Our final day in Kunming started off with a cab ride a little past noon. It’s funny how local cabbies have the option of locking themselves up in a cage for protection. Whereas Vietnam has quite a few illegitimate cab companies that overcharge, The Astronomer and I were pleased to find that there’s no funny business (aside from the cages) going on in Kunming.
Here’s one of the many public big screens set-up around town for residents to watch the Games (while shopping for bling).
Our breakfast/lunch destination was the White Pagoda Dai Restaurant (127 Shangyi Jie, E of Kūnmíng. Phone: tel: (0871) 317 2932). The specialties here are the foods of the Dai people—a Chinese ethnic minority of Yunnan Province.
The Dai peoples of China (Tai Lü: tai51 lɯ11 Chinese: 傣族; pinyin: Dǎizú) is the officially recognized name of several ethnic groups living in the Sipsongpanna Tai Autonomous Prefecture and the Taihong Tai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture (both in southern Yunnan, China), but by extension can apply to groups in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma when Dai is used to mean specifically Tai Lue, Chinese Shan or even Tai in general.
The Dai people are typically farmers, growing a variety of tropical crops such as pineapples, in addition to the staple crop of rice. We ordered a portion of pineapple sticky rice (10 RMB) because it is a Dai specialty. The black sticky rice had flecks of pineapple and lotus seeds throughout and tasted of pineapple juice—sweet and tart. The best part was eating the baked pineapple flesh at the end.
A minority staple—sticky rice prepared inside a bamboo rod (7 RMB). Vietnam’s ethnic minorities have a similar style of preparation called com lam. The Dai use a thicker type of bamboo that doesn’t peel as easily as com lam does, but the end product tastes the same.
For our main course, we ordered another Dai specialty—whole fish prepared with bamboo shoots (20 RMB). Rumor has it, the Dai eat a lot of bamboo shoots. The fish was white, moist and flaky, while the broth tasted just like Vietnamese sour soup (canh chua—the version with bamboo shoots, of course). Tamarind was most likely the souring agent in this dish.
To add a little spice to the fish, a salsa comprised of chili flakes, cilantro and bamboo was served on the side. The Astronomer poured this atop of the rice and fish for an added kick. We also dipped our bamboo sticky rice in it because it lacked oomph.
Outside of the restaurant, two dudes were selling ROTI! Eeee! We first fell in love with this sweet treat on the streets of Bangkok and were pleased as heck to encounter it again in Kunming. The Astronomer and I were stuffed from downing a whole fish, but there’s always, and I mean always, room for roti.
I ordered a banana roti (6 RMB)—apple and mango varieties were available too. A major difference between the roti made here and the ones in Bangkok is the addition of eggs. In Kunming, the bananas are mushed up with eggs and poured inside the roti to cook, while the filling in Thailand is simply bananas. The extra egg makes the filling a bit more custardy and less sweet. The vendor poured a generous amount of sweetened condensed milk atop the prepared roti to finish if off. It was damn good!
After our rather large lunch, we hopped a bus (and then a taxi) to the Dragon Gate, which is located 15 kilometers west of Kunming. Here’s a view of a bustling city street from a sky bridge.
The cabbie dropped us off near the top of the Western Hills. The road from the drop-off point to the Dragon Gate was lined with vendors selling food, knick knacks and all-natural sunflower seeds! I’m used to seeing sunflower seeds in plastic bags, so this really fascinated me.
The Dragon Gate is situated on the west shore of Dianchi Lake. It consists of the Sanqing Temple Complex and the Dragon Gate Grotto Complex.
God of the North Land—part of the temple complex.
My personal favorite—The Hall of Divine Parents. Asian parents are certainly something!
No striding?! The Astronomer was especially upset by this restriction because he was born to stride!
A view of Kunming from the Western Hills.
The elevation of the Dragon Gate is over 2,300 meters, and it took 72 years to complete the Dragon Gate Grotto Complex (1781-1853). “The scene is well noted for its dangerousness and uniqueness,” touts a Chiense travel website. Good thing danger is my middle name.
The characters “Longmen-Dragon Gate” (the sign of the Dragon Gate) are inscribed in red and gold upon the arch. Lots of local tourists were taking pictures of themselves touching the characters. After reaching the top and enjoying the view, The Astronomer and I hiked down to the drop-off point, caught a mini-bus and jammed back to town. After a run around Green Lake, we paid a visit to our favorite noodle shop.
Here’s a closer look at the art of making fresh noodles. The way the chef works the dough with his hands is just mesmerizing.
To supplement our bowls of freshly made noodles, The Astronomer downed some lamb on a stick, while I had chicken hearts and hen of the woods.
For dessert we paid Jiahua Bakery one last visit. From left to right—cheesecake stick (5 (RMB), blueberry pound cake (3 RMB) and donut twists (6 RMB). The cheesecake stick was amazing!! We’re praying to the gods that Jiahua is a nationwide chain because we’re heading to Xi’an tomorrow.