I preferred the dishes we got up north in Zhongdian, with their yak and cheese dishes.
I remember five culinary things from Dali. The local food was not special (and very touristy, even back in 1996-97) but:
1) A Chinese New Year's Eve (Spring 1997) traditional Yunnan minority banquet. Lots of Dai and Bai ethnic groups' foods. It was so-so. Some good stuff, but way too much sticky rice in everything. I'm not a big sticky rice fan, which is a bit of a handicap when most of my work is researching the cuisines of devout sticky rice eaters!
2) Dali is where I bought my beautiful marble mortar and pestle, which I love more than is reasonable or perhaps even legal in some jurisdictions. It is damned heavy and I had to carry it across China for weeks before getting it back to my kitchen. The Chinese for 'marble' is 大理石 (dà lǐ shí) which literally translates as "Dali Stone".
3) This batik, which I watched being hand made over about three weeks.The young man's patience astonished me. When it was done, he hung it in a back lit frame. Utterly beautiful. I walked past his studio every day for a week thinking "I want that! I need that!", but it was a bit more than I could really afford at the time. Eventually a friend said to me, "If you don' t buy it, you'll regret it forever." She was right, so I did.
4) It was the first time I saw a donkey's head parked on the trestle table market stall to advertise which particular meat the was vendor's speciality.
5) The best brownie I ever ate. (Technically, that should be "brownies". I got through a load of them.")
But I digress. I am meeting an old friend next week who is from Yunnan. I don't know if she is much of a cook, but I know she is much of an eater. I shall interrogate her about Yunnan sweet and sour and report back. If she has anything to add.