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Exotic ethnic dining in Beijing

By Ye Jun | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-20 13:52

Exotic ethnic dining in Beijing

"Five Golden Flowers" cold appetizer is a popular order at Rainbow restaurant at the Crown Plaza Sun Palace Beijing. [Photo by Ye Jun / China Daily]

Exotic ethnic dining in Beijing

Zhe'ergen herb salad served at Jinse Liangshan restaurant in Beijing. [Photo by Ye Jun / China Daily]

Beijing is where the world and her dining companions meet, and good chefs from all over the country congregate. Right now, the flavors are fresh, and the menu is blooming ... literally. Ye Jun tells us more.

Flowers, and the best herbs and vegetables in season: What better way to celebrate summer than to enjoy the freshest harvest? And you really don't have to travel far for it. Rainbow, a fine-dining restaurant at the Crown Plaza Sun Palace Beijing, offers a new menu with a range of seasonal flowers and vegetables from Yunnan province that will be available until the end of June.

The names may sound exotic but they are all healthy, natural vegetables. Ginseng leaf, wild pearl vegetable, taro flower and golden sparrow blossoms are all edible and enjoyed in their native Yunnan.

An attractive appetizer is the little shot glasses of five "golden flowers", with the name indicating both ingredients and a reference to a classic film made in 1959 about courtship and romance among the Bai people in Dali, Yunnan. Young ladies of the Bai ethnic group are affectionately known as "golden flowers".

The five blossoms used in the appetizer are jasmine, pomegranate buds, tender cordyceps mushrooms, birchleaf pear flowers and blossoms from the kuci flower. The flowers are lightly poached, lightly seasoned and presented in attractive little portions. Some are seasoned with marinated flowering chives, a common Yunnan flavoring.

Yet another flower, the golden sparrow blossoms, so named because the tiny blooms look like delicate little birds, is added to egg and cooked in an omelet, a lightly perfumed dish with the flowers barely discernible. But, eaten with a meat sauce made with pork, it is nonetheless delicious.

Cheese is another popular food with ethnic groups in Yunnan, according to Huang Xianhong, cuisine chef of Rainbow.

The Bai people make rushan, a soft goat cheese that is wound around poles and left to dry. The sheets are then grilled over a charcoal stove and toasted before they are served, sometimes sprinkled with sugar.

At Rainbow, the cheese fans are served with a sweet rose jam.

Exotic ethnic dining in Beijing

Another dairy product from Yunnan is the "milk bean curd" from the Yi ethnic group, a fresh-cut cheese made from yak milk.

Zhang Jinya, owner of Batiao Yihao, is himself a Bai ethnic. He offers many Bai dishes, including the famous spicy, sour boiled fish, which uses grass carp, and vinegar made with green plum.

You can also enjoy the stinky tofu from Dali, as well as the special algae, green melon, and a very tender potato.

"Besides a preference for spicy and sour food, the Bai people like Dali draft beer, rushan, preserved pork and dried pork liver," says Zhang. "In contrast, Dai food is more similar to the styles of Thailand and Myanmar, and uses citrus, lemongrass, herbs and spices."

"Kunming has also absorbed food styles from neighboring Guizhou, Sichuan, and other regional styles in Yunnan."

Tasty preserved pork can also be found at Jingse Liangshan, a Yi specialty restaurant. Liangshan is a Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province, near the Yunnan border.

This is where you can sample the famous tiny, golden yellow cordyceps fungus, delicious hand-shredded beef served inside fresh bell peppers, and zhe'ergen, or houttuynia, a herb that is an acquired taste but very popular because it dispels excessive heat and expels toxic elements from the body.

Chef Huang Xianhong, a cuisine master from Kunming, says Yunnan has 25 ethnic groups, all with their own culinary preferences.

"Yi and Naxi ethnic groups prefer to eat goat. Tibetans like yak better.

"Lijiang's Naxi and Dali's Bai ethnic groups like to eat fish because they have lakes around them, and they prefer sour and spicy flavors," he says.

"The Hui ethnic group in the northeast of Yunnan, on the other hand, like to eat chicken and beef."

In the south, the Dai are known for their pineapple rice, or rice cooked in bamboo tubes. They also like grilling mushrooms wrapped in banana leaves, barbecued beef and pork.

These barbecued meat and barbecued bananas are available at Rainbow Village, a more casual Yunnan eatery also located at the Crown Plaza Sun Palace Beijing.

Exotic ethnic dining in Beijing

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