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Downtown Local Wet Market

Local wet markets all across China have many similar things in common – they contain the basic things:

– eggs

– 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.

Dian Dou Hua, the Yunnan Version of Custard

Another specialty of Yunnan Province, Dian Dou Hua (豆花), or Dofu Hua (豆腐花) is literally translated as bean curd flower.

Dou Hua is soft, warm tofu served covered with toppings that add crunch and flavour. This popular Chinese snack or addition to a meal is custardy tofu topped with a variety of tangy toppings from mild flavours of green onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil to intensely flavored chilli oil, pickled vegetables, and stir-fried meat mixtures. The toppings are savoury, spicy, tart, and rich.

My first experience with Dian Dou Hua was in a Kunming restaurant called Square Street Restaurant near the International Conference Centre and the old Kunming Airport. This place serves up traditional local Yunnan/Kunming cuisine and they offer the most refreshing bright yellow and light German Beer made at their own microbrewery. The Dian Dou Hua must be ordered in advance (ordered in the morning for a dinner reservation). It comes to the table in a very hot crock-pot that has been cooked in a very hot and larger cooking crock-pot with many other orders of this simple yet delicious delicacy.

At the table, one must wait about 10 minutes for the dofu to do it’s thing – that is, it arrives in liquid form and congeals to a soft, custard-like consistency, just like ‘baby food’ – and smooth as silk. Once it sets up, the Dian Do Hua is ladled out into small bowls and served with a spicy, chilli oil sauce containing small amounts of ground meat, pickled vegetables and chopped chillies. I’m not much for spicy but in this province, the word is ‘spicy’ for most dishes and I am getting used to the attraction of hot and spicy. The combination of the smooth, mushy dofu and the crunchy, spicy topping is enchanting.

Perhaps they do the same thing here in Kunming, but I’ve never see it but in Sichuan Province in Chengdu, Dou Hua vendors carry a pole across their shoulders with two large baskets attached at either side. One of the baskets contains the steaming Dian Dou Hua and the other contains the bowls and fixings.  First, the tofu is spooned out and then some ground Sichuan pepper or prickly ash is added. Then a sprinkle of MSG, a tablespoon of soy sauce, chili oil, chopped preserved vegetables, bits of ground meat, crunchy dried soybeans, and last of all chopped green onion.

Last time I was at the Square Street Restaurant I took home a small container of the special sauce that they use. There is a dofu seller in my local wet market and I know they sell Dian Dou Hua. I wanted the same taste but eaten at home so today I purchased a 12-ounce cup of Dian Dou Hua for one yuan (the equivalent of 16 cents), heated it up slightly in the microwave along with a spoon of sauce and enjoyed a gorgeous mix of texture and taste of Yunnan for lunch.

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