Like almost everything in Yunnan province, Kunming's food and cuisine may well be some of the most varied in China. With 26 minority groups residing in the area, and thanks to the province's proximity to Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and India, dishes have a huge range of cultures, flavors and wildlife to draw from, so pinpointing what exactly makes Yunnan food specifically "Yunnanese" is often difficult.
What is largely uniform in Yunnan cuisine (also called Dian cuisine) is its tendency towards salty, piquant dishes so famous in China's semi-tropics. The several hundred varieties of edible mushrooms native to the province make manifold debuts as side dishes, seasonings, stock bases and meat substitutes. Lotus root, peas, bamboo shoots, garlic, onion, and other light greens are also in common use. The squeamish should note that bug eating is a relatively frequent activity, with grubs and caterpillars sometimes added to soups as a garnish or medicinal supplement.
Other unfamiliar meats have entered the snack culture, imported from as close as Guangdong and as far as Vietnam. Night market vendors peddle such oddities as fried bees and grilled rat kebabs. But fear not - benign rice noodles and steamed chicken soup are the primary local specialties. Seafood, unfortunately, while not too hard to come by, is quite expensive in landlocked Kunming.
Those missing a taste of home can peruse the many Western and international restaurants that pepper the Yunnan University and Cuihu areas. Weilin Street and Wenhua Xiang are also home to several foreign-owned eateries.
Bei Da Men Food Street
Taste food and beverages from every corner of China as themed provincial restaurants follow one after the other along this taste-centric boulevard. Snack vendors dish out bowls full of Crossing the Bridge Noodles and goat cheese. Relatively few international restaurants grace the area, however, and those looking for some greasy spoon American food or light, creamy French should check out Cuihu for a wider range of options.
Xingyuan Road Food Street
Xingyuan isn't so much a food street as it is a cluster of famous Dian cuisine restaurants. Ten or so well-known Yunnan and minority eateries serve up all the southern food you can handle. Perfect for those who want to get as much Kunming as they can stuff down in a couple of meals.
Dianchi Road Food Street
Once known only for its proliferation of high-end seafood joints, Dianchi Road Food Street has now given birth to a couple of ethnic restaurants which have done pretty well for themselves. (AiNi Mountain Villa) is an American-owned Dai cuisine restaurant offering tangy dishes that will set your tongue tingling.
Guanshang Wild Mushroom Street
Head down to Guanshang for its fabulous variety of restaurants specializing in dishes made from wild mushrooms and fungi, many of which are considered to have homeopathic medicinal properties.
Cuihu (Green Lake)
This thriving hotel, dining and entertainment district is brimming with restaurants from every corner of the globe. Surrounding the aquamarine lake are a number of international eateries serving pizza, salads, burgers, pasta, wine and coffee.