Lijiang was curious. There was not so little chilli in the markets, not so little chilli among the souvenirs.
Ask about spicy foods or chilli growing, though, and their existence is negated.
Like here, with my colleague and companion to Yunnan, Mason, discussing our Red Hot China mission.
There was quite a bit of spicy food to be found, though. In quite some diversity.
Naxi Market Eatery
First off, the little eatery at the farmer’s market of Lijiang which was recommended to us.
Easy to overlook, doesn’t look like much – but it was not to be underestimated.
Naxi kao rou, fried/grilled pork, Naxi-style. Pork belly, crisped skin, with green chilli and a zhanfen dip (mainly made of dried red chill).
A typical soup, some ingredient of which I keep forgetting because there were so many (which is pretty unusual for Chinese cooking).
Cabbage, mushrooms, tofu, pumpkin, meat, sausage..
And a simple omelette. Fried in the wok, with not so little oil, even egg gets a bit better.
“Little Chef Private Kitchen”
More oriented towards tourists, higher level – and then they made the potato strips with peppers without peppers…
The look alone shows that this is no mere eatery for locals, but something for visitors from other places.
The food was interesting – and especially in my selection of the rather chilli-heavy dishes.
First off, though, some cool (ji dou) bing fen ‘noodles’.
And the sauce for those already uses some chilli.
The main dishes, though…
Xueshan wujiao yu, “snow mountain five-pepper fish.”
I’m not sure I counted five kinds of pepper, but there were fresh red and green chilli, dried red chilli, perhaps pickled green chilli – and some green Sichuan pepper.
Well, that would make five.
(There is some – especially green – Sichuan pepper production in the region around Lijiang, in Huaping, by the way.)
Still with enough chilli, yet very different, the other main dish:
Zhulin jianjiao ji, “bamboo forest pointy chilli chicken.”
A (or actually, two kinds of, but who’s counting) pickled chilli with pickled bamboo shoots accompanying chicken.
Of course that was also spicy, but in its sourness (and with chicken), it was a very different flavor!
A Chinese dinner would not be okay without something else, with a milder flavor, so there were also the aforementioned potato strips, tudou si.
The mixture here, and the contrast to the simpler Naxi foods, were interesting.
Yunnan Hot Pot
I’m not sure if there have always been different “hot pot” (using that label) in China.
Nowadays, though, there definitely are various dishes cooked at the table that are labeled as hot pot.
Yunnan is famous for the diversity of mushrooms to be found here, and of course they can play a major role in such hot pot.
This version was very interesting, though; it was like a mixture of hot pot and teppanyaki.
Some of the many ingredients went into the pot to boil – of course including further vegetables.
But then there’s also the hot plate around, on which meat and that bread could be grilled.
And frankly, even as the various mushrooms were really good, this bread, especially when it was grilled and got a fatty crispy crust while still remaining soft inside, was a-mazing!
A special mention also needs to go to the zhan… well, this time, not dry zhanfen, but zhanshui mixed together with ‘soup’, just as with Chongqing hot pot or, especially, Guizhou cooking.
Such a mixture with chilli can be found all across the spicy Southwest of China.
In Yunnan – influenced by Southeast Asian food, with more sourness(?) – it is made different from the way other regions make it, though.
Anyways, it is very interesting – and something chilli-related that is hardly ever mentioned.
We got to another meal in and from this region later, but in between, there was some Tibetan food!