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.

Shípíng Shāokǎo | 石屏烧烤

94 Jianshe Lu 建设路 

Shabbiness:  5 laowais

Food: 3 laowais

Mood: Paradoxically cozy

Concept: Health inspection horror

Here it is, in all it’s glory; the place where you actually have to walk through the kitchen to get to the seating area, but it’s upping the ante even as we enter: the walk through the first kitchen just takes you to another one. Beyond that are several brighty lit rooms equipped with small tables and miniscule plastic footstools, all completely windowless. (Though there is a room between them that looks like some kind of garage which has a “window” in the form of various holes in the roof). Words cannot really do this justice; it’s like a descent into some small labyrinth of shabbiness, vaguely reminiscent of the Romanian slaughterhouse orgy level in Hitman Contracts. The walls in the seating rooms are painted in an uneven bleak color and the roof is cracked and discolored by, presumably, decades of smoke – and these are the least shabby rooms.

The middle “room” on a slow night; often it’s full of people. For the ultimate experience, go here when it’s raining…

As we pick stools from a pile and seat ourselves, one of us leans briefly against the wall, and bitterly regrets it. Amazingly, there actually is a fan, but it’s so old and dirty it’s brown and look like it’s covered with a rare combination of ash, fat deposits and the filth from underneath a bath tub. The sole decorations consist of withered posters with old beer ads, that almost succeds in feeling kitschy (but no, god no). Also amazing is the fact that Shípíng Shāokǎo is regularly full of people, especially so on our first visit. Fresh, well-dressed, clean people. And the staff seems happy and welcoming, to boot.  This is a place of contrasts, like a small mirror of China itself (and that’s of  course why we love it).

The food is mainly barbecue picked from dirty metallic platters in a cabinet, but the cabinet itself is surprisingly clean. Do not for the love of god pick the wrong platter for your stuff though, which is an easy mistake to make; there’s no telling exactly what kind of substance that lingers on some of them. If you’re not in the mood for barbecue, or want something more fullfilling as a side dish, the staff can do noodles and various other stuff at a stove. The noodles are actually not that bad, with a nice consistency and seasoning that gives a hearty feeling. But the barbecue, which has to be considered the main feature, fails to impress. It’s not bad in any way, just bog standard; only the chicken skewers (and maaaybe the beans and chillies) are something out of the ordinary, and there’s a lot of non-laowai-friendly, bony stuff. The main reason for Shípíng Shāokǎo’s surprising popularity is probably not the barbecue itself so much as the fact that it has a near monopoly on late night food supply in the neighborhood, and cold (ok, lukewarm) beer for four kuai.  Unless, of course, there’s something that draws chinese people and laotians alike to particularly shabby places, but let’s not speculate about that. All in all though, there’s nothing wrong with being standard; Yunnanese barbecue is definitely good, Shípíng Shāokǎo‘s just fail to rise above others. One could go here for the chicken skewers and the ridiculously cheap beer, but it’s really more like Apartment Restaurant No 1, which should be visited for the experience rather than the food. And Shípíng Shāokǎo really is an experience, a descent into shabbiness the likes of which any of us has yet to see on earth.

Only a collage could really convey the fullness of the horror, so we made one.

Hēilóngjiāng Jiǎozi Diàn | 黑龙江饺子店

261 Xuefu lu 学府路

Shabbiness: 1 laowai

Food: 4 laowais

Mood: No-nonsense

Concept: Fancy jiaozi

Because everything from a province named “Black dragon river” has to be considered cool, we were kind of enthusiastic about this place.  As we arrive, we’re promptly  informed that we can not get less than 10 jiaozi; we never get any explanation as to why. While not exactly unfriendly, the staff certainly does not go out of their way to make anybody feel at home; even the baby in the back of the room seem to feel the awkwardly loveless atmosphere, judging by the constant crying. The restaurant’s distinct lack of even the slightest form of decoration adds to this feeling, though something has to be said about the fact that the tables and the stools have a matching blue color, an eyesore though it may be.  Somehow, during the (extremely utilitarian, we assume) designing of this place, somebody must actually have had the freak thought that matching colors are nice. Another noteworthy touch is the alcohol shelf in the back; though it doesn’t do anything to detract from the clinically cold feeling,at least once could drink the pain away, like (we presume) they do all throughout the winter in Heilongjiang.

The liquor cabinet; a baby carriage in front.

The place is remarkably clean, which might not be so odd considering the whole hospital-feeling. (I’d be surprised if even cockroaches can stand the atmosphere here). Apart from the mind-numbing ugliness, there’s not much to be said about shabbiness here; even the kitchen seems (relatively, of course) clean. We all agreed, however, that the totally random container with eggs right besides the counter (see liquor-cabine-picture) had to be considered a bonus feature.

The food, as it turns out, isn’t bad at all. The fried jiaozi looks appetizing enough, are crisp and fresh, have the right relationship between meat and vegetables, and come with a nice garlic sauce. Though there is a somewhat “flowery” taste like sichuan pepper that we don’t really enjoy, all are agreed that this is some good jiaozi.

The final rating for Hēilóngjiāng Jiǎozi Diàn is actually very good in terms of the food, but as shabbiness go, we will undoubtedly encounter a horrifyingly vast amount of worse places.