Dali (大理) Yunnan China Street Food
The proverbial debate among most guidebooks about travel in Yunnan is whether you should go to Dali (大理) or LiJiang (丽江). I’ll tell you my preference in a minute (we did both) but let’s first describe to two famous hot destinations. Both are ancient (yet highly renovated and squeaky clean) villages featuring beautiful running water canals that snake through the bustling shops, restaurants and inns set along garden courtyards and winding alleyways .
Both feature snow capped mountains in the distant landscape, although Dali has a huge lake not too far away. Both have great food! Dali is smaller and is set up pretty much like a grid system and is easy to get around (you can actually ride bikes and take buses through a few of the streets). LiJiang is larger, and its winding labyrinthine streets (and shitty tourist maps) will almost guarantee that you’ll get lost (which is half of the fun until you need to get out to catch a bus to the airport). LiJiang is WAY more touristy (you can get KFC in LiJiang but not Dali) but I suspect Dali will be like LiJiang in a few years. For that reason alone, I prefer Dali but I have to say that the amount of winding streets along the small canals of LiJiang are quite breathtaking.
In Dali, you can get the full spectrum from Western style pasta, ice cream and burgers to hardcore street food just as you could in the streets of Beijing or Kunming. While in Dali, you should definitely try these amazing soups filled with wild vegetables from the local mountains. The local fish is also a good choice as well as the dried salted meats that you often see hanging above the vegetable displays in front of many of the local restaurants. I took a peak in the kitchen and watched the owner cook up our fish soup over a firey hot wok oven.
If you are going to visit Dali, I’d recommend staying at the Laughing Lotus Inn http://www.laughinglotusinn.com/ on Hong Long Jing 红龙井. It’s away from all the super touristy area, the owners David and Sky are awesome, and the charming rooms are very comfortable and relaxing. We spent 2 nights there and had a great time sitting out in the patio chatting with the other traveling residents. They have a full menu and can also arrange bus travel to other destinations in Yunnan.
Over the 2 days we checked out a few restaurants including a vegetarian dumpling jiaozi restaurant inside of the square of Wu Hua Building run by Dong Bei’ers who as a consequence of recently converting to Buddhism, have several large home brewed plum wine vessels from which they no longer consume but sell by the glass to their customers. A glass is great after a spicy dish of dumplings.