If you are an avid reader, with a really good memory, you’ll remember that I have been to Kunming before, two and a half years ago. I didn’t write much about the city, just one entry on the amazing park, because well, we didn’t do much.
At the time, I thought we had an great time (and we did) but now I look back and realize how much we missed out on. You see, I hadn’t started learning Chinese yet (and Ryan never did). In fact, this was the trip that made me realize I knew basically no Chinese despite living totally immersed for 6-months and inspired me to start classes.
So what did we miss out on? A lot. Most of it we were oblivious to but one thing I know we missed out on, and I even felt bad at the time. That thing? Food of course. Possibly Yunnan’s most famous specialty food: Crossing the Bridge Noodles.
Of course we knew about it, the guidebook even had a large special entry about these noodles because they are so famous, but they sounded a bit complex. It wasn’t just a bowl of noodles, but a sort of make-your-own soup. Our guidebook said some restaurants even had written instructions on how to eat it. The problem? It was written in Chinese. As was the menu. I remember Ryan and I standing outside one of the famous noodle restaurants just looking at the pay counter, and inside the building for some clues how to order and eat it. We couldn’t figure it out so we left.
Luckily I had a second chance to try these noodles. As one of the famous restaurants was right next to my dorm, I ended up eating them several times. It was the first dish I had when I arrived at Kunming (with my teacher) and the last dish I had before I left (with 2 of my friends). I ate them for breakfast, lunch, and even post-clubbing 6 a.m. snack. These noodles were perfect at any time.
So, what’s so special about this soup? Well, first off, it is just a bowl of broth. Crazy hot broth (about 100 degrees). You get all the soup ingredients, including quail egg, different meats and veggies and a big bowl of plain noodles, on the side. When the soup comes you immediately have to throw the stuff in to cook it. It goes in order of ‘danger’ foods. (Danger if you eat it raw that is.) First the meat, then the eggs, then the veggies, then the noodles.
Then you let it sit for a few minutes to cook before eating it. Now, I’ll try to explain how delicious the broth is. It’s like really, really seasoned chicken broth you made with one of those rotisserie chickens from the supermarket. To keep the soup hotter longer, it comes with a layer of oil on top, but it’s not nasty or greasy, more like just totally yummy chicken. (To be honest you could tell me it was turkey broth and I’d believe you. I just know that turkey’s are not eaten in China so it must be chicken.)
There are a million different stories explaining how it got it’s crazy name. One tells of a man who studied everyday for the imperial exam. To ensure he ate well (to be smarter) his wife brought him hot soup with noodles, eggs and meat everyday. At first it would be cold by the time she arrived, but eventually she learned a thick layer of oil would keep the soup hot longer and he would get a hot meal. To get to the library she had to cross a bridge.
Another story is the husband asked the wife to add noodles to her soup, and the noodle seller was located across the bridge. And yet a third (and pretty believable) story is that when you add the noodles to the soup, you have to cross them from one bowl to the soup bowl, making a temporary bridge.
Well, whatever the reason, Crossing the Bridge Soup isn’t the most famous dish for no reason. It’s cheap, totally delicious and in a city that never gets very hot, its a perfect meal for any day. I miss it already.