travel: street food of lijiang

travel: street food of lijiang

We started our Yunnan Province vacation on a sunny day starting from Hong Kong. Two plane rides, three airports, and some $12 airport coffee later, we finally arrive at Lijiang just in time for an amber sunset.

After being greeted by Rock, our cheery tour guide whose English name refers to his family name not his musical preferences, we drove through curvy, dusty hillside roads under construction toward our destination—the Old Town section of Lijiang. Forty minutes later, we turned into our hotel and were told that it’s directly adjacent to the Old Town (not that we could tell in the surrounding darkness).

Relaxing would have to wait. We dropped our bags, and Rock guided us through the maze of winding car-less alleys only slightly illuminated from the entranceways of homes and businesses or the occasional bluish street lamp. We navigated the zig-zag course of trenches, fast walking locals, and missing paving stones, wondering if we would be able to find our way back.

Trundling along behind M and trying to listen to Rock explaining the history of the town (not so easy when he was five feet ahead and we’re walking single-file on planks over an open pit), my biggest dilemma was WHAT’S FOR DINNER? We’d been surviving on plane and airport semi-food all day. Within a several minutes, we emerged from a narrow pathway onto a bright and busy main street. Though much wider than the side alleys, it was packed with Chinese tourists and locals—and sensory overload from the swirl of the chatty crowds and the small shops selling hand-woven fabrics, yak jerky, silver jewelry, coffee & tea, leather goods, traditional instruments, cheap souvenirs,, CDs, and more.

At that moment, I wanted to be Moses and part this Red Sea, but alas, we had to go local. Patiently nudging our way toward the main square, aptly named, Square Market, M asked Rock for restaurant recommendations (God, I love this man for sensing my dire need). Since I couldn’t hear much of their conversation, I soaked in the scene and found myself sniffing the air . . . and there it was, the smell of skewer food.

A long stretch of the street was filled with vendors, selling all sorts of street food—from spicy to garlicky, from smoky to sweet. Though I wasn’t even close enough to a stand to purchase anything, I was content for a brief moment to witness the happy faces of snackers—and inhale the possibilities.
M and I agreed that we should have a proper dinner and go back the next day for snacks. During the next few days, we visited famous sites of Lijiang and the presence of street food was everywhere. It wasn’t just for tourists but for the locals, as well. For example, these sticky charcoal colored cakes (using the same herbs as grass jelly and topped with spicy condiments) are a popular snack for locals at the Stone Drum Tower.

Street cuisine in Lijiang was definitely about visual stimulation as much as taste—and it hinted at the extraordinary local sites and scenery to come. I’ll post more on Lijiang’s food, famous places, and culture, and I’ll do the same for Dali and Kunming.