Once neglected in Chinese cookery, Yunnan food now thrives by emphasizing what other provinces lack
“When the winter sun of Yunnan floods the whole hill with light,” wrote British consul George Litton, surveying China’s most ethereal province in 1903, “the view of forest and mountain is so superb that it’s easy to believe that a spot so conspicuous, so accessible and so beautiful, must have attracted the religious devotion of men from the time when they were first moved by the conception of the spiritual or the sublime.”
This was a strange interlude for Litton’s field report, which was otherwise filled with tables and tedious tattle about the economy and road conditions of China’s southwestern frontier. But according to Zhang Yingfei, head chef at the Yunnan provincial government restaurant in Beijing, Yunnan always has that effect on people. “The rest of China used to think of us as a backwater—and the food as unsophisticated,” he says. “Then as tourism developed, everyone heard about how wonderful it was, and they started wanting a sample of Yunnan in their hometowns.”
Mouth of the Clouds is a story from our issue, “Cloud Country.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.