China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

Traffic Jam Dinner

September 27th, 2016

“It’s the landslides,” our driver said as we looked at a long line of stopped traffic. We were driving through southeastern Yunnan, trying to Yuanyang in the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, but a Typhoon Kalmaegi, which had hit land over 1,000 kilometers away a week earlier was wrecking havoc with our plans. This endless-looking traffic jam was only the latest of our travel problems. The driver hopped out of the stopped car, chatted with a few of the other drivers around us, and came back with the news: the road was going to be closed until 6pm, so we’d be stuck right where we were for the next two hours.


Since we were stuck, and the baby was starting to fuss in her carseat, we decided to get out and see what we could find to occupy our time. We were stopped near the intersection of two small highways (just two-lane roads, really, that wound their way through the mountains), and local vendors had set up fruit stands along the road selling large branches of bananas, enormous green mangoes, hairy brown coconuts, and big piles of pomelos, as well as jars of locally-made chile sauces and pickles.

A few yards away, right where the two roads met, we found a small restaurant with a covered outdoor area built a few feet above street level. The place was empty except for two small striped cats that were chasing each other below the tables, but the owner let us sit and brought us a pot of strong tea. After poking around the kitchen’s small glass-front refrigerator to see what the cook had available, we ordered a few dishes and asked, as we always do, if I could watch him cook.


We began with a plate of ganba, dried aged beef, which the cook deep-fried with dried chiles until they were cooked through and had a firm, chewy texture. A bowl of tiny freshwater shrimp were next; they too were fried, though very lightly, and were dusted with just a bit of salt and a dusting of ground peppercorn. A large bunch of mustard greens, flowers still attached, were prepared the usual local way, stir-fried with some dried chile, garlic, and salt. The most complicated dish of the evening was the cook’s version of yuxiang or “fish flavor” eggplant, which was stir-fried with a strong, spicy bean and chile sauce that produced bright red oil and made the whole dish pungent and spicy. The meal didn’t have a particularly Yunnan-style bent to it, but it was delicious, and by the time we had eaten, the road was finished and we could be on our way.

Photos: Josh Wand (3)