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
Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 2: Exercising Caution While Maintaining Momentum
Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 3: My Life in the Hands of an Idiot in a Minivan
The Nakhi of Lijiang: Of the Cosmos and the Stars
Street Foods of Yunnan: Bugs, Bark and Dragonfly Nymphs
Kunming: Crossing the Bridge Noodles
Yunnan: In Pictures