Back to blog index

Street Food of Lijiang: Bugs, Bark and Dragonfly Nymphs

Dragonfly nymphs. Not your average snack food.

The street foods of Yunnan have certainly been a surprise. For a start, in Yunnan they eat a whole lot of things that less adventurous foodies would consider inedible – fern fronds, tree bark, various flowers, lichens and bugs. Yes, bugs.What I can’t figure out is why, in a place that seems so fertile and prosperous, with blossoming fruit trees and fields weighed down with wheat, barley, onions and broad beans in great abundance, you would need to resort to eating bugs. Perhaps they just like them for the taste? I’ve had a taste of Yunnanese fried bees myself back in Shanghai, and given that they were surprisingly delicious (creamy, crunchy), I thought I should extend my bug repertoire and try some local favourites.
Bamboo larvae. Not delicious.

 The bamboo larvae, I don’t mind saying, were very forgettable, and bore way too close a resemblance to maggots for my liking – although to my great surprise my seven-year-old daughter found them terrifically tasty- but preferred to pull the heads off first, leaving them in a dainty pile on the edge of her plate. She won’t even eat gherkins because they ‘taste yucky’ but is quite happy to tuck into a plate of larvae, leaving me to wonder if she will be permanently scarred by living in China. The dragonfly nymphs, harvested from shallow lakes and ponds then air dried before deep-frying, were actually pretty good. The only catch, literally, was their sharp little mouthparts and tail parts which spiked the inside of your mouth as you ate, but they were not bad tasting.
Tree bark. With a bit of red pepper and spring onion for colour.

The tree bark was unusual in taste, and even more unusual in texture. It came out looking all crunchy and interesting, but that was an illusion because the texture was soft and leathery, with a roughness and chewiness that shouldn’t really have been any surprise at all. The taste was medicinal, somewhere between Friar’s Balsam and camphor. Not my favourite dish of the night, but at least I tried it.

Chicken Bean Flour Jelly
This is a Lijiang specialty, made from chicken stock and very, very gelatinous mung bean flour. The appetising grey colour comes from the mung bean flour, and is a little off-putting, but in the interests of you lovely readers and my own insatiable curiosity I ate some. Just like cold, sliced chicken stock jelly, if you’ve ever eaten a bowl of that for fun, redeemed by a whole stack of fiery chili and some peanuts. Actually, the peanuts were pretty good.
Upmarket bugs. A plate of mixed critters at a restaurant.
Lastly I introduce you to my hands-down favourite Lijiang street food. Crispy, salty, crunchy, with just a touch of spicy heat, they are exactly what they look like. Home-style potato chips, fried right there in a wok full of boiling bubbling oil in the street. These, at last, were delicious.
Read all of my Yunnan posts here:

Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 1: All in the Altitude
The Nakhi of Lijiang: Of the Cosmos and the Stars
Street Foods of Yunnan: Bugs, Bark and Dragonfly Nymphs
Yunnan: In Pictures

  • Dingle

    You're a glutton for punishment Fiona!

    Did you try deepfried honey bees? I keep seeing this on the menu at Southern Barbarian and never dare to try!

    Great photos though, Yunnan looks amazing!

  • croquecamille

    I'm going to lose all my adventurous foodie cred, but I don't think I would be able to eat a bug in any form. I would try the tree bark, though.

  • Fiona

    To Dingle – how right you are! And my eyes are often more adventurous than my stomach…I have tried Southern Barbarian's deep fried honeybees a couple of times now, and I do really like them, plus they go well with their Belgian beers – crunchy and salty, just the thing with a cold Orvel…try them next time you're there!

    To Camille – bugs are in an extra category I think, outside normal adventurous foodie-ism. I think you have heaps of credit in that department anyway!

  • Luiz Claudio

    Hi Fiona! I liked your blog! Very, very interesting. Now, I'm a new follower. Visit my blog, please. I hope you like it too. Kisses from Brazil!


  • Fiona

    Hi Luiz – Thanks for stopping by, you're welcome anytime! Looking forward to finding out more about the foods of Brazil too.

    Cheers, Fiona

  • Louise

    You are such an adventurous soul Fiona. I'm astonished at you (and your children!) trying such things. Amazing what kids will try and like isn't it? I could perhaps have got up the nerve to try that rather unappealing grey jelly and possibly the tree bark- was that fried do you think? The picture looks a bit like it.

  • christa @ mental foodie

    Are you sure they are potato chips, and not deep fried fish skin or something (actually good stuff, if you haven't tried it before)? 🙂

    Can't say I have eaten any bugs… you are again braver than I am. Though now I am curious about the honey bees.

  • Adora’s Box

    Such beautiful photos. The tree bark looked too pretty to eat. I would probably use that in some kind of craft. The only thing I would try and probably would like is the potato chips. I'm too squeamish to even touch bugs let alone eat them.

  • Franklin from Dine Delish

    what wonderful travels! I can stomach the bean flour jelly. I eat that all the time, but not the bugs! You are brave.

  • ukachi

    Hey Fiona,
    I'm going to go to Yunnan, Lijiang and would like to try some bugs.
    Where was the street food place you went to?

  • Fiona

    Hi ukachi,

    The bugs are available all through Lijiang's old city, in both restaurants and street food stalls. There is a food street in the old city off Sifang Jie (old market square).

    Have a great trip!
    Cheers, Fiona

  • shaz

    I am in awe of your adventurousness. Not quite sure I would have eaten the tree bark! I tried bugs in Thailand, and yes, not quite sure what the appeal is, except to say, "hey, I ate a bug!". The potato chips sounds downright delicious though.

  • Danial123

    Yes indeed…. this is the type of info I was looking for! 😉 Thank you!
    table booking