The epic of the Tea Horse Road, one of the longest trade routes of the Ancient World, was inspired by this particular tea from the southern part of Yunnan known as Xishuangbanna.
Even within Yunnan’s regional cuisine, famous enough in China for there tobe Yunnanese restaurants in the major cities, Naxi cuisine is a notable high point. While the more esoteric dishes, such as Fried Dragonfly (油炸蜻蜓if you really want to order them by showing these Chinese characters to the restaurant owner) are an acquired taste, the staples of Naxi cooking are understandably popular: cured ham, potatoes and mushrooms. Here is a starter kit for beginning your Lijiang culinary experiments.
Pipa Pork, Zhubiao rou (猪膘肉)
Pork is the basic meat for the Naxi, and this speciality begins with a whole salted pig. Named after the Pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted fingerboard, like a lute) because of its shape, the salted and air-dried pork can last upto ten years, deboned and stuffed with salt, spices and various other condiments, it is served in slices, which though fatty are not greasy. Another kind off dried pork is Three River Ham (三江火腿).
Chickpea Jelly, Jidou Liangfen (鸡豆凉粉)
A savoury bean jelly served with a spicy sauce, cold in summer and hot in winter. Liangfen (literally ‘cold powder’) is the general Chinese name for starch jelly, and the most typical Naxi speciality is Jidou Liangfen, made from chickpeas. The greenish grey colour may at first sight seem a little less than appetizing if you’re unfamiliar with this dish, but once you’ve vaulted that small hurdle, you’ll be rewarded with a fine savoury flavour, packed with umami.
Steamed Matsutake, Niang Song Rong (酿松茸)
Yunnan as a whole is a paradise for mushroom lovers, and the most popular local Naxi varieties are matsutake, termitomyces and sorel. Matsutake, juicy, aromatic and chewy, is the most expensive (anywhere, for that matter) and appears in the market from June to November. The season for termitomyces, sweet, fresh and tender, is available around July and August, while morel, from the forests between 2,000m and 3,000m, is picked in late spring and early autumn, and is usually stuffed with meat and be streamed or boiled with chicken and duck.
White Potato Pancakes, Yangyu Baba Baba is the Tibetan flat bread, but this Lijiang version is made from white potatoes, and traditionally a harvest food. Very simple, but filling and delicious, it’s a mixture of mashed potato, slightly salted and spiced, and deep-fried.