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Yunnan’s Hospitality Culture: Expressed Through Meals

[2024.05.07] Posted By


In China, as a form of greeting, it’s common to say “你吃饭了吗?” which means “Have you eaten?” However, in Yunnan Province, the phrase “吃饭” is often used in various situations, more like “Eat, eat,” serving as an invitation to share a meal. Yet, with prolonged exposure to Yunnan, one comes to understand that these meal invitations may carry a dual meaning, akin to saying “Would you like some tea?” in Kyoto, something implying the opposite of their literal meaning.

In Yunnan Province, rather than selecting tea, we produce it ourselves

For Phoenix Dan Cong and Taiwanese oolong teas, we visit the origin to select teas crafted by the tea producers themselves. During the tea tasting session, we openly discuss any challenges encountered during the selection process and delve into the root causes of production issues with the producers to identify opportunities for improvement. This iterative is essential for enhancing and refining the quality of teas.

When procuring Yunnan teas, our approach diverges significantly. Rather than simply purchasing finished teas, we immerse ourselves in the production process alongside the tea producers, utilizing their facilities and collaborating with their workforce at the primary production site. We actively engage in every aspect of tea manufacturing, essentially functioning as producers ourselves. Consequently, it’s not unusual for us to remain in the factory until dawn during the peak tea harvest season. Throughout our time there, we join the producers for dinner served at their site.

We are currently residing in Yunnan Province, documenting and sharing our daily experiences on Instagram and Facebook.

https://www.instagram.com/hojoteaen/
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In Yunnan Province, meat is the most expensive ingredient

In Yunnan Province, vegetables are notably affordable, while meat tends to be more expensive. At local markets, vegetables usually range from one to three yuan per bundle, regardless of the type.

Consequently, it’s customary to serve meat dishes when hosting guests. Furthermore, these meat dishes are seasoned with various spices, herbs, fermented ingredients and ham.

In mountainous areas, many villagers produce a variety of fermented foods, including ham and fermented tofu. These preserved foods play a crucial role in their cuisine, with ham being particularly prized, similar to the significance of dried fish, seaweed, and bonito flakes in Japanese cuisine for making soup.

In situations where one should accept or decline dinner invitations:

When exploring wild tea or visiting remote tea gardens, local farmers often inviting us to join them for meal. Concerned about inconveniencing them, as they may be busy with field work during the daytime, I attempt to persuade my Yunnan local friends to leave. However, they eagerly anticipate sharing a meal together, and we ultimately find ourselves being graciously treated to dinner.
In remote mountainous areas, there are no eateries available, except in the small towns typically located over an hour’s drive away. To avoid dining at their home, we must carefully time our visits, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, as journeys to remote tea gardens are longer than anticipated.

The meals we savored while exploring wild tea in the mountain villages were fantastic. They were simple yet bustling with delicious flavors from spices, herbs, and fermented foods.

Inviting people to sit for dinner is akin to saying “Hello.”

When everyone gathers for meals at production factories, it’s common for various individuals to drop by for different reasons. In the village, regardless of their status, people always extend the invitation and say, “吃饭!(Chīfàn!)” which means “Let’s eat together!” However, I’ve noticed that those who come to the factory often decline for some reason and don’t eat. In Yunnan, saying “吃饭啊 (Chīfàn a)” “Let’s eat!” is akin to saying “hello” among neighbors.

The region highly values connections with the outside world.

After visiting Yunnan Province for nearly fifteen years, I initially struggle to decide whether to accept or decline these meals. However, I’ve come to realized that offering meals to guests who have traveled a long way for work-related matters is customary, and it’s generally expected for the guests to accept.

In my experience working in Yunnan, I’ve noticed that despite their remote location nestled deep in the mountains, the locals possess a remarkable ability to produce and gather incredibly valuable ingredients such as tea, walnuts, wild vegetables, mushrooms, honey, ham and a variety of fermented foods.
However, due to their geographical isolation, their connections with the outside world are inherently limited.
As a consequence, encounters with people from other provinces or even just outsiders represent a rare and significant opportunity for them to expand their market access beyond the confines of their village. They highly value any interaction with outsiders, regardless of how small, as it signifies a precious chance to establish connections with the broader world.
This deep-seated appreciation for external connections is evident in their warm and hospitable welcome extended to those who venture from afar. It’s a manifestation of their eagerness to engage with the outside world and leverage every encounter to enrich their lives and livelihoods.

Responding to their hospitality through work is often the preferred approach, as it fosters mutual respect and collaboration. However, it’s not always feasible given the constraints of time and resources. Therefore, when we visit the mountain villages, we find alternative ways to reciprocate their kindness. One of the ways is by bringing along items that are considered rare in the village, such as confections, fruits and sweets. Although these items may seem modest, by sharing these gifts, we hope to express our appreciation for their hospitality and forge connections that transcend cultural and geographic boundaries.

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