Apparently the horsemen who traveled the Southern Silk Route through Yunnan would make extended pitstops in Li Jiang. What remains of the ancient trading towns are beautifully preserved, UNESCO recognized tourist traps. But it’s hard to ignore the scale of the these towns that are more than a thousand years old. In the month of December, the weather is beautiful, the air is ripe for eating and the Snow Dragon Mountain plays hide and seek with the clouds. On this particular day, it mostly hid.
But there we were walking the familiar unfamiliar streets of Shuhe old town on Day 2 of our Yunnan adventure. Starting with a late lunch of a hotpot of free-range black chicken and eight kinds of edible mushrooms, we had picked our way through a ‘Chinese pizza’, a sesame ‘Chinese shortbread’ and a macchiato that was a poorly disguised Cappuccino. More on all of that in another post.
But tucked in one of the lanes of Shuhe in a hole-in-the-wall is a lady with a one trick show. And what a trick it is. Picture fresh thin slices of tofu sprinkled with chili powder. Then imagine a sizzling flat surface seasoned with oil. What follows is the tofu cooked to a mild crispness on the outside. You think it will be turned over and served up. That’s when the magic begins. The tofu gets turned over. What follows in no particular sequence is a generous sprinkling of cracked Sichuan pepper, salt, cumin, sesame, sesame oil and spring onions. Sliced up in to little cubes, served to go, hot, crisp, sweet, spicy, soft. On a clear day, you could eat this with a 5000 meter snow clad mountain as a backdrop. We were too busy to look up.
CCTV thought it to be the best rendition of this local favorite and featured it on national television. Who are we argue? More importantly, why would we argue. There are many reasons to come to this part of the world. You may or may not sight the Snow Dragon mountain. But you can surely help yourself to the heaven that is Iron Plate Tofu.