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Zagat: Lower East Side Eatery Serves Uniquely Yunnan Cuisine

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Yunnan cooking is a brand of its own, thanks to a special ingredient. Zagat editor Kelly Dobkin filed the following report for NY1.

At Yunnan Kitchen on the Lower East Side, one unique ingredient ties the NY eatery to the source of its inspiration.

Opened in 2012 by owner Erika Chou, this Lower East Side hotspot features food from the Yunnan province of China, which combines influences from many different cuisines.

"Yunnan is in South Central China next to Vietnam and Laos, so you have a lot of fresh herbs and salads, which is really unusual for what you think of as 'traditional' Chinese cooking," Chou says.

"In Yunnan there's a lot of lighter flavors, there’s raw greens in salads that they eat. It's our version of California cuisine in China," says executive chef Doron Wong.

One ingredient that figures prominently in Yunnan cuisine is Ma La spice, which literally translates to “numbing, spicy.” The ingredient is used in a variety of dishes throughout the menu.

"In Yunnan cooking, there’s a lot of influence from Sichuan province, and Ma La is one of the 23 flavors combinations. It’s a combination of Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. We use that here in a lot of traditional ways in some dishes we have, like the Ma La chicken wings, and then we try to do a little more modern take on that. The Ma La ice cream is something we came up with. You have the numbing, the hot, and that's really balanced out really nicely by the sweet and the creamy nature of the ice cream. It’s like getting in a fight with your girlfriend and making up all in one bite," says chef Jordan Harris.

After recently acquiring a liquor license, Yunnan Kitchen even found a way to incorporate Ma La spice into a signature cocktail.

"It’s called the Ma-La-Rita. We infuse our tequila from The 86 Co.—called Cabeza tequila—with Sichuan peppercorns and a couple of other things. Just add in some fresh grapefruit juice, lemon juice and put on a nice Ma La rim with the spices. Simple, but definitely bold and different," Chou says.

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