Hidden Treasures: Steamed Dumplings in China’s Late Afternoon Light

Joel Carillet's picture




It wasn’t easy getting to Lijiang, a town in China’s northern Yunnan Province.  After arriving in Kunming, the provincial capital, I had taken an overnight train to Dali and from there a bus the final five hours to Lijiang.  The trip was long, but worth it.


Joel Carillet

Old Town Lijiang


At an elevation of 7,900 feet and home to just over one million people – pretty small by Chinese standards – Lijiang felt worlds away from the likes of Shanghai and Guangzhou, frantically expanding cities I had visited earlier in the month.  In Lijiang the air was cooler and less polluted, and the streets weren’t at all congested.  And then there was the Old Town.  Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, it was simply spectacular.


In the Old Town mountain streams bubbled past shops and cafes.  Pedestrians flowed too, strolling down stone alleys and over wooden bridges – most of which were free of vehicular traffic thanks to strictly enforced regulations.


Joel Carillet

Football - aka soccer - on the edge of Lijiang's Old Town


I was visiting Lijiang for a second time, the first having come six months earlier, in December.  After backpacking through Southeast Asia I was now was looping back northward.  Lijiang was to be my blast major urban layover before I embarked on a week-long journey to Lhasa.


Because my going to Lhasa would not be entirely legal – foreigners aren’t allowed to travel solo through eastern Tibet and are generally kicked out if caught – I felt some stress.  And so in Lijiang I was committed to finding ways to relax.  This generally took the form of long strolls back and forth through the Old Town.  It also included eating lots of great food.  (Not only was I nervous about Tibet, I was also saddened that soon I would leave behind the Chinese food I had come to love.)


On one long stroll, I left the Old Town to explore the New – not nearly so picturesque but still enjoyable.  It was 5:45 p.m., and late afternoon light was throwing a golden hue onto the city, including onto a steamed dumplings shop.  Smitten by the light and the smell of dumplings, I entered.


Joel Carillet

Dumplings and passersby


Steamed dumplings, called jiaozi in Chinese, are cheap and tasty.  And watching folks prepare them – the place where I now sat was a simple, family-run operation – adds to the enjoyment of it all.  Steam billows from wooden containers as the dumplings cook, and then again from your table as the dumplings are set before you.  A bowl of dipping sauce accompanies the dumplings, as do disposable wooden chopsticks. And as steam wafts in and out of golden afternoon light, you eat, temporarily forgetting the uncertain journey ahead.  Soon you order a second round, knowing that two helpings and a bottle of Coke will set you back less than two dollars.


Joel Carillet

My table companions also enjoying the dumplings


It is the end of another day in Asia, and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But today was good, for it brought you a plate of dumplings.




Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. His most recent project is 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia, due for release in August. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com





Comments (2)

  • Ed Forteau

    11 years 5 months ago

    Simple and delicious.  I enjoy them here in the States too.   

    Ed Forteau

    Publisher, WanderingEducators.com

  • Rossie Indira

    11 years 4 months ago

    Oh Joel, I really missed Chinese dumplings! Dumplings is mu favorite food in China. I can eat many portions and many kinds of it.

    I too went to Kunming and then to Dali at one time when I visited China. I think food in Kunming is fantastic but the dumplings that I had in Beijing was the best ones that I tasted so far!


    Rossie Indira


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