Baba is sold all around northwest Yunnan, where it mostly consists of a piece of flat rice dough grilled or fried and flavored with salty and spicy seasonings. In Dali, the dough is stuffed with salted vegetables, sweet sauce, chili sauce, crushed peanuts, and youtiao (fried, salty doughnut) and grilled to tender perfection. This "Dali calzone" is one of the most popular breakfast items, often sold on street corners like Huguo Lu and Fuxing Lu. Other typical local dishes include shaguo yu (stewed fish casserole) and the Bai specialty, rushan (milk fan), a delicious local goat's cheese sliced in thin layers and fried until "rubbery."
The foreigners' cafes clustered along Huguo Lu and Bo'ai Lu serve inexpensive and generally tasty Western, Chinese, Bai, and Tibetan meals. Cafe de Jack at Bo'ai Lu 82 (tel. 0872/267-1572) has recently been refurbished but as yet the reliability of the menu does not match the new decor. Tony at La Stella Pizzeria at 21 Huguo Lu (tel. 0872/267-9251), is one of the friendliest guys that you will meet in China, serves excellent pizza, and does a very generous goat's cheese and tomato salad.
Sweet Tooth, at the corner of Renmin Lu and Bo'ai Lu (Mon-Sat 10am-10pm), is wildly popular with foreigners but sees very few domestic customers. Set up by an American entrepreneur to provide jobs for Dali's deaf community, Sweet Tooth's traditional chocolate chip cookies are just what a stressed traveler needs; their ugly brownies and huge slabs of Oreo cheesecake will make you wonder if you are still in China. Even better is The Bakery No. 88, 52 Bo'ai Lu (tel. 0872/267-9129; www.bakery88.com). Delicious fresh-baked European breads (try the walnut and potato bread), imported and local cheeses, great juice, and fresh-baked croissants make this a great place for breakfast, lunch, and especially takeaways for the bus.
While generally we were not impressed by many of the copycat eateries on the local Foreigner's Street, the one exception is Clock Tower on Yang Ren Jie Zhong Xin Guang Chang (tel. 0872/267-1883). The three stories consist of a ground floor kitchen, a second floor dining area overlooking the local croquet ground, and a rooftop bar. Western breakfasts are very filling and reliable, while the salads full of local produce are very refreshing.
To get away from the tourist crowds, take a taxi for ¥10 or the no. 19 bus for ¥1 up to the rear ticket office of the Three Pagodas (San Ta Gongyuan), where the Xin Ru Yue Vegetarian Restaurant (tel. 0872/266-6516), owned by Taiwanese TV celebrity, Lin Xin Ru, hosts lunchtime tour buses for its bread and butter, and so the place is very quiet in the evening, with plenty of surplus staff, all willing to bend over backward. The English translations on the menu are clear and accurate, and although the exterior is a very pleasing Bai courtyard, the interior is stark but efficient Cantonese style. I especially liked the orange sauce to go with the deep-fried dishes, such as the vegetarian shrimp balls or the banana spring rolls.
Munching on Flowers
Visitors cannot help but notice that many of the dishes on display in Dali eateries are colorful local blooms, and while we Westerners may not be use to chowing down on petals and flowers, in Yunnan, this is an integral part of the local cuisine. Here are 10 introductory examples for you to try yourself.
- Bai bu juan chao rou: White azalea flowers stir-fried with diced pork.
- Bai du juan dou fu tang: White azalea flower soup with tofu cubes.
- Bai du juan yu tou tang: White azalea flower soup with sliced taro.
- Chao si hua: Assorted blooms (honeysuckle, golden osmanthus, and pomegranate petals, for example) stir fried with chilies.
- Hai cai hua yu er tang: Erhai seaweed flower soup with sliced taro.
- Qing chao hua cai hua: Stir-fried Erhai seaweed flowers.
- San hua chao dan bin: Rose petals, jasmine petals, and pineapple broom petals lightly fried into a crispy omelet.
- Shi liu hua chao rou: Stir-fried pomegranate petals with diced pork.
- Xian huang hua chao tian jiao: Stir-fried Asiatic lilies and sweet red peppers.
- Ye shan ju zhou: White azalea flower rice porridge.
Flower vocabulary has even made it into everyday greetings. Among the Bai, for example, attractive ladies are known as golden flowers (jin hua), a lovely alternative to the usual "xiaojie" or "fu yuen" that are commonly used to address waitresses or service staff. Bai men on the other hand, are referred to as "a-peng ge."
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.