Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Colourful Yunnan

680 Swanston St
Carlton, VIC 3053

A shorty but a goody of a post today. It’s not hard to find authentic Chinese food in Melbourne but little do people know, Chinese food varies hugely from region to region. I hail from one of the most southern parts of china – Yunnan, which shares its borders with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma. And finding actual Yunnan food in Melbourne? Unpossible.

At least it was until my dad heard from a friend who heard from a friend who is a friend of the owner of Colourful Yunnan that not only do they serve up traditional Yunnan cuisine, but they also do a bang-up authentic version of what’s arguably the most famous dish from the region - Cross Bridge Rice Noodles.

Story time. There was once a scholar who spent his days studying fervently in a pavilion for his entrance exams, and every day, his wife would bring him lunch. But the pavilion was very far away from their home, see, and each day his lunch would be cold by the time his wife got there. Then one day, his wife cooked rice noodles, and to make it easier to carry, she kept the noodles and soup in two separate containers. When she finally got to the pavilion, they discovered that surprisingly, the soup was still hot. It turned out that the layer of oil on top of the soup trapped the heat, keeping the scholar’s lunch warm. So from then on, the wife made the noodles every day, so her husband could have a hot lunch.  And as she had to cross a bridge to get to the pavilion, which was in the center of a lake, the name Cross Bridge Rice Noodles was born.

Cross Bridge Rice Noodles ($12)

Cross Bridge Rice Noodles ($12) is something of a cultural institution in Yunnan. You can find it on every street corner, the humblest of them all served with tinned meats and preserved vegetables, all the way to bowls garnished with seafood in a beautiful restaurant. The sides served at Colourful Yunnan are more of a humble persuasion, with some chicken, Chinese Spam, Yunnan ham, fish, vegetables, and the obligatory quail egg.

Yep, it's pretty big.

So after we threw everything in (egg, meats, and finally the vegetables so it doesn’t cool the soup down too much to cook all the protein; the noodles go in last as they are pre-cooked), we ended up with a pretty massive bowl of noodles. And flavour-wise? It tastes exactly like it does back at home, the broth a heady mix of chicken and pork, and the noodles perfectly slippery for slurping. The soup is admittedly a little less rich as what you find in China but then again, I’m not sure I want to find out what they put in the soup in China. After a quick moment to adjust to the unique flavour of the soup, Chris dug right in, clearly smitten.

Little Pot Noodles ($11)

The Little Pot Noodles ($11) is the ying to the cross bridge noodle’s yang. Yes it does suffer from what Chris dubs Assam Laksa Syndrome, aka when a dish looks like an unappetising sludgy messy mess. But of course, beauty is skin deep, and here we have the same slippery rice noodles, except this time it’s hiding just beneath the surface of a fiery soup slick with chilli oil. Luckily for you non-chilli-eaters, this is mostly bark and just a little bite. It actually has more of a numbing quality imparted by the peppercorns, as opposed to super spiciness, and the crunchy bits of preserved vegetables and shredded Chinese cabbage provided a cleaner, crispy counterpoint to all the oil and mince. It can be a little much for those who aren’t used to so much chilli, oil, and chilli oil all in one bowl but, I’ve been eating this since I could use chopsticks and not choke on noodles. And if a 3 year old girl can do it, so can you.

Colourful Yunnan sits just opposite Melbourne University in a Victorian-styled building which imparts some level of old-fashioned elegance to the restaurant. I really liked the menu they had which, although badly designed and laid out, had a short description and history of each of the dishes they served. I can guarantee that the food here won’t be for everyone, as Yunnan cuisine is known for its crippling spiciness and heavy hand with oil. Not to mention salty cured meats and interesting bits of offal. But for me, it tastes of childhood and home.

Rating: 14/20 – childhood and home.  

Colourful Yunnan on Urbanspoon


  1. I love regional Chinese dishes and bonus points for noodle dishes! I study part-time at Melbourne Uni so I will definitely check this place out when I have a spare lunch hour (that is, when I do decide to go to class! :p)

    1. Haha that's exactly it! I go into uni because I go to the city for the gym and food, not the other way around! I'd love to see a blog post from you on the cross bridge rice noodles, so I hope you decide to go to uni soon! :p

  2. Lovely to meet you the other day. Such beautiful photos on your blog!

    1. It was great to meet you too! I always go to your blog for ideas when I'm after something vegetarian :)

  3. FYI there is also a Yunnanese place in Box Hill on Whitehorse Rd near the police station. Haven't tried it, but did try Colourful Yunnan when it was in the city and loved it. My father-in-law originates from Yunnan.