Cross Bridge Noodles is a Yunnan specialty comprising a bowl of hot soup with rice noodles and accompanying ingredients such as thinly sliced meats, eggs, offal, mushrooms, tofu and seasonal vegetables, each served in separate bowls. Diners dunk the ingredients into the soup in a prescribed order – meats, vegetables and noodles, followed by a splash of condiments such as vinegar, spring onions or chilli. The heat of the soup will slowly cook them at the table.
The dish is so popular that you can find it everywhere in Yunnan and across China, from streetside food stalls to grandiose restaurants. There are even restaurant chains that specialise exclusively in Cross Bridge Noodles.
Why the name?
The curious, if rather literal, name stems from a story of love and loyalty. According to popular retelling, Cross Bridge Noodles originated 200 years ago in the city of Mengzi, just south of Kunming in Yunnan. The area was home to a beautiful lake with a small island connected to the shore by a wooden bridge. The island was a popular destination for local scholars preparing to sit for the imperial examinations, as they found its remote and quiet location conducive to studying.
Among the students was a particularly diligent scholar, whose wife would cross the bridge to the island each day to bring him a bowl of soup noodles. But the engrossed scholar often forgot to eat his lunch until the food had turned cold and the noodles soggy. When his wife noticed that the scholar was getting weaker by the day, she decided to pack the ingredients in separate bowls so that he could spoon them into the dish whenever he was ready to eat. Insulated by a layer of glistening oil, the chicken broth would stay hot enough to cook the noodles and other ingredients.
The scholar eventually passed the famously challenging exams and credited his wife with his success.
The dish is now widely recognised as symbol of diligence, ingenuity and hospitality.
Where to eat it?
It has been said that the best litmus test for identifying people from Yunnan is to check if they’ve had a taste of Jian Xin Garden’s Cross Bridge Noodles. The century-old shop on 195 Baoshan Road (Tel: +8687 1361-1885) in Kunming’s main commercial district serves a version with spicy pig blood and a flavoursome broth made by keeping chicken bones on the boil for more than six hours.
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