Yunnan Food Guide – 10 Must Try Dishes For First Timers 🥘

Your Complete Guide to Eating Yunnan Food

Although Yunnan food (云南菜 yúnnán cài) is not listed as one of the eight great Chinese cuisines, it is truly a delicious and unique style of Chinese food. Some fans have even dubbed it the unofficial 9th school of Chinese cuisine.

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Yunnan food is actually my personal all time favourite kind of Chinese cuisine, I just love the fresh and spicy flavours.

If you haven’t had the chance to try the deliciousness of Yunnan food yet, them hopefully our list of best dishes and best restaurants in Beijing will inspire you!

Yunnan Food – An Introduction

Yunnan Food – Vegetarian Dishes

Yunnan Food – Meat and Fish Dishes

Yunnan Food – Yunnan Drinks

Yunnan Food – Best Yunnan Restaurants in Beijing

Yunnan Food – An Introduction

Yunnan food is also known as Dian cuisine (滇菜 diān cài).

In case you are unfamiliar with it, Yunnan is a province located in southwestern China. It is the province with largest number of ethnic minorities, making Yunnan food quite varied and hard to define.

Out of China’s officially recognised 56 ethnic minorities(少数民族 shǎoshù mínzú), 25 can be found in Yunnan.

Due to Yunnan’s location which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, Yunnan food is heavily influenced by Southeast Asian cuisine, making it very different to more traditional Han Chinese cuisines.

You’ll find that there are many flavours used in Yunnan food that aren’t commonly used in Han Chinese food. In keeping with the Southeast Asian influence, Yunnan cuisine has lots of fresh flavours, with lots of citrus and spice and also some sweetness.

Here are some of the key flavourings found in Yunnan cuisine:

  • Mint – 薄荷 bòhé
  • Fish smelling mint – 鱼腥草 yú xīng cǎo or 折耳根 zhé ěrgēn
  • Lemongrass – 柠檬草 níngméng cǎo
  • Lemon basil – 柠檬罗勒 níngméng luólè
  • Lime – 青柠 qīng níng
  • Ginger – 生姜 shēngjiāng
  • Qiubei chillies – 丘北辣椒 qiūběi làjiāo
  • Thai chillies – 小米辣 xiǎomǐ là
  • Saw tooth coriander – 刺芫荽 cì yánsuī
  • Spring Onions – 小葱 xiǎocōng
  • Vinegar – 醋 cù
  • Sweet soy sauce – 甜酱油 tián jiàngyóu

Yunnan Food – Vegetarian Dishes

First up are some must try vegetarian dishes.

Grandma’s mashed potato 老奶洋芋 (lǎo nǎi yángyù)

Yunnan-food

Mashed potato might not sound like the most interesting dish, but believe me this is mashed potato like you’ve never had it before.

The name comes from the fact this dish is so soft even an old grandma with no teeth would be able to eat it!

Exactly what goes into this dish will vary restaurant to restaurant, but in general the dish consists of mashed potato mixed with a combination of chilli, spring onions, garlic and pickled vegetables.

Wild Yunnan Mushrooms 云南蘑菇 (yúnnán mógū)

Yunnan is famous for its many wild mushrooms, it has over 5,000 varieties with around 800 of them being edible.

So it will come as no surprise that at any Yunnan restaurants there will be lots of different mushroom dishes on offer.

Popular dishes are stir fried mushrooms, often served on a banana leaf or with noodles. Another great dish is deep fried mushrooms (炸香菇 zhà xiānggū), which are served with a spice powder mix to dip them in.

Pineapple rice 菠萝饭 (bōluó fàn) 🍍

Yunnan-food

This one is definitely a must try. Steamed glutinous rice is mixed with pineapple chunks to make a delicious sweet side dish.

It is traditionally served either inside the pineapple or in two pineapple halves.

I’m not normally a huge fan of mixing sweet and savoury dishes, but the pineapple rice perfectly complements other spicy Yunnan dishes.

Minted potato 薄荷洋芋 (bòhé yángyù)

Yes another potato dish, but what can I say I am British and we do love potatoes 😂.

For this dish potatoes are fried with mint and sometimes also chillies, to create a super tasty combination. It may sound pretty simple but the flavours are great, you’ll see that mint is used a lot in Yunnan food.

Cheese 乳饼 (rǔbǐng) or 乳扇 (rǔshān) 🧀

Yunnan-food

What cheese as a Chinese dish? Yes, one of things that make Yunnan food very different to most other Chinese cuisines is that they have their own cheese.

There are two kinds:

  • 乳饼 rǔbǐng which is made made from goat’s milk
  • 乳扇 rǔshān which is made from cow’s milk.

The cheese has quite a similar texture to halloumi, it is normally fried and served with a spice powder and white sugar for dipping the cheese in.

This dish is always a big hit with foreigners, probably because it’s so rare to see Cheese at a Chinese restaurant!

Yunnan Food – Meat and Fish Dishes

Ghost chicken 鬼鸡 (guǐjī) 👻

Yunnan-food

The name of this dish is rumoured to have come from the Dai people who would traditionally serve chicken as part of the ritual for worshipping the dead.

This dish is normally served cold, and is a bit like a refreshing chicken salad with a spicy punch.

Shredded chicken is mixed with lime juice, chillies, garlic, ginger and coriander to create this flavourful dish.

In Yunnan the dish is made with black skinned chickens called 乌骨鸡 wūgǔjī, the skin is normally left on so you will see black bit of meat in the dish. Sometimes the dish is also made with normal chicken.

Hei san duo 黑三剁 (hēi sān duò)

Yunnan-food

The name for this dish literally translates to “black three minced”, it is a combination of minced pork, peppers and Yunnan pickled vegetables (where the black colour in the name of the dish comes from).

Yunnan pickled vegetables (酸腌菜 suān yān cài) are a must in many dishes.

The diced vegetables are stir fried together with the minced pork and spices, to create a really tasty dish that pairs perfectly with rice or noodles.

Crossing the bridge noodles 过桥米线 (guò qiáo mǐxiàn)

Perhaps one of the most famous Yunnan dishes, this dish often gets compared to the Vietnamese pho.

The dish consists of a thick chicken soup, then a variety of separate ingredients such as thinly slices meet, quails eggs, vegetables seasonings etc. are added along with the rice noodles.

The dish is served all laid out separately and you add the other ingredients to the soup yourself.

According to legend the name of this dish comes from a scholar who was studying for the imperial examinations. He decided to study on an island so he would be free from distraction. Everyday his wife would cross the bridge to bring him noodle soup, however found the soup would grow cold and the noodles would be soggy by the time she arrived.

One day she decided to make a chicken soup with a thick layer of oil on top for insulation and to pack the other ingredients separately and then mix them together when she reached her husband.

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Sliced beef with mint leaves 薄荷牛肉 (bòhé niúròu)

Yunnan-food

This is another cold dish or 凉菜 (liángcài) as it is called in Chinese.

Thin slices of beef are mixed with mint, spices, vinegar and soy sauce. Sometimes the dish is served with the slices of spiced beef wrapped in mint leaves which is called 薄荷牛肉卷 (bòhé niúròu juàn).

It may seem strange to eat whole mint leaves like this as a foreigner, but believe me it really works and tastes amazing!

Lemon-grass grilled fish 香茅草烤鱼 (xiāng máocǎo kǎoyú) 🐟

Yunnan-food

Saving, what is in my opinion, the best till last we have this delicious fish dish.

Traditionally a whitefish such as tilapia is used, the fish is stuffed with a combination of herbs and spices such as chillies, ginger, garlic and coriander.

The fish is then cooked in a lemongrass leaf in a grill basket.

As with a lot of Chinese dishes, the fish is served whole so you’ll need to watch out for bones. This dish is normally served with a spicy and sour dipping sauce as well.

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Yunnan Food – Yunnan Drinks

As well as Yunnan food there are also some speciality Yunnan drinks worth mentioning as well.

Pu’er tea 普洱茶 (pǔ’ěr chá)

Yunnan-food

Yunnan is home to pu’er tea, which is a fermented tea, called 黑茶 hēichá in Chinese.

Although this translates as “black tea” it isn’t the same as English black tea, that is actually called “red tea” 红茶 hóngchá in Chinese.

Pu’er tea is said to have multiple health benefits such as weight loss, lowering cholesterol, lowering blood sugar and many more.

Not only will you see Pu’er tea offered as a drink in Yunnan restaurants, but it will also be in many dishes.

One example is 普洱茶豆角 pǔ’ěr chá dòujiǎo which is fried string beans with pu’er tea.

Yunnan rice wine 云南米酒 (yúnnán mǐjiǔ)

Now, you might hear rice wine and imagine this is some kind of strong spirit similar to baijiu (白酒 báijiǔ), however it’s nothing like that.

Yunnan rice wine is a very sweet, white drink with quite a low alcohol content, despite the name. It is made from glutinous rice which is used in a lot of Yunnan cooking.

Yunnan Food – Best Yunnan Restaurants in Beijing

Dali Home 大理人家 (dàlǐ rénjiā)

This is a lovely little Yunnan restaurant in the heart of gulou. The menu is very affordable and they hove loads of great classic Yunnan dishes on their menu such as grandma’s mashed potato and lemon grass roasted fish.

It’s also conveniently located in an area with lots of hutong bars nearby, so a great choice if you’re after a drink or two after dinner.

Address: 80 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng District

Little Yunnan 小云南 (xiǎo yúnnán)

There are three of these restaurants in Beijing. My personal favourite is the Dongzhimen restaurant, however the most popular one is probably the restaurant near the Chinese Art Museum.

This is another very reasonably priced restaurant and they also do some great cocktails! Their homemade rice wine is also a must try.

Address: 28 Donghuangchenggen Beijie, Dongcheng District (Art Museum branch)

Dali Courtyard 大里院子 (dàlǐ yuànzi)

Dali Courtyard is a bit more pricey compared to the previous two restaurants, however the beautiful courtyard setting make it worth it.

At this restaurant there is no menu, instead you pay 150 CNY for a seven course set menu of small dishes, which changed according to what’s in season.

You will be asked by staff if anyone has allergies or if there are any flavours or ingredients you want to avoid (忌口 jìkǒu), for instance it’s possible to request only vegetarian dishes.

This is a perfect restaurant for first timers as it gives you the chance to try lots of different dishes and takes away the pressure of ordering.

Address: 67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District

In and Out 一坐一忘 (yī zuò yī wàng)

No, this isn’t the In and Out that does burgers!

Instead this is a chain of slightly more upmarket Yunnan restaurants that currently have three Beijing locations.

These restaurants specialise in Yunnan food from Lijiang (丽江 lìjiāng). The staff are various Yunnan ethnic minorities and wear their traditional dress as their uniform.

Address: 1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, Chaoyang District

Interested in more great restaurants in Beijing?

Check out our best Sanlitun restaurants for recommendations.

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What’s your favourite Chinese cuisine? Tell us below and share your favourite dishes.

Yunnan Food – FAQ’s

What is Yunnan food?

Yunnan food is various types of food from Yunnan province in China.

How do you say Yunnan food in Chinese?

Yunnan food in Chinese is 云南菜 yúnnán cài it is also known as Dian cuisine (滇菜 diān cài).

What is Yunnan food like?

Yunnan food is quite different to normal Han Chinese food, it has a lot of Southeast Asian influence. It is very fresh tasting with spicy, sour and sweet flavours.

What are some good Yunnan restaurants in Beijing?

Some good Yunnan restaurants in Beijing are Little Yunnan, Dali Courtyard and Dali Home.

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