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Grub's up

Yunnan is a big province with a wild mix of minority groups, so when the idea of Yunnanese restaurant came up it sounded worth a try. The Middle 8th wasn't too tricky to find (see map) and inside it was all modish minimalism and slick staff. Not quite as extreme as fiery Sichuan, Yunnan is known for spicey grub zinging with pepper and chilli. We played it cool with ordering and ended up with a whacky assortment: chilli-crusted mushrooms, bamboo worms tossed through pease and deep-fried cactus. The cactus was done tempura style with thick globby batter over tender chunks that tasted rather like broccoli, while the worms were protein bullets that were peppered out of any flavour. Perhaps we should have gone with the bee pupa.

As any inflight magazine will tell you, there's plenty of good eating in Beijing (yep, I got to the Peking duck eventually - soft and good). We tried a few places mostly on recommendations of friends. We got adventurous at a local bakery using the point and click method of ordering and ended up getting help from a local English speaker. She was amazed that we knew so little Mandarin and were still geting by. We would have starved without her.

The only must-miss we hit while eating was the Donghuamen night market. Despite being in every guidebook and plugged by every hotel, I was hoping for a Singapore-style hawker market. Instead you get the same stores shuffling through some weak dishes (fried ice cream is a scoop on toast and I'm still bitter about the corn, a cob of maize rather than the sweet stuff you get from most vendors). But tourists love it. A Dutch girl came up to us proudly showing us that she was eating a starfish and had tried a stone fish earlier on. Elsewhere you can get scorpions, bugs and others of the gross-out variety.

Our last supper was with some friends who took us to a place that did great duck and beautiful fish (which they brought out to meet us - always makes it hard to look them in the eye on the plate). There was some traditional music strummed away in a corner and then the noodle gymnastics as a guy in a chef's hat tosses about raw noodles, which was all very impressive. Then the odd display by a man with a teapot with an elongated spout. He twirled it round his back and curled it over his head and then pointed the spout at a cup and deftly poured a brew for your gran. He flourished and furled rather like a cheerleader for tannin. One of our friends turned back from the display commenting "What a pointless skill."