Venturing into the culinary side of Kunming
10.11.2009 - 12.11.2009 21 °C
After a 19-hour train journey on another 'hard sleeper', we arrived in Kunming late morning: I was disappointed at first to find it to be yet another westernised built-up city with high-rise office blocks and shops all around and not a pagoda or traditional curving roof in sight. However Kunming has lovely wide boulevards and it's here that I have at last been won over to Chinese cuisine (also the local people are so friendly). It's been a relaxed time for me starting with the most delicious light cheesecake with my coffee in the cafe around the corner from my hotel, I've never tasted anything like it. Kunming is known for its goat's cheese ('rubing') which, I suspect, may have been the secret ingredient. Anyway, it definitely put me in a good mood.
I'm afraid this post is enthusiastically going to be devoted to food, food, food! I've obviously been starving in the last week trying to get used to a very different way of eating!
Today, the receptionist at our hotel recommended us to her favourite restaurant down the road from the hotel. It specialises in the Yunnan regional dish of 'across-the-bridge' noodles (过桥米线 - forgive me if this is incorrect, Jia!) which is a bowl of hot stock covered by a thin layer of oil that comes with side dishes of paper-thin raw meat and vegetable slivers, 2 quails' eggs beaten into the stock with chopsticks, a bowl of rice noodles now added to the stock etc. The intense heat of the stock cooks everything. And here comes the 'pièce de résistance' - although already a substantial dish, now with great ceremony, about 15 beautifully presented side-dishes were laid on the table - from sweet and sour prawns with julienned carrot, cucumber and spring onion to a subtly sweetened jellied lychee (and rosewater?) dish and red bean paste steamed pastry with quarter oranges for sweets - and everything in between: a cold starter of noodles with a peanut, sesame, chilli, chives, soy etc seasoning; pickled ginger/ radish; pork scratchings garnished with chilli; about 3 different 'dried mushroom' relishes - divine - didn't even need to acquire the taste; pickled lotus root; tiny sardines deep-fried in batter; crispy bacon; pickled bamboo-shoot; etc, etc. A lot of the dishes were flavoured with chilli, my favourite! A feast fit for kings - truly. And the bill was 60 yuan (about GBP5,50!). This restaurant is very popular with students who have the 10 yuan version, which is slightly less bountiful. I must say, we couldn't finish half of what was laid on our table.
After lunch we finally got our act into gear and set off for some sightseeing: our first port of call, Yuantong Temple, a buddhist temple, over 1000 years old. The complex consisted of about 6 or 7 pavillions each with a stupa all overlooking a water feature with picturesque bridges and walkways - so tranquil.
We then took our chance on the first bus heading in the direction we wanted to go to - it is impossible getting directions - and of course one can't read the signs! I must say that I have never in all my travels found it so difficult to find my way around or to even communicate with the local people as here. Usually I can pick up a bit of the language of the country I am in, but Chinese and all its dialects is so so different. BUT, we have been lucky to meet some really helpful people, and with a little innovation have coped with getting around and exchanging views. A young student today even walked us to our next destination, the West and East Tang Dynasty Pagodas, near what seems to remain of the 'old town'.
They're so pretty the way they face each other at opposite ends of a street. The East Pagoda is newer as it was rebuilt after being destroyed by an earthquake according to Chinese sources (others say it was during the Muslim Revolt). According to our guide book, the West Pagoda is the one to see as it is still in its original form and hasn't been rebuilt. It is frequented by the older people gathering to play cards, mah jong, looking after their prettily dressed grandchildren playing together under the auspices of this ancient pagoda - which can only be good, I feel!
You can even get your hair cut or a shave! Ladies take tea together - we were thrilled to be invited in to a little shop there by some Kunming ladies sitting around a little table with their tea-tray beautifully laid out with dainty teapots, pouring the green tea into tiny bowls drunk formally with both hands, sitting on tiny stools around the table, almost ceremonially, offering a dish of 'rice-cake dainties' (a little like a turkish delight), and finally a delicately wrapped 'after-dinner mint'. What an honour for us and a lovely way to end the day!