A Trip to the Countryside Outside Kunming
Being a teacher, I was invited to join my friends with their children who were off to celebrate Teacher’s Day. The skies were blue and the weather was end-of-summer-like. A perfect day to go to the farm and pick our own vegetables.
In Canada, when you say you are going to the farm, you picture a huge, flat piece of rolling land out in the country. A farm in Yunnan is a very different picture. Yunnan’s mountainous terrain makes it almost impossible to find flat land. This farm was nestled in the valley of rolling land and the plots of vegetables are interspersed with handmade rivulets of fresh water from the fish pod at the center of the valley. We picked corn, potatoes, romaine lettuce, squash, eggplant hot chilli peppers, cabbage, green onions, cilantro, mint, runner beans, and radishes. Sitting by the first rivulet, we spent more than an hour chatting in the sun, diligently cleaning the fresh produce with fresh clean water by the stream while the children ran up and down the hills, trying to catch fish, and feeding and chasing the donkeys.
The women are afraid of the UV rays of the sun, since Yunnan is in a high altitude plain…almost 2000 meters high…so we are closer to the sun and therefore the harmful effects. I took the job of shelling the beans.
We barbecued the corn in their husks and potatoes in their skins on an open fire.
The kitchen, no running water, hundreds of flies, a huge wok built into the counter with a wood-burning fire underneath, concrete floor…the farmer’s kitchen. All the women joined in the cooking, each one doing a different dish. I watched and took notes – more fodder for my next cookbook, Secrets of Yunnan Cuisine.
I was impressed to see an entire little plot of mint growing, I never did see mint in Beijing or in Qingdao, so this was a treat. When I mentioned this to QiuPing, the fact that also loved the taste of mint and now use it in many of my dishes, she said she would make me a special dish. Yes, she was right, it was special. The mint dish is in the bottom left hand corner.
We all joined in a wonderful vegetable lunch served outside under the canopy of the pine trees and beside the open fire pit.
Yunnan Mint and Green Onion
3 tablespoons oil
2 – 3 cups chopped fresh mint, leaves and stems
2 – 3 cups chopped green onion, white and green parts
1 teaspoon Chinese chicken bouillion granules*
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
Heat the wok, add the oil, and wait for the oil to heat up again. Add the mint and the green onion in equal proportions and stir-fry for one to two minutes or until the greens are almost cooked, but still brightly green in colour.
Ass the remaining seasonings and mix thoroughly, continuing to cook for an additional minute.
Serve hot with other dishes and steamed rice.
Local wet markets all across China have many similar things in common – they contain the basic things:
– local fresh vegetables and mushrooms
– fresh herbs including fresh chillies of all kinds
– local fresh fruit
– local loose, dried cooking supplies – beans, rice, flour, spices
– nuts and dried fruit
– local fresh noodles – rice, wheat, bean (picture below shows the bags of rice in the foreground and the freshly made rice noodles hanging vertically to dry in the background)
– fresh meat, poultry, and fish (sometimes refrigerated or frozen, most often neither)
– local fresh tofu – all varieties
– local varieties of pickled vegetables and sauces
– local dried, steamed, cooked, smoked meats
– fresh and potted flowers and plants
– tea of all kinds, including tea-making utensils and supplies
I like visiting local wet markets in a variety of areas of the city to see the differences in the produce on offer. A downtown market in the heart of the city had just those little differences to make it fun to be there.
Managing to get a great find, I stopped to watch a shop keeper serving some customers to see what they were buying. It was pork tenderloin, cooked and smoked. She gave me a little taste and I bought a piece at the far right in the picture.
She gave me a little bag of very spicy Sichuan pepper/salt but the meat was spicy enough for me already. I had that for lunch with some leftover Yang Zhou Fried Rice and slices of fresh cucumber.
Yum, I say!
Almost ready to leave, there they were – Yunnan Wild Mushrooms – calling me. I stopped to discuss the names and made myself the ‘foreign expert’ in wild mushrooms, which I am not. What made me the expert in her mind was that she had the few varieties that I remembered the Chinese names for and I didn’t hesitate to speak to her in Chinese.
Here is a seller who has wild mushroom varieties, most of which I don’t know their names or how to cook them so I don’t get sick. I buy the ones near the blue and white scale at the top left corner. I know those; they are porcini or Niu Gan Jun mushrooms and I’m going to have them for my dinner tonight.
Another seller and I have a long conversation. She tells me the name of the green ones and to be honest, I can’t remember it. But that green hue makes me nervous so I skip buying them. I don’t know exactly how to cook them properly.
This seller also has the Gan Ba Jun or Dried Beef Mushrooms and I know them well. I bought them several weeks ago at the Wild Mushroom City, YiMen. It’s interesting to see how they grow around/inside a bed of pine needles and that’s what makes them so hard to clean. They grow with the needles embedded inside the mushroom meat and you have to have the patience of a saint to clean the pine needles out of the mushrooms. Those are the ones that took three of us 5 hours to clean one an a half pounds…no thanks! They were delicious but nope, not for me.
When I cooked them for the party with a huge amount of green chillies, I can honestly say they were delicious but I can’t go through the cleaning process.
Recipe to follow another day, I promise.