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Video and book review: Cooking South of the Clouds

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Georgia Freedman is a freelance food and travel writer — and former resident of Kunming — who has chronicled her adventures traveling and cooking in Yunnan at China South of the Clouds, which resulted in the Cooking South of the Clouds cookbook. Before moving to Kunming, Georgia was the managing editor of the American food magazine Saveur. She now contributes to Saveur, The Wall Street Journal, Imbibe, The Art of Eating and other publications. She has contributed articles related to food and tea culture for GoKunming.

Cooking South of the Clouds

Georgia's love affair with Yunnan food started with an initial excursion to sample the famous Crossing the Bridge noodles. In 2011, Georgia, her husband and their two cats moved to Yunnan, to fully explore the province's culinary traditions. These explorations have resulted in the publication of the Cooking South of the Clouds cookbook in 2018, with photographs by Georgia's husband Josh Wand. The book has since won many culinary accolades — it was listed in the New York Times Best New Cookbooks 2018, San Francisco Chronicle Favourite Cookbooks 2018 and the Washington Post Best Cookbooks 2018 lists.

Since Yunnan province is the most geographically, biologically, and ethnically diverse region in China it offers a dizzying array of ingredients, flavors and cooking methods, resulting in delicious dishes.

From the Himalayan plateau to the subtropics, the province is home to thousands of species of plants and animals as well as twenty-four of China's minority groups. As a result, Yunnan is one of the most culinary interesting places on earth, yet not widely known outside China.

The book provides a handy list of the main Yunnan cooking ingredients and utensils as well as a series of recipes for how to make base recipes and sauces. This is a very useful addition, as not all base ingredients — such as pickled mustard greens or mushrooms preserved in oil — are readily available outside Yunnan. This book teaches you how to make these essential Yunnan side dishes or ingredients.

The recipes in the book are organized by region — Central Yunnan and the four cardinal directions. However, these regions are only loosely geographically defined, and chapters are more determined by the predominant flavors and cooking influences of these approximate regions — for example, hearty Tibetan fare in the west, spicy-sour Dai flavors in the south and of course the famous Crossing the Bridge noodles originating in Honghe, in eastern Yunnan. Every chapter is enriched with stories detailing the cooks, ingredients and surroundings of many of the dishes and adorned with full-page color photographs — making it as much a Yunnan documentary or travel publication as a cookbook.

Cooking at home

Ever since purchasing Cooking South of the Clouds we have been cooking from this wonderful cookbook, for international as well as Yunnan friends. For someone who doesn't speak or read Chinese very well, this book makes the gourmet aspect of Yunnan accessible beyond sampling the food in local restaurants. The additional stories and stunning photography make it a beautiful gift or a souvenir of a stay in Yunnan.

Our Destination China video team produced a short video in which we introduce one of the recipes from Cooking South of the Clouds: erkuai is a simple but iconic Yunnan dish.

All images: Josh Wand

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