The following passage and recipe are taken from author Zhang Mei's autobiographical travelogue and cookbook Travels through Dali with a leg of ham. They are republished here with permission granted by Penguin Books and the watermarked photo courtesy of Elizabeth Phung. More from the book can be found at the official website.
I ask Chef Qian if he could demonstrate a few dishes. He nods quietly and then returns to slicing and dicing with an enormous cleaver on a massive chopping block. "It's from the trunk of shatan shu', he explains — confused by the accent I could only give my best guess that it's possibly beech wood. "Soft, so that the wood doesn't dull the knife." It's a present from a friend and he's used it for six years. They are hard to find now, he adds. In a corner, atop a large stove, a pot of gutou tang (骨头汤) — pork bone stock — simmers away. A ladle of its milky-rich liquid is just an arm's reach away, ready to be poured into a sizzling wok to lend flavor and moisture.
Chef Qian proposes two ham dishes using erkuai (饵块), a specialty of Weishan (巍山). Erkuai is a type of cake made from rice that has been soaked, steamed, then pounded into a paste and kneaded. It has a gummy texture and can be served savory or sweet, but I usually prefer it salty and spicy, Yunnan style.
Here is Chef Qian's recipe for fried erkuai with ham:
100 grams ham, half lean and half fat, thinly sliced
300 grams erkuai, thinly sliced (or use ersi instead)
2 pieces Napa cabbage leaves, julienned into 2 cups
1 cup Chinese chives, cut into 3 centimeter segments
2 cups snow pea vines, loosely packed
3 dried chili peppers, torn by hand
2 tablespoon mustard green pickles
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup cooking broth (replace with water if necessary)
Salt, pepper, soy sauce, ground caoguo (a variety of cardamum), a pinch or so each to taste
Heat oil over high heat, add ham slices and cook until color changes from red to dark brown.
Add Napa cabbage, stir evenly.
Add dried chili pepper, rice cake. Stir evenly.
Add cooking broth, salt, soy sauce and caoguo, stir evenly.
Add chives and snow pea vine, stir quickly, adding a bit more water for moisture.
Add preserved vegetable, stir and mix. Remove from heat and transfer to a large plate.
Serve hot and enjoy.