Qián Yuán | 黔园

Wenhua Xiang 文化巷CIMG1139

Shabbiness: 3 laowais

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: Soul-crushing

Theme: Dead donkey deliciousness

After last time’s less-than-delicious dog meat we resolved to go back to something we knew were awesome, that is, dead donkeys. (Thanks to Food Ergo Love for tipping us off on this one). Qián Yuán over at Wenhua Xiang has a dish of this as their flagship of sorts, and originally it seemed to us most of their dishes except the donkey one were rather bland. As we continue to go through Qing Yuan’s menu, however, surprises appear, though mostly consisting of standard choices that are almost always good, like cold cucumber drenched in vinegar, garlic and lajiao, grandmother potatoes, Yunnan’s classical goat cheese, and everything you can possibly do with an eggplant. The dishes whose quality can normally be considered a benchmark for the skills of a chef, like 鱼香肉丝, Qián Yuán notably fails with, however, giving them a weird and bland taste. Whatever the case, the donkey meat with some cilantro and sichuan CIMG1129pepper really is fucking godawesome, and would be well worth it even if the rest of the menu consisted of food from Truck Stop in the Middle of Nowhere. There’s thus nowhere in hell the food rating can be lower than a 4, though there are some letdowns  here and there in the menu.

The shabbiness of Qing Yuan mostly consist of an overtly crammed and soul-crushingly impersonal feel, complete with horrible, thick plastic table sheets, white tableware (i.e, the most boring color imaginable), and a general lack of even a failed effort at decoration.  This is especially true in the upstairs area, that thanks to the bare, tiled walls feels vaguely like a public bathroom. The lighting is also to blame; white, bright and clinical in a way reminiscent of a demented dentist’s office.  The downstairs is significantly less depressive, partly due to always being more bustling, partly due to a nice and shabby internal window with foodstuffs on display.  But it has the same godawful light.

Is there any way it could be more depressive?
Is there any way it could be more depressing?

While not especially unclean, Qián Yuán nevertheless manages to be one of Kunming’s most bizarre eating experiences, due to the almost unbearably horrible atmosphere in stark contrast to the somewhat impressive food. The place is often packed to the gills, which we hope is because the locals know the food is 不错, and not because they in some perverted way actually appreciate the atmosphere. Whatever the case, Qián Yuán is yet another proof that good food in China is found in the most horrible environments.

The Shabbyplace with a Michelin Star

The crowd outside.
The crowd outside.

Tim Ho Wan
Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Hongkong (has since moved).

Shabbiness: 1 laowai

Food: 5 laowais

Mood: Swedish kebab joint

Concept: Queue from hell

Sooner or later, we were of course bound to end up here. As we approach, we see an intimidating line of laowai, mainlanders and locals, and we’re told we’ll need to wait for two hours for a table. We resolve to do so, as this just has to be experienced. Here’s why:


Tim Ho Wan is supposedly the world’s cheapest Michelin starred-cubbyhole, at last back in 2010, and that was of course something we’d have to do a bonus feature about: how shabby could this possibly be?

CIMG8950Not that shabby, is the answer, but it’s still very far from fancy-pants fusion molecular cuisine concept restaurants with snobbish dress codes (that’s another Michelin starred place in Hong Kong). The interior design in Tim Ho Wan, or rather the lack of it, do manage to be somewhat reminiscent of  swedish budget pizzerias and kebab joints, and this is indeed an achievement considering this restaurant is basically world famous and has a two hour waiting line.  There’s the classically tasteless plastic fake wooden walls, posters with pointless and unappealing pictures of random food that they probably don’t serve, and a cramped kitchen complete with dirty, moist windows and ancient smoke stains forming black patches in the roof.  It”s nowhere near mainland levels of shabbiness, but it does give off a cramped, impersonal and slightly decrepit feel that wouldn’t be out of place in the very shabbiest (comparatively speaking) swedish fast food joints.

CIMG8938The food, like most cantonese fair, looks extremely unappealing, like random grey, yellow and orange blotches of sticky goo and slimy white sheets. The actual taste, however, is more like how we assume divine nectar might taste in the garden of paradise. Okay, slight exaggeration maybe, but it is, as the chinese would say, 不错; not bad. At all. By any stretch of the imagination.

Fucking awesome.

The yellow:ish watery rice-pudding thing is interesting, but lacks a bit of zeist, it’d benefit from some more sugar or salt we feel. The large selection of various random steamed dough and meat buns are increasingly good as we work through it, with tasty soy, great consistency, savory  feel; there’s something interesting going on in our mouths with every bite. The sticky rice is absoutely amazing,  with nice texture and perfect temperature, the xiao long bao is a dream for anybody who enjoys their slimy dumplings (some of us doesn’t, but still has to confess the filling is semi-divine).

The amazing glaced pork bread buns.

The highlight is arguably a kind of (pardon us for not knowing the names of cantonese food) dough buns stuffed with fine pork in sweet glace, that are such a taste sensation that we’d have to spend two pages of word spam trying to find the right way to describe it.

In summary, Tim Ho Wan is a great food adventure in an impersonal and basic setting, the only thing really missing for it to be a true chinese shabbiness experience is the lack of miniscule footstools, screaming babies and badly edited Maoist propaganda posters. Like much of Hong Kong, it feels a little bit more western, and therefore less true. Yet, the food here is as amazingly cheap as it is good, worth both the long wait and a detour, deserving it’s Michelin star (though we know a few mainland eateries that would  as well, if it came down to food quality only, as it really should).

Lǎo Déhóng | 老德宏

In an alley in the neighborhood called Mayuan 麻园

Shabbiness: 4 laowais

Food: 5 laowais

Mood: Weirdly mediterranean

Concept: Trial by fire

Tucked away in the Hongkong:esque alleys off Laowo bar is this neighborhood hangout, complete with cheap booze and an outdoor seating shaded not only by adjacent concrete colossuses, but also plastic vines. It quickly dawns on us that this is a Dai place, and having gone here the first time with non-laowai, who promptly ordered for example a soup with inedible, fat chunks of ox skin, we’re surprised to discover that the menu is actually quite possible to interpret, even if your hanzi-fu is somewhat lacking.  This will be the story of the 鬼火怒 and  情人泪, two dishes notable for their evocative names and the fundamental weirdness of their composition. Being a little bit chicken after having ordered these two dishes (the first one, Guihuo nu ,means something like ‘Ghostfire fury’, the second, Qingren lei, ‘Lover’s tears’), we opt for some standard choices to complete the dinner, 白菜 and  腌菜肉丝; the first of these being fried cabbage, the second sliced meat with a kind of sour, pickled vegetable, that are pretty much standard fare in Yunnan.  It turns out that, in Lǎo Déhóng, , they’re not that special, and going for something else (like the godawesome mashed potatoes) is probably a better idea. Qingren lei is mostly just…weird; cold, sliced red onion with lemon and an unholy shitload of coriander. It’s not for everybody, though it certainly looks very appetizing. .

The Ghostfire fury, though..we stand in awe before the sadistic mind that conceived it.

The lover’s tears

Let’s get something straight: we like 辣椒, as in, chili. We like it a lot. One of us routinely eats the hottest Jalfrezis swedish indian restaurants have to offer, and subsequently goes around suffering from burns in his mouth all day. That’s just how viking we are. But this dish is insane, like something freshly crawled out of a smoldering pit in the buddhist hells. It consists of some kind of mashed, supernaturally strong chili, all cold, mixed with an ungodly amount of coriander, put  on a plate. That’s it. That’s this dish. We want to love it, but, well…no. Some meat or something to like soak in and savour the absurd spiciness could have saved it, but as it stands, ‘Ghostfire fury’ tastes like genocide.

With that remarkable achievement in mind, there can only be one rating for Lǎo dé hóngs food; a great one. While the menu is somewhat hit-or-miss, there are hidden gems all over it (there’s many nice fish dishes, and as previously stated, the mashed potatoes are to die for), and weird stuff in abundance, with the guihuo nu as some kind of twisted golden star. This is not the place to take your parents, but maybe hardcore backpackers who wants a challenge, or insane gourmets, and of course all lovers of Dai food. But it is a shabbyplace, to be sure, and this is reflected in the pricing; the beer costs like nothing, and we assume the liquor, too.

Ghostfire fury

As for the shabbiness, the outdoor seating is quite cozy, if spartan, and there are some awesome metallic footstools with huge gaping holes where your  ass is supposed to be. Somewhere close by is a live chicken making sounds, but we can’t seem to locate it, and the food has to be ordered and picked up from a opening in the back, where the kitchen is located in some kind of weird attachment to the main building, extremely cramped. If you’d rather sit inside, there’s a claustrofobic interior with a corner covered in used newspapers and piles of random 东西, dirty walls and weird cans with something pickled inside, looking suspiciously like olives. A whole has been carved out in the wall, covered on all sides by a shelf, so that you can peek into the kitchen. The laoban’s kid is frequently hanging arouund doing homework or playing with toys lying about, and his dad frequently gets angry at him and screams and curses, creating an extremely awkward atmosphere. To the guys defense, , he is also eager to offer laowai customers cigarettes and baijiu, though.

It seems somebody has almost tried to give this place a somewhat mediterranean feel, but the end result is so random it just adds to the fundamental shabbiness, and Lǎo dé hóng ha the added benefit of being located in one of Kunming’s shabbiest neighborhoods, where every street is more or less a must-see. The shabbiness rating, accordingly, is also quite high.

Also, say hello to our new photographer, and behold the awesomeness that is the new picture quality.