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A Glimpse of the Dai People and their Food


liuzhou
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I am posting this in connection with the dish mentioned in the Chinese Herbs and Spices topic, where a question arose about the use of mint in Yunnan cuisine. Rather than fully respond there and derail that topic, I thought a new topic would be better.

 

Yunnan, for those who don’t know, is a province in the south of China. Within China, it borders Tibet, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. On its southern and western sides, it borders Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

Yunnan's Dai people are ethnolinguistically related to the Thai people and most of them live in the south of Yunnan, mainly in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. Xishuangbanna is where that pack of wild elephants which went walkabout come from. They are now safely back home. The area also has wild tigers.

 

I spent Chinese New Year 1998 in the small city of Ruili in Dehong, right beside the border with Myanmar's troubled Kachin State. Every day local people were wandering back and forward over the border, mostly unchecked. I was unable to use the official crossing, but more on that later. It was a fairly lawless region and many goods (and people) were routinely smuggled in both directions. It is near the notorious 'Golden Triangle' and drugs, particularly heroin, were a major problem, as was prostitution. Yunnan had the highest AIDS infection rate in China.

 

On the evening of Chinese New Year’s day, I was invited to a celebratory dinner, all of which was Dai cuisine. Not surprisingly, it was highly reminiscent of Thai and other SE Asian cuisines. However, of the many dishes, none included mint, though other herbs mentioned in the video posted here did appear.

 

Here are a few images of the people, area, and market. Unfortunately, I don't have the photographs of that dinner here. They are back in England. Please remember these images are scans of old pre-digital photographs, so not of the usual quality.

 

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These Burmese boys (yes, boys) have crossed into China hoping to sell their brushes.

 

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The end of that striped field with the tree in the centre marks the border between China and Myanmar's Kachin State. The field is in China; the tree is in Myanmar. As you can see, no border control whatsover. 

 

The Market

 

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Do you want chili or chili with that?

 

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Wow! I got my chicken and change!

 

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Herbery

 

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Dai Houses are made from bamboo and the walls roll up to ventilate the inside as required. I want one!

 

One day, I went on a long trek trying to find this monastery / temple (雷装相 - léi zhuāng xiāng) I'd read about and got happily but hopelessly lost. At one point I was wandering down this road, no one in sight, when I came across a deserted village. I don't know how I worked it out, but it suddenly came into my head that I had accidentally crossed the border and was in Myanmar. I turned round and ran back to China. Getting caught in Myanmar, without even a passport, never mind a visa would have me shot as a spy!

Back in China, I was standing staring at this sign in three languages, trying to glean any useful information. I knew the bottom language was Chinese, but the other two baffled me. At that time my Chinese reading skills were very limited, so that didn't help either. One of the others is the Dai script, I now know, but can't read. The other possibly Burmese. Don't ask me which is which!

 

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As I stood there being puzzled, I saw this orange-robed, Chinese monk approaching. He stopped and asked me in perfect London-accented English if he could help! I was stunned! He explained that he had studied in London when younger and before taking holy orders and entering the very monastery which I was looking for. He escorted me to the temple / monastery chatting all the long way.

 

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Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Wow!  Thank you. 

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I've been thinking of the Dai beef with herb dish linked to on the Chinese Herbs and Spices thread considering I have copious amounts of all of the herbs needed (laksa, sawtooth and thai basil) and I'm always looking for new ways of using them because they grow faster than we can eat them.  What would this dish be served with - jasmine rice or sticky rice? Something else entirely?  I'm guessing that it would be sticky rice since it's so close to northeastern Thailand/Laos/Burma and sticky rice is common there, but I'd like to know for sure....

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2 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I've been thinking of the Dai beef with herb dish linked to on the Chinese Herbs and Spices thread considering I have copious amounts of all of the herbs needed (laksa, sawtooth and thai basil) and I'm always looking for new ways of using them because they grow faster than we can eat them.  What would this dish be served with - jasmine rice or sticky rice? Something else entirely?  I'm guessing that it would be sticky rice since it's so close to northeastern Thailand/Laos/Burma and sticky rice is common there, but I'd like to know for sure....


I'd agree. Among the Dai people it would be sticky rice. Among the Han majority, maybe; maybe not. Away from Yunnan probably regular "steamed" rice (which is seldom actually steamed). Jasmine rice is very rare in restaurants in China. Too expensive!

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Do you know if the Dai use curry leaves?  I have a friend who lives in my building who is Burmese but left Burma when he was 18. At one point, he was the chef/owner of a Burmese restaurant in NYC.  Anyway, I met him when I was giving away herbs that I grew - he was particularly after the curry leaves and the laksa (but I gave him sawtooth also).  I can definitely see the curry leaves in that beef with herb dish - especially young leaves that are tender and edible.

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On 8/20/2021 at 9:27 AM, liuzhou said:

Jasmine rice is very rare in restaurants in China. Too expensive!
 

In stores in Chinatown here, I've never noticed any rice that's not either Jasmine or sticky... I've never seen a "plain white rice" - unless you're in a normal grocery store and they have a domestic rice.  I didn't know it existed in China!

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12 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Do you know if the Dai use curry leaves?  I have a friend who lives in my building who is Burmese but left Burma when he was 18. At one point, he was the chef/owner of a Burmese restaurant in NYC.  Anyway, I met him when I was giving away herbs that I grew - he was particularly after the curry leaves and the laksa (but I gave him sawtooth also).  I can definitely see the curry leaves in that beef with herb dish - especially young leaves that are tender and edible.

 

I don't know for sure, but I'd guess so. It is grown across southern China in Guangdong; here in Guangxi; and in Yunnan where the Dai people live. it's not particularly common here, but I can get it.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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3 minutes ago, KennethT said:

In stores in Chinatown here, I've never noticed any rice that's not either Jasmine or sticky... I've never seen a "plain white rice" - unless you're in a normal grocery store and they have a domestic rice.  I didn't know it existed in China!

 

All the Jasmine rice here is imported from Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Most is Thai. It is about three times the price of most local rice varieties, but I don't care! It's three times better! I'll check the exact prices in the place I buy my rice, tomorrow.

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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