More Food Discoveries from Kunming, China

Chicken Noodle Soup

After the fabulously spicy tripe with tea mushrooms for dinner the night before and then the leftovers for lunch my stomach was begging me to stop with the spicy food for a while. Thankfully you can always get a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup (土鸡米线 tŭ jī mĭ xiàn) for less than a dollar. Although you do have to pick through the boney chicken pieces to find the edible morsel, the rich broth and noodles were soothing.

Lu Cai

The next evening, I went back to one of the friendlier neighborhood places to try their lŭ cài 卤菜. This style of cooking is often eaten cold, liáng 凉, meaning room temperature, however, this particular place heats it up for you. You select the cooked meat and vegetable pieces and they slice it all up for you and serve you a hot plate of your creation. I chose a piece of pork, a sausage link, tofu, Chinese cabbage and a kind of mushroom with a side of stir-fried rice with potato (洋芋饭 yáng yù fàn). On the salty side but tasty and not too spicy.

The Menu Test

On Wednesday I had a real world menu-reading test at a diner looking place on Remin East Road. No pictures or food displayed; just a long list of Chinese characters. Maybe I should have been a little more adventurous, but I played it safe with a mushroom and chicken dish and a side of spinach.

Boring I know, but it turned out quite good, a sort of stewed chicken with a flavorful mushroom sauce, garnished with a couple squares of lu cai tofu and a bitter green leafed vegetable I didn’t recognize. Much better than the name – mushroom flavored steamed chicken with rice (香菇蒸鸡饭xiāng gū zhēng jī fàn) – suggested.

Dining with Friends

Tired of eating alone and only being able to order one or two dishes, on Thursday evening I invited some of my fellow students to dinner. The school offers a meal plan Monday through Friday which most students take, which means is hard to find people to eat dinner with during the week.

We went back to my favorite place with the windows overlooking the street. Unfortunately those tables were too small for the four of us. Fortunately the staff, not knowing at first where to put us, dragged a table up to the rooftop terrace. The table barely fitting through the doorway. A soft balmy evening perfect for dining outside. 

We were an international mix of ages and backgrounds, really a representative sample of the type of students that come to learn Chinese – a young female university student from Italy, a German middle aged Latin teacher on two week holiday and a lawyer/grandmother from New Zealand just starting a three month language program.

We spent a long time ordering the food, going through the long menu page by page and picking the dishes that would suit our group. Some in the group didn’t want to eat dishes that were too spicy (checked with the waiter before ordering each dish, là bù là) and we stayed away from internal organs and so forth.

We ended up with beef stir-fried with mushrooms, pork stir-fried with scallions, zucchini with potatoes, tea tree mushrooms, a fish stewed in a mild chili sauce and my favorite, crispy red beans with bitter greens – spicy and crunchy cut with just a hint of bitterness.   All the dishes were flavorful and well prepared. The only annoyance was the small bones in the fish made it difficult to eat, typical for Chinese fish. All in all a lovely evening. Total cost including beer, 160 yuan ($27); enjoying good food with other people, priceless.

September 3, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.