Of all the regional food in China, cuisine from Yunnan is the hardest to describe. It’d be like trying to categorise Sydney cuisine; there are so many different ethnicities and cultures living in the area, and each has its own food traditions.
There is one dish that unites the region, though: guoqiao or “crossing the bridge” noodles, a pork and chicken-stock-based noodle soup. In China it’s hugely popular, even outside of Yunnan, but here in Sydney we’re told there’s only three places to get it: Qin Lan Xuan, Two Sticks and, the best of the three, Spring Yunnan.
What makes Bruce Yang and Cindy He’s version at Spring Yunnan better is not just their recipe but how they serve it; a method best explained through the dish’s mythical origins. The story goes: a scholar was studying on a small island in the middle of a tranquil lake. While he prepared for his imperial exams (entry to the state’s bureaucratic workforce) his wife brought him noodle soups for lunch. But by the time she had completed the long walk and crossed the bridge to the island, the noodles were soggy and the soup was cold. So she loaded the liquid into an earthen pot and brought all the other ingredients separately.
That’s exactly how you’ll see it on every table at Spring Yunnan. The base soup, a phở gà-like broth, comes out boiling. The raw meats, vegetables and herbs on the side are cooked when added to the pot – this part is a real art. First, beat your quail egg lightly. Then dip each piece of meat into the egg before adding it to the soup. Next, add herbs, vegetables or bean curd. Last of all, chuck in the noodles (you don’t want them to get soggy) and stir.
There are many variations. The classic set is a pork-and-chicken broth with raw fish, prosciutto-like Chinese ham, chicken, coriander, shallots, bean sprouts, tofu skins and chives. Other versions have a beef broth and slices of raw Wagyu beef; a spicy soup with fried pork; or even sides of abalone, scampi and scallops.
Although guoqiao is undoubtedly the specialty here, Spring Yunnan does a lot more. The rest of the menu mixes Cantonese and Sichuan stir-fries with a few Yunnan specialities. One uncommon one is the pikelet-shaped pastry filled with honey and dried rose petals (a common flower in Yunnan) or sweetened Chinese-style cured pork. With either of those, and anything here, really, you should be drinking pu’er; a fermented tea produced in the Yunnan mountains.
Yang and He say they’d like to make more Yunnan specialities but, sadly, it’s impossible because the cuisine is largely based on a variety of regional herbs and mushrooms (one hotpot uses more than 100 different mushrooms) – almost none of which are grown in or imported to Australia.
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