerald-green horse beans, seemingly grown in every available plot of land come to harvest. In summer, eels, caught in the wet rice fields, are a great delicacy. Mushrooms appear in great profusion when the rains let up in August. Some of the most highly prized of the dozens of varieties are “”chicken-tasty mushroom”” (jizong) and morel mushrooms, (yangduzi) translated from Chinese as “” Sheep-stomach mushroom.”” For vegetable lovers, Yunnan is a joy, Lotus root, bamboo shoots, tender young pea-sprouts, Chinese broccoli, beans of many types, and green garlic shoots are bountiful year round.”
A favorite meal among locals and visitors is Across the Bridge Rice Noodles (Guo qiao mi xian), known from the following story: A scholar, preparing for the imperial examinations isolated himself on an island in a lake. His devoted wife was dismayed that the meals she carried to him across a long, wooden bridge always arrived cold. By luck she discovered that by adding a thin layer of vegetable oil on top, the soup and noodles were sufficiently insulated. Her lunches arrived boiling hot and her husband of course, passed the exams.