I never knew this eatery even existed though I’d driven by there many times. Located on the corner of 8th Avenue and 14th Street NW, South Silk Road is Chinese restaurant specializing in Yunnan cuisine. I must say it’s a bit of an odd location for a Chinese restaurant serving such specialized regional cuisine. I found out about this eatery from an article on the local Swerve Calgary website. I was intrigued as I’d never tried Yunnan cuisine before. Yunnan is a province located in the far southwest part of China. It borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Since Yunnan is a province with the largest number of ethnic minorities, a lot of their cuisine is influenced by these ethnic groups.
The menu at South Silk Road is quite diverse. The owner helped us to choose some famous/classic Yunnan dishes. Our first dish was the Chicken Soup in Clay Pot with Gastrodia Tuber ($16.99). This is a famous dish to Yunnan cuisine. It is often known as Steam Pot Chicken (Qi guo ji), where chicken pieces are steamed with tonic herbs in a special ceramic pot. South Silk Road offers two versions of this dish – one with bamboo mushroom and the other with gastrodia tuber. We were adventurous and decided to try the version with gastrodia tuber, which is a rhizome that is supposed to have healthful benefits. The gastrodia tuber didn’t impart a strong flavour to the soup so I didn’t mind.
What makes this preparation unique is that the ceramic pot has a built-in inverted cone-shaped spout in the center. To make the soup, this special ceramic pot filled with the chicken and herbs and is placed on top of another regular pot full of boiling water. The two pots are sealed together with strips of paper using a starchy paste to prevent steam from escaping out the sides. As the steam is produced in the bottom pot, it rises up the inverted cone-shaped soup and condenses on the lid of the special ceramic pot in the form of soup. This slow steaming resulted in the most intensely-flavoured chicken soup that I’ve ever tasted. It was delicious. I was impressed at how tender and flavourful the chicken pieces were.
Next up was the Sliced Chinese Yam with Honey and Sweet Osmanthus Sauce ($9.99). This dish showcased another aspect of Yunnan cuisine – the use of flowers as food. In comparing to other Chinese regional cuisines such as Cantonese, Shanghainese and Szechuan, flowers are actually rarely used in these other cuisines. In this case, the osmanthus flower was infused in the honey sauce. The Chinese yam, also known as Japanese mountain yam or nagaimo/yamaimo, has a really interesting texture as it is very starchy and mucilaginous. When grated, the texture of the yam is even more slimy and gelatinous. In this preparation, it was served raw so it was more crunchy and only slightly slimy on the surface. On its own, I found this dish to be a bit too floral and sweet for my taste because of the honey and sweet osmanthus sauce. However, it was the perfect complement to the other dishes we ordered. I found myself turning back to this dish again and again in between the other dishes as this was the perfect palate cleanser.
Our third dish was the Yunnan Style Dry Beef ($13.99). This dish showcased another characteristic of Yunnan cuisine with mushrooms being featured prominently in the dish. This dish was actually quite spicy and I enjoyed the contrasting textures. However, I expected the beef slices to have more of a crispier crust around the edges as shown in the picture on their menu.
Lastly, we tried the Special Lemongrass Grilled Fish ($10.99). Since Yunnan is situated near Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, this dish is indicative of how some Yunnan dishes are influenced by the bordering countries. Lemongrass is not an ingredient typically used in other regional Chinese cuisines. On the other hand, it is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. This dish was made with tilapia fish. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of tilapia because of the muddy taste but the lemongrass actually masked the muddy taste quite well.
I’m actually pleasantly surprised we have a restaurant here in Calgary serving up Yunnan cuisine as there are not that many restaurants in North America specializing in Yunnan fare. If you feeling adventurous, South Silk Road is a great place to go to try dishes you otherwise, would never come across in most Chinese restaurants.
South Silk Road
823 14 street NW