With Special Flavour
While most of China is frozen or
at least quite cold, there are still some parts of the
country's south that are enjoying shorts
and t-shirt weather during the winter months. One of
those is Xishuangbanna, a tropical region in southern
Yunnan province that borders Myanmar and Laos. In addition
to being a great place to skip out on winter cold, it
also boasts some of China's most delicious
Xishuangbanna is the traditional
home of the Dai people, who are related to Thais. It
takes its name from the Dai name for the place ¨C
Sipsongpanna ¨C with ¡®sipsong'
meaning '12¡ä and ¡®panna'
meaning ¡®thousand rice paddies'.
The resulting name, '12,000 rice paddies',
acknowledges the region's fertility and
selection of local fruits, vegetables, meats and grains
is the source of one of the least-known but most-flavorful
culinary traditions in China: Dai cuisine.
Chili peppers, cilantro and lime
juice are where much of the flavor in Dai food comes
from, but lemongrass, fermented soybeans and a cornucopia
of herbs you won't find anywhere are also
used to create unforgettable taste sensations.
Dai cuisine is predominantly spicy
and sour. It is similar in some ways to Thai cuisine
south of the border, but it has its own distinctive
identity and style. On a trip to the prefectural capital
of Jinghong last week, we had a chance to revisit some
of our favorite Dai dishes, here is a short list:
Ghost chicken (guiji)
Usually made with black-skinned
chicken, this is a super-spicy and intensely fragrant
chicken that has been roasted, chopped up and served
cold. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but an
amazing experience for anyone who lives for a good spice
Stir-fried wild boar (chaoyezhurou)
Leaner than most pork you'll
encounter elsewhere in China and with a pleasant smoky
flavor, stir-fried wild boar is a popular dish with
locals. The meat is usually stir-fried with spring onions
and chili peppers. Simple, but delicious.
Cold vegetables with spicy dipping
In Xishuangbanna there is a unique
fruit called the tree tomato (yangfanqie) that looks
like an elongated orange tomato and grows on trees.
The Dai roast it with garlic, mash it up with loads
of fresh chili pepper, lime juice, cilantro and salt.
The end result is a spectacular Dai-style salsa that
is perfect for dipping fresh local vegetables and herbs.
Take it easy with this stuff, as the slow burn takes
a while to catch up to your taste buds and can overwhelm.
Pineapple rice (buoluofan)
Fresh pineapple chunks, peanuts,
garlic, sesame seeds and sticky rice all served piping
hot in a hollowed-out pineapple, Dai-style pineapple
rice is just as good as its Thai cousin and often features
something you won't find elsewhere: purple
rice. The purple rice adds variety to the dish's
texture as well as an earthier flavor than regular sticky
rice, and is high in iron.
Granny's potatoes (laonai
This is one of the most popular
dishes for many foreign travelers visiting the region,
possibly because it is so similar to Western-style mashed
potatoes, or maybe just because it's so
delicious. Granny's potatoes is called such
because there is little need to chew, so even toothless
old women can enjoy it. It's still a treat
for us who still have teeth, and can be made with either
sour pickled vegetables or spicy peppers.