This post is the second in a mini-series about my trip to Yunnan Province in Southwestern China. Other posts in this series include Exploring Yunnan Province – Jing Hong in Xishuangbanna.
Yunnan Province is a fascinating place to visit. It feels different from the rest of China due to its large population of ethnic minority groups. In fact, Yunnan Province has the most number of minority groups in all of China. There are 56 recognized minority groups in China, and 25 of them are in Yunnan Province. 38% of the the population is minority.
The Dai are the largest minority group in Xishuangbanna, the southernmost prefecture in the province. They are part of the Tai ethnic group, which also includes Thai, Laotians and the Shan people from Burma. For me, visiting this part of China felt more like I was visiting Thailand than China!
There are 1.2 million Dai in China (more in Thailand and Laos). Their traditional dress is colorful and the women often wear buns. They are most known for their water splashing festival, which happens during their new year (right now in mid April!). A huge festival overtakes the city, ending in the biggest water fight you’ve ever seen in public where people splash each other to no end. The splashing with water symbolizes a form of purification, and splashing others means you are wishing them good luck for the coming year.
Dai cuisine is characterized by four basic flavors: sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy. This is reminiscent of Thai, but bitter replaces sweet, and they don’t really use coconut milk or fish sauce. The cuisine is fresh and vibrant, characterized by some combination of (1) fresh herbs (such as cilantro, culantro, mint, garlic, and ginger) + (2) fiery chilis and (3) something acidic (usually lime but sometimes vinegar).
Yunnan province is known to be the most bountiful region in China. Accordingly, Dai cuisine also incorporates lots of great produce as well as wild foraged mushrooms and wild greens.
Below, I’ve summarized some of the most famous and classic Dai dishes. Enjoy!…