Taste of Yunnan prevails despite ambience change
Southern Barbarian was once a long-time favorite among the city’s expat circle — but that is no longer the case.
The place feels like a secret hole-in-the-wall dive, as you need to trek through a quirky mall and a dingy back alley to reach it. Nevertheless, despite its off-street location, the restaurant has been a popular haunt for the past 15 years for its traditional home-style Yunnan dishes sold at reasonably affordable prices.
On a recent visit I discovered the restaurant ambience had pretty much changed. The majority of the customers are now locals and the restaurant seems to be lacking the cheerful vibe compared to before.
Southern Barbarian (“Nan Man Zi”) is what northern Chinese used to call people from southern China. It specializes in Yunnan home-cooking, using exotic ingredients from a region renowned for its fantastic scenery.
Yunnan Province’s geographic location boasts an ideal climate for an abundance of vegetation. Yunnan chefs utilize many vegetables, along with seeds, flowers and fungus, in their meals. At Southern Barbarian customers can try several dishes that include the province’s native ingredients, such as stir-fried pomegranate flower with chive and stir-fried beef with mujiangzi — a type of mountain pepper found in Yunnan.
For those wanting to stick with Yunnan classics and all-time favorites, try the mint salad mixed with chili oil and soy sauce, charcoal-grilled aubergine with tomato and chili, and the salt and pepper fried Yunnan goat cheese for starters.
Salt and pepper fried Yunnan goat cheese is similar to Greek fried halloumi cheese. But the semi-firm cheese from Yunnan imparts a saltier taste and greater depth of flavor. It retains its shape when cooked.
The menu is extensive, featuring soups, meat, fish, vegetables, barbecue, snacks and famous rice noodles from the region. Adventurous eaters can try their deep-fried bumblebees and scorpions. Insects have long been a popular snack in the province. Once the ick factor has passed, there’s a pleasant combination of crunchy, sweet and salty for many.
Cross-the-bridge rice noodles appear on almost every table at Southern Barbarian. It combines a bowl of boiling hot soup with rice noodles and accompanying ingredients such as thinly sliced meats, tofu, eggs and seasonal vegetables, each served in separate tray. Diners put the ingredients into the soup and voila! Time to enjoy it.
Opening hours: 11am-11pm
Address: 2/F, Zone E, 56 Maoming Rd S.
Average price: 150 yuan