Cuisine from the Yunnan Province

By Arts Midwest & Shanren

When you think of Chinese food, you probably think of the classic Chinese-American dishes found in most Chinese restaurants in the United States—like Sesame Chicken, Kung Pao Beef, or Cashew Chicken. While those are certainly delicious, they are also more distinctly American than you might realize.

For example, broccoli, carrots, and onions are all staples in a Chinese restaurant located in the United States, but none of those ingredients are common in China. In addition to reflecting the produce that is available locally, Chinese-American food also reflects the tastes that are appealing to Americans of many ethnic backgrounds.

There is a rich history of Chinese-American immigrants in the U.S. restaurant business, and part of the success of these restaurants has been the degree to which traditional Chinese dishes have been adapted to the surrounding culture.

So what is traditional Chinese food like then?

As the most populous country in the world, with many different ethnic groups, traditional dishes vary by region, province, and even in different town or neighborhoods.

Arts Midwest World Fest musicians Shanren come from the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, which are in Southwestern China, and they shared with us one traditional recipe that they really enjoy. You may not associate pumpkin with Chinese food, but this dish incorporates it along with rice.

What a great way to celebrate the flavors of Southwestern China and pumpkin season here in the United States!


Lunch in Yunnan Province, photo by FrolickingDruid CC BY-2.0

Ximeng Pumpkin Rice with Shredded Spicy Chicken

Serves 8 people

This a traditional dish from the Wa ethnic group at the very southern tip of Yunnan Province on the border of China and Myanmar. It is normally cooked in a large pot over an open fire.

Pumpkin Rice:

  • 1/2 a small pumpkin, cubed
  • 1/2 cup bok choi
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups rice
  • 12 cups water

Spicy Shredded Chicken:

  • One small chicken
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons crushed red chili pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 handful fennel, chopped once in the middle
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper
  • 1 teaspoon goji berries

Put chicken in a pot with cold water and bring to a boil. Add the pumpkin and let boil for 15 minutes.

Add rice, and let the mixture boil for another 20-25 minutes. Then remove the chicken, de- bone and shred.

When rice is cooked, another 5-10 minutes, add bok choi and stir into rice. Add salt to taste.

Rice should be moist with some soup remaining but dry enough to eat from a plate.

Heat a pan over high heat with no oil. Add peanuts, and cook until browned. Remove and crush the peanuts and set aside.

Add the Sichuan pepper to the pan and cook until they turn dark, then remove, crush, and set aside.

Toss the shredded chicken with chili, garlic, ginger, fennel, peanuts, Sichuan pepper, goji berries, salt, and then squeeze one whole lemon into the mix. Continue to mix until even.

Serve shredded chicken on top of pumpkin rice on a plate. The strong spicy flavor of the chicken should contrast with the simple flavor of the rice so that people can choose their own level of spice by adding more or less chicken.

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