We've been M.I.A. for the last 10 days but we're back. A good friend of ours, Laura Berry (pictured with me on the right) , came over from the states to visit us so we headed to the jungles of Xixuangbanna in Southern China to show her a good time. A place known for it's great food but not it's internet access.
We began our Jungle adventure in the region's capital, Jinghong. With it's balmy weather, fresh fruit, coconut trees, sugar cane, swimming pools (complete with water bugs), and laid back atmosphere, Jinghong is a little pocket of paradise within an otherwise unforgiving wilderness. We decided to make Jinghong our base camp for a couple of days and soak up the good life and fantastic food before beginning our multiple day trek through the surrounding mountains.
Orchid is the owner of the Mei Mei cafe in downtown Jinghong and she's an excellent resource for information on trekking in the area. She remembered Mary Kate and I from our last trek 4 years ago and suggested a more remote and challenging route through the Sanchahe Nature Reserve. The reserve is a lush 3.7 million acre area covered with tea plantations and home to China's last remaining elephants. This all sounded perfect until she warned us about several recent deaths along our would be route caused by the elephants. Mary Kate and I are always up for an adventure but trekking alone through a foreign jungle with killer elephants borders on the insane. Not only did we have to worry about ourselves, but Laura, who doesn't speak a word of Chinese, was trusting us with her safety. We talked it over and decided to find a guide in one of the villages who would know how to steer clear of any potential run-ins with Dumbo and family. If one of us ended up dead, at least we'd have a story and some authentic recipes to relate to our readers.
Xixuangbanna's largest ethnic group is the Dai minority and their food is the main culinary attraction here. Similar to Thai food, Dai dishes are often punctuated with lemon grass or mint leaves and fresh fruit is frequently added to meat or rice dishes, creating a unique sweet and savory combination. Among others, Dai style noodles, pineapple sticky rice, and grilled lemon grass chicken all made our best-of list and will be included in our book.
In Xishuangbanna they have miniature mangos that are slightly more tart and give the smoothie an added citrus kick. You can get this same taste at home by adding fresh lime juice to a ripe mango from your local supermarket.