Dai (傣族) Minority Food in Kunming (昆明) China
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been travelling throughout China and just recently returned back to New York. On the trip I started in Beijing then went out to South West China and visited Kunming, DaLi, LiJiang, and LuGu out in the Yunnan province of China. After getting my fill of jian bing, baozi, jiaozi, la mian, and kao ya in Beijing, I was excited to explore the diverse foods of Yunnan.
Kunming is a great place to start as it is the center of Yunnan minority indigenous culture representing over 25 different ethnic minorities.
Upon arrival I visited a Dai (傣族) restaurant on the outskirts of Kunming featuring private dining in bamboo huts in the courtyard. Unfortunately we arrived a little late and sat in the main restaurant dining area.
The first dish was a spicy smoked BBQ chicken cut up in pieces and served on palm leaves. When we sat down at our table, I noticed a lot of signs throughout the restaurant about the dangers of eating sharp bones and when started eating this dish I instantly got the connection to the warnings.
Next we were served a spicy steamed ground beef dish with pickled vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and a bowl of traditional spicy pickled vegetables in salty brine with red hot chilies. The pickled spicy vegetables were probably my favorite recipe. It was extremely spicy but the salt really brought out the full flavor of the vegetables. It’s a little like Kim Chi but it’s served in a broth. You could eat bowls upon bowls of rice with this dish. I am actually reading SALT by Mark Kurlansky (a great book!) and there’s a chapter about the ancient Sichuan salt works located just north of Yunnan. In the book, the author goes into detail describing the how a lot of early Sichuanese cuisine is based on using salt to ferment and pickle vegetables with chilies. I wouldn’t be surprised if this dish is a variant of the ancient recipe.