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.

Sìchuān Rén Fàndiàn | 四川仁饭店

? Su Jia Tang Nan Lu 苏家糖南路

Shabbiness:  3 laowais

Food: 2 laowais

Mood: Desolate

Concept: Sichuanese á la barracks

The level of expected shabbiness rises as we enter through the foyer, the blood in our veins pumping in excitement as we walk by a table with undone dishes, a clothesline with newly washed garments, a lonely fish swimming in a tank and some left-over deepfried youtiao from breakfast by the entrance. As we are greeted by one of the men playing cards with the rest of the staff, we are overblown by the restaurant’s interior. With clean tables (and some actually with real chairs!)and an attempt for decoration, we are disappointed. The promising entrance has had us fooled, the restaurant isn’t nearly as shabby as the entrance, although it comes with an unusually large amount of flies.

The fake green leaves covering the wall, the window curtains/shower curtains in all different colours covering the windows and the baijiu commercial on the walls makes us wonder what one is supposed to feel when exposed to this environment. Except for this, the restaurant looks sterile but quite tidy. This is clearly a place for eating, and nothing else. We can tell you what it makes us feel: Like we have been transported back to the 70’s and far up north to a mine workers canteen in northern Sweden. What is lacking is a soft-porn poster to take the place of the menu, plastered on the wall with some sexist comment written over it.

The service is sufficient and at our surprise, attentive. As the only guests, we quickly get served a pot of lukewarm tea. And this is where the problem lies. A giant bowl of rice lands at our table. It is once again cold and we all reminisce our last encounter with the chilly rice. The first dish, pork with cucumber, carrots and egg is also lukewarm. The second, baby pak choi with mushrooms and the third, Suan la tang (hot and sour soup) are ok. This could be due to the kitchen not being in the same “building”. While the former dishes are lacking a bit in flavor the latter soup makes up for it by providing a deep and intense flavor experience. The sourness is really sour and the hotness is hot. And the portion is LARGE. L. XL. Call it what you want but it is impossible to finish. The soup is the big winner. The pork in the first dish is quite tasteless and contains a large amount of fat – not laowai-friendly. The pak choi is crisp while the choice of mushroom, some kind of Shiitake, is boring.

Conclusions: Go here for the soup, skip the mushrooms and take your time to marvel at the hideous entrance. And don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent.