Yunnan Goat Cheese at South Silk Road

You normally don't think of "Chinese food" and "good cheese" in the same sentence. A fresh goat cheese called 乳饼 rǔbǐng, however, is one of the well-loved specialties of Yunnan cuisine. It comes from the Bai and Sani minorities of Yunnan province, and is made by heating fresh goat's milk with a souring agent until firm, then either pan-fried or steamed before serving.

You also don't normally think of eating cheese and sugar together, outside of cheese cake or manchego with quince paste. At South Silk Road in Qianhai, I recently had a dish of pan-fried goat cheese served with a side of sugar and another side of salt mixed with cracked black pepper. By itself, the cheese is already good, like a firmer, crispier paneer or even mozzerella. With the sugar and salt mixture on top, it was sublime. For a moment I wanted to plop it on sliced baguette and drizzle olive oil over it (sacriledge?). Then I realized how good it already was by itself, or with Yunnan ham and stir-fried greens.

South Silk Road is by no means the only restaurant that serves rūbīng, since it is as much a Yunnan restaurant staple as cross-the-bridge noodles. But if you're ever in the Houhai/Qianhai area, stop by S'Silk Road for the gorgeous lakeside views while dining. And to sample the best (okay, the only, but still delicious) cheese China has to offer.

South Silk Road 19 Lotus Lane, Shichahai, Houhai, Beijing 什刹海莲花巷甲19号

Yunnan Cuisine in Beijing's Xicheng

The Yunnan folk music playing in the restaurant was so soothing that the cricket noises blended right in. Then Jacob snapped me out of my daze and pointed to the middle of the room. A middle-aged couple was lovingly playing with their pet cricket, which was sitting on the table in a tiny glass jar.

The cricket continued to chirp sporadically throughout our meal. While it's more common to hear car honks in the middle of Beijing than crickets, it was easy to pretend for a while that we were in rural Yunnan. The restaurant was decorated in bright yellows and reds, with Dai minority folk art on the walls. And we were about to eat hearty Yunnan fare.

We started off with a Dai mint salad, a salad composed entirely of mint leaves, with a little minced garlic, chilli, and vinegar thrown in.

"Wow," said Jacob, after his first bite. "It's good, but you'd have to really like mint."

Fortunately, I do like mint enough to fill up my whole mouth with them. But soon I found out that dipping the mint in the Cross-the-Bridge noodles made it even better.

Cross-the-Bridge noodles, or 过桥米线 (Guoqiao Miqian), is a Yunnan staple. The name comes from a story about a scholar who was studying for his exams by isolating himself on an island. His wife had a cross a long bridge every day to bring him meals, and was disappointed that all the food was cold by the time she reached him. Finally she discovered that she could keep her soup boiling hot by just covering it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. The scholar passed his exams (maybe these noodles are brain food?) and Cross-the-Bridge noodles became popular throughout the province.

Our waiter (who might also be the owner) brought out the boiling hot noodle soup on a tray along with little dishes of raw egg, chicken, fish skin, sprouts, and greens. After asking if we wanted everything in the soup (we did), he and his colleague emptied 7 or 8 dishes into the soup in lightning speed. The soup was still so hot that everything cooked right in the bowl. The noodles were tasty and the serving size so large neither of us could finish ours.

We also ordered some fried mantou. These mantou were more doughnut-like than other fried mantou served around Beijing, crispier and slightly sweeter. Instead of sweetened condensed milk for dipping, these fried mantou came with stir-fried beef with peppers and a lot of extra savory, meaty sauce.

By the end of the meal, the cricket in the center of the room was still chirping. Its owners, however, were now concentrating on slurping their own giant bowl of Cross-the-Bridge noodles.

Chahua Meizi Guoqiao Mixian 101 Di'anmenwai Dajie Xicheng District, Beijing

茶花妹子过桥米线 北京市西城区地安门外大街101号

Phone: 84017888