When I revisited the UNESCO Heritage site, the old town of Lijiang in Yunnan province of China in 2013 with Yuan, we tried out a lot of the local Naxi cuisine. Someone once told me that for every person, one of their senses tend to dominate more than the others when it comes to memories. So much so that for some, smells or tastes can unlock an entire treasure trove of memories. While I do feel that a particular sense tends to dominate in a particular context, I don’t feel that that same sense is dominant across all travel memories. I feel that it could vary. Some of my travel memories are connected to sounds or music that I was listening to during that travel and listening to that particular song(s) back at home can bring back the entire details of that particular travel memory – the place, the weather, the people, the conversations etc. This trip to Lijiang was connected with the tastes and flavours of Lijiang cuisine and perhaps the sense of taste was heightened because I could not participate in the conversations in Mandarin around me.
So, I am sharing the six special tastes that made up this visit.
- Street food night market
The evening Yuan and I arrived in the old town of Lijiang, we checked into our guesthouse and made our way to the night street food market to try out local delicacies. The street was packed with people and the range of local snacks on display was something to behold. I was happy that my friend was not only Chinese but knew the region well enough to recommend local specialty food. This is where I had my first taste of Er Kuai, which is a compressed rice cake, and loved it.
2. Breakfasting on Lijiang baba
When Yuan returned to the guesthouse from her 10 Km morning run on our first day, she brought these local pancakes for breakfast. They are called Lijiang baba and are a pan fried pancake. There are varieties of these pancakes but the one I tried was with eggs and spring onions. I loved them so much that I went to Naxi Snacks, the shop where they made these, each day for breakfast.
3. A bowl of fresh rice noodles in chicken broth
Yuan insisted we try out the fresh Yunnanese rice noodles in chicken broth which is a local specialty and which she said could not be found elsewhere in the country. I think Yuan would have been happy to have had this for all her meals during our time there. I had to put a lot of the coriander, spring onions and chopped chilli in my bowl to make it more flavourful for my palate.
4. A Naxi feast
A friend of Yuan’s, Anna, whose family we would be staying with during the next leg of our travel, invited us over to a dinner party with some of her friends. They treated us to a Naxi feast.
5. Steam pot Chicken
When we returned to Lijiang from our stay with Anna’s family, we went out for a farewell dinner with Anna. We decided to order the steam pot chicken, another specialty of the region.
6. Yunnanese veggies
For our last meal in the city, Yuan and I decided to try out more of the vegetarian dishes at Alily, a cafe that we had walked past often and wanted to try out. The spiced lotus root was a great balance to the spice-less tofu and greens soup.
Have you tried out Yunnanese cuisine? What has been some of your favourites or what would you like to try out?