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Apr 6, 2007 03:08 PM

Yunnan Menu at Mandarin Express (chow lunch report)

Four intrepid chowhounds gathered at this tiny restaurant in north Rockville to sample items from their menu of Yunnan specialties. We tried:

-Crossing the Bridge noodle soup.
-steamed dumplings
-sauteed greens
-a fish stirfry with mushrooms
-a beef stirfry with with greens and a bit of sour mustard (was the dish with rice cakes? I actually wasn't quite sure which item this was)

I've never had Yunnan food before. The dishes were all simple and well-prepared. Unlike food from neighboring Sichuan, the flavors tended to be subtle. Nothing bowled me over, but it was all quite good. Some of the items being ordered at other tables also looked tempting.

The most interesting of these was the noodle soup. A bowl was brought out containing a very rich chicken stock, and most of the ingredients -- thin cuts of meat, various vegetables including watercress, and thick round rice noodles -- were added tableside. This would make an excellent cheap lunch all by itself.

Menu is here (scroll to the bottom for Yunnan menu):

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  1. "Yunnan" is new to me, but I've been hearing the term on an underwriting credit on WAMU for Charlie Chang's (I think) restaurant. I was wondering if it's a new (or newly corrected) spelling and pronunciation of "Hunan" that we've been using for years. Is that the scoop, or is this a different province in China with a different regional cooking style?

    3 Replies
    1. re: MikeR

      It is a different province. Both are in the south, but they do not share a border.

      To the south, Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. I'm familiar only with the most recognizable dishes from those countries, but the food that we had at Mandarin Express didn't particularly resemble any of them. It also certainly didn't resemble the food of Sichuan, which borders Yunnan to the north. Texturally, it reminded me most of Cantonese food that I've had at Full Kee and various dim sum places around town. But the flavors were quite different.

      1. re: alopez

        Thanks for the info. It's getting so that there are specific dishes that I like at particular Chinese restaurants and it's hard for me to say that it's because of a specific type of regional cooking or ingredients.

        1. re: alopez

          Interesting. There's a place up here in Brooklyn called Yunan Flavor Snack, and the food tastes like a cross between Thai and Sichuan. Soup that tastes like tom yum with pork dumplings with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and sichuan peppercorns for example.

      2. Thanks for the report. The soup was the best item we ordered during a very pleasant meal. The meat and shrimp added at the table were raw, making the taste of the soup brighter and fresher than with pre-cooked meat.

        The 'beef' item you mentioned was basically a rice cake strir fry Yunan style, with the sour mustard adding a nice kick.

        The fish that we ordered was a 'tender' fish dish from the Chinese-only list entitled Chef's Special's. It was served with chunks of bamboo shoots, wood-ear mushromms, and a delicate wine sauce. As none of us read Chinese, this was ordered with the assistance of our patent waitress.

        This is just another delightful Chinese place in Rockville. One of many. If it was around the corner from where I work in DC, you'd have to pry me away from the place.

        1. It took me four years to get back here! It's been on my mind, but other places seemed to lure me away. I am very happy I returned.

          Three dishes we ordered were very distinctive. The hot and sour rice noodle soup, triple treasure (seafood) in a wine sauce, and the crispy tofu, which are impressively light puffs with a trickle of sweet sauce on top. The food here is sloppy and tasty, and it carves out a different flavor profile from what I am generally used to here.

          Two other dishes were ok, but I wouldn't get them again: Rice noodles with sour cabbage and lu chiang spareribs, which are fried but not quite crunchy.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            How big is the dining room, Steve? It looks like a carryout from the street...

            1. re: DanielK

              It's a small room with six or so tables plus they stick another table or two awkwardly in a back hallway. The other customers were Chinese. The crispy tofu had it all over the version at Hollywood East.