Yummy Yunnan: Kunming’s Best Chinese Restaurants

Yummy Yunnan: Kunming’s Best Chinese Restaurants
By Matt Poulter , eChinacities.com

One of the first things that you are likely to notice upon arriving in China is how different the food is from the glutinous squelch that is served up in the greasy, generic ‘Chinese’ restaurants that are common throughout the West. Yunnan food, dian cai 滇菜, makes up one of the many recognized culinary areas of China, the main four being lu 鲁, chuan 川, yue 粤 and su 苏. With the ethnically diverse Yunnanese countryside lapping the city edges and flooding the city markets with a plethora of fresh produce every morning, dian cai arguably makes up the most diverse of these food areas. Below are a few tasty restaurants in Kunming and their dishes, which we hope represent a good introduction into the weird and wonderful world of Yunnan

Heavenly Manna 吗哪
The cosy Heavenly Manna is located on the bustling Wenhua Xiang, conveniently situated between Yunnan and Yunnan Normal universities. In the last year or so Manna seems to have become a victim of its own success. Portions have become smaller while prices have risen. Manna is still worth the visit, however. Indeed, at busy times you may have to queue for a table. Their chao rubin (22 RMB), a Yunnan specialty of fried goat cheese, is always fresh and comes with a choice of tomato or broccoli. They also serve a great laonai yangyu (8 RMB ), which literally translates as grandmother’s potato, but will be recognizable to you as mashed potato. It comes fried and flavored with local spices and herbs. The yarou, duck, is all very good but the duck braised in oyster sauce (18 RMB) especially gets our thumbs up. The hularoupian (18 RMB), spicy tasty pork, is also not to be missed. With an eye on their large foreign clientele, Manna maintains a no MSG policy. After witnessing many teary-eyed foreigners flapping at their mouths and asking for cold glasses of water they are also very sensitive towards the levels of spice in the food -your waiter will likely ask you ‘yao bu yao lajiao? -do you want spice or not? They have an English menu if your Chinese can’t cope with the strange local names that are given to many of their dishes.

Heavenly Manna 吗哪 View In Map
Add: Wenlin Jie, 74 Wenhua Xiang, Kunming
地址: 昆明市文林街,文化巷74号
Tel: 087 1536 9399
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 10:00-22:00
Price: mains from around 25 RMB

Xiang Hai Yue Vegetarian Restaurant 香海月
Kunming has several vegetarian restaurants but Xiang Hai Yue stands out because they are fully committed to a sustainable and ethical production of food. The restaurant has a strong Buddhist influence and as such has a no alcohol policy and strongly discourages smoking. If you are a smoker however, never fear. The restaurant has a huge patio area at the front that also makes for great al fresco dining in nice weather. As the restaurant is on the third floor of a large office block building you also have fairly good views of Kunming’s city lights in the evening. Inside, the restaurant is not much to look at, but you probably won’t mind as you will be tucking into their delicious xiangchun doufu, fragrant braised tofu, or their san xianguoba, crispy rice cakes and vegetable sauce. The restaurant has lots of what can best be described as ‘fake meat dishes’. In a blind taste test you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. The huangmengji, chicken and sautéed potato is very good as is the tangculiji, sweet and sour chicken.

Xiang Hai Yue Vegetarian Restaurant 香海月 View In Map
Add: 3F, Qingnian Lu, Binjiang Mansion Residence Area, Kunming
Tel: 135 2900 9586
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-21:00
Price: mains from around 30 RMB

Friendship Restaurant 友谊
The centrally located Friendship Restaurant is well known by locals and most taxi drivers. Downstairs you will find an open plan informal dining area but upstairs there are private tables, which make a good place to entertain business guests. The Kunming cuisine is top notch and well presented. The restaurant makes a good place to try one of Kunming’s famous dishes, guoqiao mixian (8 – 180 RMB), cross bridge rice noodles. The dish consists of a clay pot of steaming chicken broth into which you place a choice of meats, egg, vegetables and rice noodles. The range in price reflects how many choices you wish to add to your pot and size of pot ordered. Another chicken dish which is rather mouth watering is the qiguoji (18 – 38 RMB). The menu also boasts a delicious range of Cantonese style dishes, try the delectable shaorou, roasted pork slices. If the range of dishes on the menu seems overwhelming ask for the well presented picture menu to help you make your selection.

Friendship Restaurant 友谊 View In Map
Add: 304 Renmin Zhonglu, Kunming
Tel: 087 1339 1628
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 9:30-10:00
Price: mains from around 35 RMB

Hong Dou Yuan 红豆圆
Hong Dou Yuan is actually a local chain restaurant; they have several locations throughout the city. Look for the smiling, slightly scary face of an elderly lady in a circular sign with a red background. From pineapples from the tropical Xishuang Banna region in the South, to mushrooms from the cool, beautiful valleys of Nu Jiang in the West, Hong Dou Yuan makes an excellent place to sample the many flavors Yunnan has to offer. Gorgeously presented and wonderfully named, the song shuyu, squirrel fish, makes a great main course. Also tasty is the youluganba, fried dried beef. In the way of vegetables the zhengnangua, steamed pumpkin, is very good as is the range of mushroom dishes the restaurant has on offer and which vary with the season. Again, the menu comes with pictures to help you make your choice.

Hong Dou Yuan 红豆圆 View In Map
Add: 142 Wenlin Jie, Kunming
Tel: 087 1539 2020
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-21:00
Price: mains from around 35 RMB

Qing Qing Cao Dun 青青草墩
QingQingCaoDun will test your Chinese language skills. There is no menu and customers either order dishes from their own knowledge of Kunming specialties or go to the refrigerated display unit and pick and choose from the vegetables and meats on offer. A good tactic is to walk around the other tables when you first arrive with the fuwuyuan who will take your order. No one seems to mind if you pick and point at whatever looks good from their choices. From our experience particularly delicious are the xiangcao paigu, pork ribs bound in fragrant grass, and our personal favourite bohe chao fanqie, mint fried tomato, which has to be tried to be believed. Customers are seated on very low, cylindrical rope stalls, which contributes to the relaxed, lively atmosphere of the place and makes the whole restaurant very renao!

Qing Qing Cao Dun 青青草墩View In Map
Add: 252 Feng Zhu Jie, Kunming
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-21:00
Price: mains from around 30 RMB

Kunming is full of hundreds of very good local restaurants. If you have some time to spare simply take a wander around the city. A general rule of thumb is ‘go where the locals go’. If a restaurant is busy you probably can’t go too wrong with the food!

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