Kunming Food and Restaurants — A Tastier Kunming Trip
Our Kunming foods and restaurants introduction below is not meant to be exhaustive. It is intended to be a brief summary of the best dishes that represent the city (and in some cases, to the province of Yunnan) as well as a representative selection of the city's many restaurants, which should be of most help to travelers looking for a tastier Kunming trip.
7 Famous Kunming Foods/Dishes
The foods and dishes of Kunming, thanks to their distinctiveness and their variety, never fail to please visitors. In Kunming, you will find a wide array of these delicious dishes, not only in the more established restaurants, but also in street stalls scattered throughout the city.
Some of the most famous Kunming dishes include the following:
1. Over-the-Bridge Rice Noodles (过桥米线 Guòqiáo Mǐxiàn)
Over-the-bridge rice noodles is a famous local dish in Yunnan that can only be found in certain parts of the province. Its name comes from the story of a wife who had to carry her husband’s meals across a bridge. A large pot was her solution to keeping the all the various foods requested hot while making her over-the-bridge journey from the kitchen.
The dish is prepared in three stages:
- The meat pieces, which might be pork, chicken, fish (typically the local specialty, carp) and seafood (typically squid), are placed in a large pot, to which is added a sufficient quantity of chicken broth and some heavy oil.
- The meat pieces might include cooked (leftover) or raw meats, or a mix of the two, just as one typically mixes as many of the kinds of meat cuts as one has available (this dish is a great way to make use of leftovers, which surely also helps to explain its popularity).
- After the meat has cooked until tender, vegetables are added and the dish is allowed to simmer a few minutes longer, then rice noodles are added and the dish is allowed to simmer a little longer, or just until the noodles are cooked al dente. Bon appetite!
2. Steam Pot Chicken (汽锅鸡 Qìguō Jī)
Steam pot chicken is a dish made in a unique type of double boiler with a twist, via an integral center tube that reaches to the top pot. This unique double boiler permits more steam to enter the top pot, in which the chicken and/or other meat is placed. The top pot is then covered and the ingredients inside are steam cooked, thus preserving both the flavors as well as the nutrients of this hearty meat dish.
Steam pot chicken is made with any number of flavorful spices — ginger being one of the more popular flavors — thus introducing greater variation to the dish, which is one of the most tender and most flavorful dishes throughout China. It takes about 3–4 hours to steam cook chicken in the steam pot double boiler, depending on the quantity used and the size of the pot.
The History of Steam Pot Chicken:
The steam pot double boiler was developed at the court of Emperor Qianlong, the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, who reigned from 1735 to 1796, where it was used not only to steam cook chicken, but wild fowl as well, such as duck and pheasant. The steam pot double boiler thankfully somehow slipped past the walls of the Forbidden City and was embraced by the common people. In their hands, the steam pot double boiler was used to cook all kinds of meats — or combinations thereof — while chicken, which steam cooks easily, became the most popular.
3. Yunnan Rice Cake (饵块Ěrkuài ‘Food Chunks’)
Erkuai is a very popular native Yunnan dish. Yunnan rice cake forms an indispensable part of every feast during many of Yunnan’s Lunar New Year celebrations. The dish is prepared in three stages:
- Erkuai is made of high-quality rice that is cooked, then pressed into a special mold.
- When cooled, the resulting cake of cooked rice retains the shape of the mold.
- Thereafter, the rice cake is either boiled, roasted, or quick-fried in oil.
A favorite Yunnan rice cake preparation method is to gently roast the cake over a charcoal fire. Roasted erkuai is served with marmalade, jam, or fruit compote. Served in this manner, roasted erkuai is as common to the Yunnan breakfast table as the croissant served with marmalade is to the continental European breakfast table.
4. Smoked Smelly Bean Curd (烤臭豆腐 Kǎo Chòudòufu)
There are snack markets spread about the city consisting solely of numerous snack stalls that operate specifically to serve night crowds, from taxi drivers to policemen to tourists to workers, including office workers returning home late and who opt for a quick meal at the snack market as an alternative to making supper at home.
One of the most popular snacks at such eateries is the smoked smelly bean curd, which can be found throughout Kunming's snack stalls. It isn't nearly as bad as the name suggests (it is simply tofu that has been smoked over a charcoal fire) — in fact, it is quite tasty! The smell, though pungent, can be quite alluring if you like the taste of the snack.
5. Eight Treasures of Yunnan (云南八宝饭 Yúnnán Bābǎofàn)
‘Eight treasures of Yunnan’ is another Yunnan specialty and the number one snack in Yunnan Province.
Eight treasures of Yunnan is an eight-part ensemble consisting of the following: one small ham-stuffed crescent-shaped bread roll, five small crispy rolls separately stuffed with pureed meat, roasted sesame seed, roasted peanuts, sautéed mushrooms, and pickled rutabaga (similar to turnip), and one small hard-crusted sweet cake. (The eighth treasure is the pastry.)
6. Grandma's Mashed Potatoes (老奶洋芋 Lǎonǎi Yángyù)
Yunnan abounds with various potatoes. In some remote areas of Yunnan province, potatoes are used as a staple food, hence the various cooking methods for potatoes.
Mashed potato is not a snack but a very ordinary home-cooked dish in Yunnan, especially popular among old grannies, as the biggest features of this dish are that it’s easy to eat and it can have many flavors.
To cook this dish, firstly you need to boil the potatoes thoroughly, then mash them or cut them into small pieces, and finally stir-fry them with salt, rape oil, peppers, and any other seasonings, plus greens or meat.
7. Guandu Baba (官渡粑粑 Guāndù Bābā)
Guandu baba is a type of round cake make with wheat flour, which gets its name from Guandu Old Town in Kunming Prefecture. The specialty of Guandu baba is that it has sesame, peanuts, and walnuts as its filling, then baked with melted white or brown sugar.
It is soft and sweet, and you can also taste the pure fragrance of its flour.
3 Recommended Kunming Restaurants
1. Qiao Xiangyuan Restaurant (桥香园 Qiáo Xiāng Yuán)
Qiao Xiangyuan is a large, upmarket restaurant chain with over 40 outlets conveniently located all over the city as well as in the surrounding suburbs and villages.
The Qiao Xiangyuan restaurant chain specializes in serving local Kunming/Yunnan dishes, and is renowned for its friendly and attentive service as well as its pleasant dining atmosphere. The restaurant chain has slowly built up a solid reputation among Kunming's gourmet diners as well as among tourists.
- Must-try dishes: over-the-bridge rice noodles (过桥米线)
- Average meal price: CN¥40 per person
- Address: every corner of Kunming city
2. Shiping Huiguan Restaurant (石屏会馆 Shípíng Huìguǎn)
Shiping Huiguan Restaurant has a venerable history stretching back more than two hundred years. The building is an ancient wooden one, in the form of a siheyuan (siheyuan courtyard-style residences originated in Beijing, but are found elsewhere in China), with a gray-brick outer wall and a large, cobblestone courtyard inside.
Shiping is the name of a county just south of Kunming, and huiguan is the Chinese for a ‘guild hall’. It used to be a guild house back in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) and is now a restaurant that serves authentic Yunnan dishes in an atmosphere that is quintessentially Chinese. If you are looking for a traditional Chinese dining experience, this is where you will find it.
- Must-try dishes: steam pot chicken (汽锅鸡) and Shiping tofu (石屏豆腐)
- Average price for a meal: CN¥145 per person
- Address: 24 Zhonghe Alley, Cuihunan Road
3. Fuzhao Lou Restaurant (福照楼 Fúzhào Lóu)
In 1937, a small restaurant called Fuzhao Lou was opened with its specialty of steam pot chicken. In the past 80 years, this small restaurant has survived ups and downs and expanded to become a time-honored brand with 12 branches in Kunming.
The signature dish of this restaurant is again steam pot chicken. The chicken is fresh and soft, and the soup is golden in color and rich in aroma.
- Must-try dishes: steam pot chicken (汽锅鸡), flame mashed potato (火焰土豆泥), and rainbow cold rice noodles (七彩凉米线)
- Average price per meal: CN¥100 per person
- Address: Floor 1, Jinjiang Hotel, 98 Beijing Road, Guandu District
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