The last time I ate Yunnan food was over two years ago, back in Beijing. It is not for lack of trying.
In the US, Cantonese, Sichuan, and Hunan food are ubiquitous. Northern Chinese, Shanghainese Xinjiang, and Fujianese are making headways into cities. But as far as Yunnan restaurants are concerned, the LA area can claim four. In all of New York's five boroughs, there is just one.
For anyone new to Yunnan cuisine, the southwestern Chinese province is most well-known for their Cross-the-Bridge noodles. It consists of bowl of boiling broth that arrives at your table with about seven or eight raw ingredients (including eggs, chicken, fish skin, sprouts, etc), which the waiters will then theatrically dump into your broth as quickly as possible so everything cooks table-side. The round rice noodles themselves also cook with the other raw ingredients, and the flavors come together brilliantly if the broth is hot enough. (If the broth is merely lukewarm, that is another, more unpleasant, story.)
Yun Nan Flavour Snack out in Sunset Park does not serve Cross-the-Bridge noodles. Rather, it serves very basic but comforting bowls of beef tripe, ground pork, and fried pork noodles, using the same silky rice noodles that are a tad more plump than spaghetti. Everything is cooked to order.
Here's some advice: come starving. Here's some more advice: order both the hot and sour dumplings and a bowl of rice noodles.
The husband (of the husband/wife team) who runs the shop brought over my #13, the "rice noodle with crispy meat sause (sic)", which is really a wondrous assemblage of crispy pork skin, marbled pork slices, and pork intestine, with a dollop of chili sauce on top. You mix everything thoroughly before eating and the noodles get as bright red. He also brought over the hot and sour dumplings, which are really boiled dumplings in chili broth, a minute later.
Him: They're both for you???
Me: Yes? [slurp, slurp]
Him: Next time, you should also get the cold noodles! They're great in hot weather. The Westerners love the cold noodles, in any season! [pause] Hey, where are you from?
Me: I grew up here, but my family's Cantonese.
Him: But your Mandarin is so good!
Me: Really? Everyone in China says the opposite.
He smiled. I could tell we were bonding.
He and his wife are both from Kunming, and he said the next time I'm in China I should really explore around Yunnan because of the scenery and the 30 different minority groups. In 2006, they opened this tiny nook in Sunset Park to see whether the neighborhood's predominantly Cantonese population would be receptive to Yunnan cuisine. He has been pretty happy so far. Even with the recession, and restaurants shutting down everywhere, business has been growing.
I asked if it's true that they are the only Yunnan restaurant in all of New York. Yup!, he said proudly. Everyone knows about Sichuan and Hunan food. Those cuisines' heat-packed meat and fried noodle dishes are great, but where else can you get rice noodle soups with a bit of spiciness but won't leave you gasping for air?
He said they are also thinking of expanding in the next few months, to a larger place that has sit-down service and where they can serve Cross-the-Bridge noodles.
Until then, the wife tells me, come back soon and get #9 and #11. Those are their personal favorites.
#6: Cold Rice Noodle - liang mi xian #9: Rice Noodle with Beef Stew - niu lan mi xian (beef tripe) #11: Rice Noodle with Spicy Meat Sauce - zha jiang mi xian (minced pork) #13: Rice Noodle with Crispy Meat Sauce - chui chang mi xian (crispy pork skin, lean pork slices, pork intestine. Yum!) #27: Dumpling with Hot and Sour Sauce - suan la shui jiao (more like 5 or 6 dumplings in a chili broth)
Yun Nan Flavour Snack (NOW MOVED TO YUNNAN FLAVOR GARDEN)
775A 49th St. (btwn 7th and 8th Ave.)