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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Dai Minority Dining in Kunming, Yunnan

CHINA | Friday, 10 April 2015 | Views [899]

Turning off the main street, just past the train line, an alley cuts in between a series of squat aging apartment blocks. Steel frames dress the windows above. Potted plants rest on window sills. A small shop stocked with drinks and cigarettes stands by the entrance to one of the residences. Turning the corner, a man washing a bowl on the balcony above stops to peer down as we pass underneath. At the end of the path two doors open into the ground level. An elderly man stands by a concrete basin washing a pile of empty plates stacked on a makeshift bench. A dim glow illuminates the entrance. Inside a man roasts fish in a steel press over smouldering coals in a long slender barbeque. The walls are blackened by soot. The restaurant is full, he explains, there will be a wait. Opting to wait he hands us a menu and pad to note down our order. We take a seat outside on low wooden stools by the kitchen door across the way. A chef toils over a roaring wok burner. Fragrances of citrus, seafood and chilli drift through the open doorway. We hand back the pad and sit down to wait.

 

 The restaurant is family run. Grandma wanders in and out of the dining rooms with a baby strapped to her back in a red embroidered sling. The eldest sibling handles the growing queue of customers as he barks orders to the two small kitchens. Inside we are seated at a low table in one of the three modest sized dining rooms. The room is crammed with people. A large antique red wood cupboard protrudes into the room. The air is lively; students drinking beer, chatting, and smoking. Wait staff circulate, delivering steaming aromatic dishes.  Thai and Laotian flags hang from the wall. The restaurant is Dai, an ethnic group originally from southern Yunnan, but closely related to the Thai and people of Laos. Here in Yunnan the influences and tastes of southern Asia are integrated with those of the predominant Han Chinese. Dai cuisine delivers sour and spicy flavours, heavily featuring lime, lemongrass, garlic and chilli. 

 

Our food arrives; long thin golden needle mushrooms with garlic, chilli, garlic chive, and lime juice wrapped in banana leaf and grilled over coals. A small river fish, butterflied, pressed and barbequed, served with a sour, spicy dipping sauce. A whole pineapple hollowed out and filled with sweet sticky pineapple rice, and a salad of green bean noodles with fresh tomato and shreds of carrot in a sharp white vinegar and chilli dressing. Finishing, we pay, and a new group arrives to take our place.

 

I am satisfied as we walk home back along the train tracks. There is an air of calm. A man burns incense and bundles of replica banknotes by the wayside, an offering to his ancestors. A warm breeze lifts, and the night sets in.

Tags: china, dai minority, food, kunming, yunnan

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