Jiànshuǐ Shāguō Guòqiáoyuán | 建水砂锅过桥园

283 Xuefu lu 学府路

Shabbiness: 3 laowais

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: Late 70’s bar in Ukraine

Concept: Not knowing the difference between and qǐng

As we continue our exciting foodie odyssey on Xuefu lu, let’s stop a moment and consider the essence of Xuefu lu. In the hometown of half the crew, there’s a place similar to Xuefu lu called Nobelvägen, an absurdly long road that’s sort of in the outskirts of the city center, and inexplicably soul-crushingly depressing. It’s so depressing, in fact, that somebody made a film about it.

What’s the deal with places like these? We don’t know, really; except for being fucking ugly, there simply seem to be some kind of inherent quality in absurdly long roads in the outskirts of city centers,  giving them a sense of emptiness, depressiveness and, most importantly, shabbiness. Hence our fondness for Xuefu lu. (And if one dares venture into the alleys off Xuefu lu and Nobelvägen alike, tons of interesting stuff, and even more shabby places, can be found. We’ll get back to that in a week or two).

Anyhow, back on track. At first glance, Jiànshuǐ shāguō guòqiáoyuán doesn’t seem like much, which is of course sort of the point of this blog. We had a mediocre 鱼香肉丝, fish-smelling pork, and the same evening got stomach cramps straight out of Avici, which is probably not a coincidence. But we gave the place another shot, and it grows on you, like all good restaurants should (though we’re enough viking that sometimes a straightforward haochi-kick in the face is the right way to go). Their 韭菜, chinese chives, is absolutely stunning, their 腌菜, some kind of sour, pickled thing, as well, their Gongbao chicken does have every ingredient it should, unlike in most Kunming restaurants, and their 请教肉丝, meat slices with bell peppers, is great. The first time we come, the rice is cold, but this has never since been the case, and you even get the dishes served separately from the rice, so if you want to share, it’s very convenient. The soup accompanying everything is usually not great, though, and shouldn’t really be referred to as ‘soup’; it’s more a weird-tasting broth of some kind.

As for the room, it does have a fancy counter, like several neighboring places (is it some trend on Xuefu lu?), and the tables are usually quite clean, though ridiculously narrow. The interior has a cozy black-grey-color scheme going on that does not feel in the least clean, especially as it’s probably just a neat method of hiding all the smoke stains. The kitchen itself is quite horrible, but more in the sense ‘never over my dead body would I willingly work there’, than ‘you lose a little bit of sanity just by looking at it’, which was the case with Shípíng Shāokǎo.  Jiànshuǐ shāguō guòqiáoyuán also has these pointless food ads on the walls that you see in so many shabbyplaces, bleached and unappetizing, and presumably having nothing whatsoever to do with what’s on the menu. An interesting feature here, however, is that they’re some third world form of LCD displays. Also noteworthy is the very improvised and basic outdoor seating, just next to the waste baskets. During the day, you might sometimes see the crew (who are occasionally remarkably happy happy joy joy) chop huge chunks of meat on a table outside, letting the uncut meat lie and fester on the dirty sidewalk. Yet another noteworthy, increasingly irritating, feature is the staff’s utter inability do understand the difference between 请教肉丝 and 辣椒肉丝, even though they’re both in the menu as separate dishes. We’re vikings, not random laowais, get with the program; we want lajiao, not qingjiao, we want our food spicy like there’s no tomorrow! (And there isn’t, ’cause Raganrök will come…or the retarded December 21 thing…or not).

While the shabbiness level here, in the end, is just average (it’s not clean in any way, but we’ve seen so, so much worse), Jiànshuǐ shāguō guòqiáoyuán did re-ignite our faith in this blog’s purpose.  The thing is, as we’ve now ventured far and wide into Kunming’s restaurant scene for many months, it gradually seemed like the fact was that more expensive restaurants were  almost always better (as in, more haochi) than the shabby hole-in-the-walls. With this review, however, we’ve again found that you can actually have good food in Kunming for less than 15 kuai, though you  might have to pay up if you want something truly delicious (we’ll get back to you on that one, too).

Delicious Benefits | 锦品居

259 Xuefu lu 学府路

Shabbiness: 1 laowai

Food: 2 laowais

Mood: Disappointment

Concept: Luxury hole in the wall

As we enter this place with slight anticipation, two questions come up: is it a new trend in Kunming with fancy, clean hole-in-the-walls, and how clean can a place be and still qualifiy for a review on this blog? At first, we actually doubt whether we should make this review at all, because this place is almost spotless. The furniture is both normal-sized, clean and matchin (no diminuitive randomly colored footstools here), the walls are freshly painted, and the roof is as spotless as any we’ve seen in China. Were it not for the fancy black wall menu and a glittering bar-style counter that looks like it has been taken directly from Muse or some other concept nightclub, Delicious Benefits would feel as soulless as Hēilóngjiāng Jiǎozi Diàn next door – and then some.  Even the floor is spotless, and we actually see people cleaning the kitchen; words can’t really express how big that is in Kunming.  There is however a mysteriously  large amount of flies, as if something rotten is actually hidden away somewhere, and some food items are kept out in the open on a table in the corner. Nevertheless, there can be only one  shabbiness grade for a place such as this;  the lowest. This place could easily be a restaurant in Europe, though there is some weird, nondescript second world-feel to the general look of it.

The staff can, to their credit, actually recommend some dishes, but this turns out to be very much not to their credit in the end, as the food we get is extremely mediocre. The appetizer soup is actually the best we’ve had in Kunming (and the fridge where the beverages are kept is remarkably cold), but the main courses are bland and extremely non-laowai-friendly, with meat mostly consisting of bone and huge lumps of fat, the seasoning weak and plain, and the broth doesn’t taste much of anything. (The rice is warm though; small relief). Interestingly enough, this actually reinforces the basic assumption of this blog; the fancy places do not have the best food. With our raison d’être thus assured, we leave Delicious Benefits (a name which, by the way, has to be ironic), and are not likely to return.

At least it looked good...