Crossing the Bridge Noodles – a Yunnan Specialty
Yunnan – a province of forests fills with native rhododendrons and azaleas, towns full of mud–brick houses with sloping tiled roofs, jungles teeming with monkeys and elephants, and a population that includes dozens of different Chinese minority groups, each with its own unique traditions and customs. The weather is usually beautiful and spring-like, with warm days and cool, clear nights. Even the pace of daily life seems calmer and quieter than in other parts of China. Kunming, its capital, is an idyllic city of eternal spring.
Besides all of these, Yunnan is also a heaven for foodies. It’s easy to find the iconic dish – “Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles” (过桥米线 Guò qiáo mǐxiàn), an ideal flavor combination of eggs, noodles and ham. Many people begin their love with Yunnan with this bowl of noodle soup, including TBC students. Our two-week spring trip there typically starts with Cross the Bridge Rice Noodles as one of the first meals we have. Here’s Loyola University Chicago student Jacob Sierra enjoying the broth in Spring 2018.
According to folklore, a scholar once studied for his examinations on an island in the middle of a lake near Mengzi, one of Yunnan’s southernmost towns. Every day, his wife (whose name has been lost to time) brought the scholar lunch, crossing the long bridge to reach him, but it was inevitably cold when she arrived. One day, the wife didn’t have time to prepare a full meal, so she went to the island with a saucepan of rich broth and all the raw ingredients she could find in her kitchen. When she arrived, she discovered that the fat in the broth had risen to the top of the pot, keeping the soup hot underneath. She quickly added all the other ingredients to the bowl, where the heat of the soup cooked them perfectly. The scholar loved the soup, and a delicious classic was born.
Having a large bowl of crossing-the-bridge noodles is both satiating and entertaining. When you look for Yunnanese specialty foods in a restaurant, the waiter will probably be able to easily guess what you’ve come for. Preparing the meal doesn’t take long for the kitchen, so they quickly return with a giant bowl of hot broth and a tray covered in little white saucers, each loaded with one of the soup’s ingredients. When served, the soup looks stunning, with the components placed in little saucers or arranged on a platter, ready to be dipped into the hot broth. If you’re worried about a language barrier, don’t fret: there’s only two things to communicate. Stir the ingredients with your chopsticks as they get added. And also, the soup is hot!
First, a small saucer of quail eggs is placed in the basin and immediately transforms into silky strands. Then there’s the rich, salty Yunnan ham, which has been thinly sliced to the point of being translucent. Next is a mix of vegetables and herbs, including cabbage, fresh porcini mushrooms, and delicate spring onions. Last but not least, a tangle of thick, freshly produced rice noodles that soften and become toothsome in the broth. You can take a sip once everything has cooked through. With traces of earthiness from the ham and mushrooms, and crisp vegetal notes from the herbs, the flavors are rich and diverse.
As you might expect, the name “Crossing the Bridge Noodles” is inspired by the wife’s daily stroll across the bridge to deliver her husband’s meals. The story is passed down the generations by word of mouth and has come to represent affection, endearment, and admiration. If you’re planning a trip to Yunnan, this dish is a must-try. Who knows, it might just be the motivation you need to accomplish your project or ace your exam just like the husband!
-By Suemmer Luo, TBC Intern