Fresh twist on favorite flavors
Fusion: Candied plums offer the notoriously greasy Shanghai pork a fresh and sour balance. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]
The competitive Yunnan cuisine market has a new player, Yun & Lanna, a restaurant that is blending the best of the region with a taste of Thailand.
When it comes to Yunnan province, the last thing in need of further explanation is the region’s large variety of food. Yunnan is famous for its ham, flower cake, and diverse range of mushrooms that have gradually become seen as a more affordable alternative to black truffles in China and throughout Asia.
At the opening of Yun & Lanna near Hengshan Road in the former French Concession, the talk revolves around the "little space left between authenticity and localization in the competitive Yunnan cuisine market".
The chef, a Yunnan native, fills this space with "internationalization", with influences from Northern Thailand and Shanghai.
Winter warmer: Hotpot chicken soup [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]
To start is a trio of cold platters consisting of Lanna beef, spicy pork feet and pork sausage. The meat is well prepared with a variety of spices and herbs, readying the palate for the upcoming dishes. Especially notable is the large dried red pepper dotted among the meat.
They are crispy, not spicy, and make the perfect pre-cursor to the hot dishes. Anticipation for the main meal builds thanks to the aromas floating over from neighboring tables.
Of the main courses, the much talked about deep-fried Tilapia is OK, but forgettable. Perhaps it was simply outshone by the honey-glazed and braised pork with green plums. These ping-pong-ball-sized plums grow in abundance in Dali, and the locals preserve them as candied snacks.
The plums save the notoriously greasy Shanghai signature pork, balancing it with a subtle sourness, and unfortunately, turning it into a calorie bomb. The pork fat soaks into the plums giving them a satisfying richness.
The bomb squad is the steamy and hot chicken pot soup. The warm, amber-colored, crystal-clear soup works like a pacifier to the stomach, soothing away the winter doldrums and the growing appetite, until the aromatic black truffle fried rice sneaks onto the table.
For something veggie, try Grandma’s yam, not only because of the beautiful story from Yunnan behind the dish, but also its flavorful taste, similar to mashed potatoes but with a salty flavor.
Savory with spices: Deep fried Tilapia fish. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]
Folklore has it that there is a grandmother who lives alone in one of the remote mountainous areas of Yunnan and feeds herself nothing but the yam, as it can be stored for a very long time without deteriorating.
For dessert, we order the sweet mango with sticky rice and coconut ice cream. It’s a little bit disappointing to close the meal with an almost staple dessert that can be found in not only every Thai or Yunnan restaurant in town, but also at many of the chain dessert stands.
It’s like hearing James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful at a wedding, or watching a Woody Allen film with a happy ending. Nothing wrong with it, just a little too predictable.
But upon eating a spoonful of the super fresh mango, topped with steaming sticky rice and dripping with melted coconut ice cream, it’s hard not to be transported elsewhere: say, a small, secluded beach in Thailand, where as my taste buds are enjoying the dessert, my muffin top is relishing the sunshine and sea.