Shabbiness: 3 laowais
Food: 4 laowais
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 pepper 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.
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.