Yunnan Eats: Cheese, Cured Pork and Fresh Vegetables

On the road, we randomly stopped for lunch. The driver calls me into the kitchen, there we ordered, without a menu but rather from what they have in the kitchen, apparently fresh from the fields. He tries to explain the unfamiliar items while I struggle to decipher what he is telling me. But all is well that ends well.  We had a wonderful food experience throughout the trip.

Vegetables

Fresh vegetables cooked lightly with lots of garlic and some chilies are a staple.   Because Yunnan has a diverse variety of plant species, you’ll find dishes made with ferns, bamboo shoots, flowers, tubers, fungi, herbs and even insects of all kinds.

A kind of root that was actually quite good.
Various types of mushrooms found at the local market in Shuhe.
A typical local restaurant showcasing a variety of vegetables, tubers, flowers and ferns.

Cheese?

Cheese is something you do not expect in China because Chinese as a nation are not keen on dairy products. But in a province that lies on the fringe of China, its mash-up nationalities’ dietary habits are far removed from the mainstream Chinese. The love of dairy products could perhaps be attributed to the mélange of ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Tibetans. The way in which they eat it though is distinctly Chinese.

Called rubing, it is often served with rice, sliced and pan-fried until golden on both sides or cut into cubes and stir fried in a wok.

Another interesting cheese called rushan is grilled and sold by the roadside. It’s crispy and milky in flavor.

Cured Pork

Have you heard of Yunnan ham? We used to get them canned and is an absolute favorite of Anton’s. In Yunnan, we couldn’t find the canned one, but instead, we devoured it in so many other ways.

They love them steamed, boiled, fried… usually to flavor stews and braised dishes as well as soups and broths.

Xuan Wei ham from Xuan Wei City is the most famous. It is to China what Iberian ham is to the Spanish.

Found this in the local market in Shuhe.

And with this, I close my series on Yunnan. Don’t drool too much now. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had re-living it.

There’s more to Lijiang…

And this is perhaps THE reason to go. It was ours.

Staged outdoors beneath the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at an incredible elevation of 3,100 meters, Impression Lijiang managed to keep us in awe all throughout its performance.

A cultural show two years in the making, it is the second of nine series of highly sought after productions by Zhang Yimou. In 2003, Zhang, together with 2 of his assistants, Wang Chaoge, and Fan Yue started working on an outdoor production that would later become an ongoing series.

Impressions Liu Sanjie was the first of these productions and found its place on the banks of the Li River in the scenic town of Yangshuo. We saw that too, which actually led us to this Impression series 9 years later.

The show opened with rows of male entertainers in their traditional ethnic costumes shouting in Mandarin, “we are farmers, we are stars.”

Around 500 Naxi, Bai, and Yi ethnic groups from nearby towns and villages were selected to sing and dance. I particularly love the horse scene where they depicted the important tea trading of the province.  It was surreal.

You definitely have to find your way to Lijiang, if only for this.

But not to be missed too is Lijiang’s beautiful canyon and its mighty Jinsha River.

Touted as the world’s most spectacular river canyon is Tiger Leaping Gorge. Its maximum depth is about 3,790 meters from river to mountain peak and is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area of the World Heritage Site.

Legend has it that in ancient times, a tiger, running from a hunter, leaped across the gorge to escape. It jumped at the canyon’s narrowest point.

To trek the upper trail would have been ideal, but due to lack of time, we saw the gorge on a viewing platform at the lower road along with most of the tourist in buses.

But as you can see, it still is a gorgeous sight to see.

Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

Shaxi: Quaintest of Quaint

This must be the quaintest of quaint towns I’ve set foot on in quite a while if not in all of my travels. Found halfway between Dali and Lijiang,

sideng-square-from-trail-cafe

Shaxi is home to beautifully preserved adobe courtyard mansions that offer a glimpse into a forgotten era. It was the most intact trading center for centuries linking Yunnan into Bhutan and Tibet on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail and this lead to its prosperity during the Tang Dynasty. The network channeled tea, horse, and other valuables among the diverse ethnic groups residing in the eastern Himalayan region. What lead to the trail’s demise was the development of the road transportation and Shaxi became just another village in the 1950s. In 2001, the village was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites and a Swiss-led team worked for years to restore the deteriorating town.

alleyway

The old town of Shaxi is quite compact and easily explored by foot.

sideng-square

It consists mainly of a few quiet lanes and alleys that radiate from Sideng Square—a fascinating marketplace at the heart of Shaxi where we spent most of that Sunday people watching and just chilling.

chilling

The iconic Sideng Theater seats in the middle of the square.

sideng-theater

The unique 4-storey architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship are the soul of Shaxi because it is (to this day) where the Bai people perform during celebrations.

Across the theater is the Xingjiao Temple. Both are ancient structures that add character to the square. The temple (now a museum) is one of the best-preserved temples in the entire China because it was sequestered and used as a local government headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.

xingjiao-temple-interior

This ironically saved it from destruction. Coupled with painstaking restoration by the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP), a visit is worth the while. Original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King.

hei-hui-river

One alleyway leads to the eastern village gate and outside this gate, the Heihui River meanders from north to south through Shaxi.

yujin-bridge-2

The crescent-shaped Yujin Bridge was the only way for the Bai people go to the fields and do business back in the days. With the towering mountains as a backdrop, this bridge is a sight to behold and is one of the highlights of this leg.

simple-joys

Many find pleasure just to simply lie on the grass and chill.

guesthouse-cafes-and-stores

What used to be tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais are now guesthouses and

western-dishes

western-dishes-2

foreigner-friendly cafes (offering English menus and western style dishes), which signals an upcoming tourism boom (read: tourist buses) in this old town.

daytrippers-2

Though its visitors still form a fascinating merge of intrepid and curious travellers, many of its visitors (at the time of my visit) came in groups and spent an hour or so running through the ancient streets taking shots of the temple and theatre.  This tells me that the boom might have started already.

daytrippers

The best time to enjoy the quietness of this old trade post is first thing in the morning or very late at night.

square-at-night

As soon as the last bus headed back to Lijiang, the sanctuary of calm kicks off and we sit in the square savoring the solitude.

night-life

At night, we shared the square with the art students. We sit sipping our cup of coffee while they gather around the plaza playing street games under the moonlight and a few lights illuminating the square.

Scenes of Shaxiearly-morning-in-sideng-square

Sideng Square the day after, during breakfast, before journeying on to Lijiang.
ancient-treeAncient tree scatter around the village.
art-students-on-a-field-tripArt students abound; finding inspiration in this breathtaking old town.
 resort-on-the-riseA resort on the rise.
crystal-clear-waterA crystal clear stream flows through the main street of the ancient village.

resident

funny-english-translationsBastardized English Menu
fried-parametersThe fried parameters look like worms but is a root (perhaps from the ginseng family)
park-by-the-riverThe park by the river, just outside the East gate of the ancient town.
guesthouse-courtyardThe courtyard of our guesthouse (Renjia just off the village entrance) — turned into a drying area.
guesthouse-entranceThe entrance to our guesthouse was through the kitchen.
meal-at-renjiaPerhaps why they serve delicious Yunnan cuisine at our guesthouse.  This was lunch when we arrived.
modern-day-give-awayModern day giveaway — local kids with they games.

knitting

locals

little-girl

On the Cangshan

at-fabulous-mt-cangshan

Credits:  Quick page created by elseepe (Creative Team Member for JessicaSprague.com) using the “You Are Awesome” collaborative kit created for JessicaSprague.com’s birthday bloghop 2010 by the designers at JessicaSprague.com.

Rising above the city of Dali, standing east to Erhai Lake and facing west to the Black Hui River is the Cangshan Mountain.

trail-2

It has 19 peaks with the Malong Peak, the highest, at 4,122 meters. Picturesque streams run between summits and cascades its way down.

qingbi-stream

What used to be an 8-10 hour trek through the forest is now down to 2 hours. We, however, made it in 30 minutes through cable car, which we rode from the Tianlongbabu Film Studio.

on-the-cable-carOn the cable
remindersFunny reminders right before getting on the cable car.

What greeted as we alighted from our cable car was this giant chessboard.

giant-chessboard-and-cable-car

giant-zhenlong-board

A few meters down, passing through a bridge is Qingbi Stream.

bridge-to-qingbi-stream

We didn’t go any further but sat somewhere and had a conversation with an old gentleman who was visiting with his daughter. He spoke impeccable English, which is quite rare today. He is from Beijing, and he learned his English in a Christian school when he was a little boy. He talked a bit about his life then and how he survived labor camp. He seemed happy and content. It was his wish to see Yunnan hence this visit with her daughter. They left first as we waited for the others to come back from their trek up the Cangshan.

Xizhou: The Other Old Town of Dali

When asked where she would recommend we go besides the old town, Ling told us to go to Xizhou. “It may not appeal to everyone,” she said, “but many appreciate it for its cultural heritage.” And with that, Ling arranged for a car to bring us there.

A side note on how sweet she is. She lent us her phone so we can communicate with the driver, who does not speak a word of English, through her.

outside-the-village

Where he dropped us off, there was no sign or directions to the village so we walked around until we reached a bridge that seemed to lead to a community.

bridge

I have to say that albeit quite serene, the area was pretty empty.

lake

It felt strange to not meet a single soul for perhaps a good 10 minutes walking around the village.

empty-streets

A ghost town, we thought and wondered if it was why many didn’t like the village. The houses seemed lived in though so we explored further even though half of us felt like it might be a waste time.

bai-architecture

Well, I’m glad we persisted. We realized that the driver, for some reason, dropped us off at the back (perhaps) of the village or that we went the wrong direction (remember we cannot communicate).

squareBecause as we strolled further into the village, passing through courtyard houses, we eventually found ourselves at the heart of the village revealing a vibrant square surrounded by shops selling food, china wares, antiques, and a few souvenirs.

more-shops

shops

Being an enclave for prosperous merchants and scholars, the Bai people put emphasis on education and achievements. During the Ming Dynasty, they commemorate those who did remarkably well in the imperial exams by having their names written on a stone tablet standing on this square. Something like a “Hall of Fame.”

Xizhou was an important as a trading port along the Tea Horse Road and an essential place for military affairs, once housing a landing strip and radio station for the Flying Tigers during WWII.

coffee-shop

Just 20 km away from Dali Gucheng, Xizhou is (still) a sleepy town that lacks the hip vibe of the former. The architecture however fascinates and the square engaging with regular folks going about their business.

people-watch

In fact, the best part of our afternoon here in Xizhou was watching village life take place as we sip our cup of joe. The ordinariness of Xizhou is what makes it extraordinary.

Hip Old Town Dali

From Yuanyang, we went back to Kunming so we can take the overnight train to Dali.  We traveled northwest to Dali on a soft sleeper train that left around midnight.

sleeper

It was still dark when we were picked up at the Dali train station in Xiaguan, the new city.  Driving to the old town, we watched the city wake up. Our guesthouse is across the highway from the West gate of Old Town Dali (also called Dali Gucheng).

dali-mountain-delights

Even before owner/manager Ling could check us in, the sleepy caretaker warmly showed us our rooms and started to prepare breakfast. Beautiful people, which include Ling’s darling puppy she named after her lovely town, Dali.

dali

Lovely because it sits in the shadows of the beautiful Cangshan mountain range.

cangshan-background-2

Here, we spent a few days soaking in the view, the hip vibe, and the laid back atmosphere of the old town. I felt sad to leave and wished I had planned to stay a little longer.

Here’s why.

architecture

This town grows on you. It is touristy, I have to admit, but it is a real town that oozes with a new kind of hipness.  A real town means that local do live there still.

touristy

What used to be a backpacker’s haven is now swarmed with local urban tourist, but if you wander closer to the East Gate (near the end of Renmin and Yue Yu Streets), you will meet the local young hipsters.

young-hipsters

They run the quaint boutiques, cool cafes and interesting (read: eclectic, fusion, non-trad) eating places there.

xiao-yu

This is Xiao Yu (little fish) talking to Anton.  She loves single malts and serves a few good ones in her newly opened café/bar along Renmin Rd.
coffee-and-tiramisu-renmin-luAside from single malts, she serves a mean cup of coffee and glorious desserts.

They speak English too.

hip-boutique

It’s a great place to shop for one of a kind locally made stuff. But if ethnic clothes, local handcrafts and traditional blue and white tie-dye tablecloths are what you are looking for, go to Foreigner Street (Huguo Lu).

foreigners-rd

cangshan-in-background

Here, you’ll find more usual stuff bordering on souvenirs. Bars and restaurants are the same.

typical-dian-restaurant

You’ll find many traditional restaurants with fresh vegetables displayed at the entrance. Do enter one of them to experience the local cuisine.

dining-scene-foreigners-streetoutdoor seating scene at Foreigner’s Road

yunnan-pork-dishes

Aside from the many types of vegetables Yunnan had to offer, we actually enjoyed their pork dishes served in various ways.

One more thing I love about Dali is the abundance of fresh fruits and fresh juices

fruit-ladies

–fruit ladies (I call them) selling fruits in season in baskets and fresh juice (juiced while you wait) are found everywhere.

juicing

Located at the foot of Cangshan Mountain, Dali Gucheng resonates with the sound of streams scattered around town.

streams-2

streams-3

This water source cultivates many plants, which explains the beautiful blooms such as camellias, azaleas, and many others peppered all over town either being sold in pot

flowers-for-sale

or just beautifying the street.flowers

The city has a long history. About 4,000 years of it when the ethnic Bai people first settled.

bai

Today, they coexist with the local Yi and Muslims.

bai-architecture

The architecture that dates back to the Ming Dynasty, though renovated, rebuilt and modernized, adds big time to the charm.

dali-ancient-city-catholic-church

We also chanced upon a Christian church at the intersection of Fuxing and Heping Roads – charming streets to start with.

intricate-roof-catholic-church

The church is primarily built on wood, following a western layout but also maintaining the Bai architecture and hip roof.

A few days spent here to chill and recharge is really not a bad idea.

outdoor-table

You can either sit and catch the vibe at an outdoor table at one of the cafes or bars on Renmin Road around sundown or go for a foot massage after a day of hiking or wandering around town.

chinese-foot-massageOne of the best foot massage I’ve had in years.

Do try to set aside at least an extra day to just relax and do nothing but absorb the vibe. It will be a good break from all the touring and walking.

More snaps of the Old Town:

tree-lined-fuxing-luTree-lined Fuxing Lu

dali-bookstore

Dali Bookstore (along Renmin Lu.), a quaint little bookstore that has books in Mandarin, French and English.
sunrise-at-erhai-lakeTo the east of Dali lies Erhai Lake.
hip-cafeHip Cafe along Renmin Road
streamsCanals with clean running water dispersed around town.
hip-resto-at-renminOne of the many hip restaurants around Renmin Road.
main-road-old-and-newA fusion of old and new along the main road of Old Town Dali.