Kunming FoodieKunming, Summer 2012

Let’s talk food, probably one of my greatest passions in life. As a poor college student, 80% of my budget goes to food and it’s a spending necessity that I never regret. Growing up in a Korean household, I was raised with colorful veggies, spicy sauces, and complex soups. Living in NYC also means that I’m constantly eating out at the best ethnic restaurants in the world. It was hard to stop daydreaming about all the different types of new food I would eat in Southeast Asia. I know that Yunnan, a culturally diverse, agriculturally rich area of China that borders Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, wouldn’t disappoint.

The Yunnan province is known for spicy food, mushrooms, and flowers in their cuisine. Cold noodle dishes are very traditional here, as well as various tofu dishes. Unlike most of Asia (where there are many lactose-intolerant people), there is a very popular goat cheese that I’ve eaten fried or fresh with tomatoes. Just like the most of Asia, pork and veggies star frequently in most dishes.

During orientation, IES took us out to some of Kunming’s best restaurants. From crickets to 1000-year-old eggs, literally every meal was different and delicious. Unfortunately, some of the pickier students have trouble experimenting with new things, which is a difficult situation to be in when you don’t know the language very well and it’s bad etiquette to refuse food. But for the most part, meals have been much enjoyed and one my favorite parts of the day. Traditionally, Chinese meals are all family-style, meaning that everyone sits around a table with a rotating lazy Susan. It’s an experience that really emphasizes a feeling of sharing and community. As dish after dish comes out, everyone goes around to pick up some food with their chopsticks. There is no such thing as my food or your food – a meal is eaten together and good conversation naturally follows.

Since we don’t have access to kitchens in our Yunnan hotel dorms, our small group usually goes out for meals together. Breakfast is usually a quick baozi, tea egg, or pastry from the bakery. Everyday after class, we all ask “Where should we go to eat?” and the answer is usually “Anywhere!” It’s great traveling with people who aren’t afraid to try local hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food. Noodles, baozi (dumplings), bubble tea, tofu…I’m definitely going to miss the variety and availability of the food here.

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