WildChina reading lists give travelers our top picks for books that will open up a destination to them before they even set foot on the ground. Our newest addition to the China reading list is Travels Through Dali with a Leg of Ham, the story of Yunnan’s centuries old culinary traditions told through the eyes of our founder, Mei Zhang.
Growing up in Dali prefecture in the Yunnan region of China, Mei Zhang was convinced that ham in the nearby village of Duofeng was the best in the world. After moving to the USA for school, Zhang continued to long for the culinary delight of her hometown ham. Yunnan is one of China’s most ethnically diverse regions, and its unique customs and traditions are a precious draw for millions of tourists each year. Their ham, according to Zhang, is the best in the world.
Photo: Liz Phung
Along with the wealth it has brought to the region, tourism has also brought lots of questions on how to keep hold of traditions. In Travels through Dali with a Leg of Ham, the founder of WildChina discusses the ways in which China’s 5,000 years of history intersect with growing urbanization, the tourism industry, and prominence of China on the global level.
Photo: Liz Phung
After leaving China for several years, Zhang decides to set out on a journey with her hometown ham. She uses Dali and its ham to talk about broader issues of travel: how experiencing new places enriches us as humans and global citizens, how food and cooking brings us together to share a meal, stories, companionship, love and family.
Zhang and her local guides provide a richly-detailed, highly poetic, and often humorous view of Dali and its history. Twinged with nostalgia and a knack for noticing the little things, Zhang provides readers with a travelogue and cookbook.
She travels to a local village where salt from wells is processed by artisan’s in a centuries old fashion. She visits with a busy homemaker who makes delicious Shaxi cheese all the while making shoes from old car tires. Zhang even crashes a Bai minority wedding.
The text of the book is excellently complemented by beautiful photographs that almost let you taste the ham and experience the riches of Dali along with Zhang.
China is a country amidst monumental change where the history being made in the present is just as compelling as the 5000 years that have passed. Zhang clearly has a love for sharing the traditions and cultures of China with the rest of the world, as her company, WildChina, continues to do each and every day.
If you want to hear Mei Zhang’s passion for Yunnan and its delicacies first hand, you must watch this lovely YouTube video. You can hear the enthusiasm and nostalgia in Zhang’s every word. You might not expect someone to talk about ham the same way a poet talks about his beloved, but Zhang sounds exactly like a love-struck poet:
The book will be available for purchase from www.travelsthroughdali.com and selected bookstores around the Australia and Asia-Pacific from September 13, 2016
Purchase your copy of “Travels through Dali, with a leg of ham”
Want to get a taste of a juicy leg of ham? Explore Dali’s delicious heritage on the Travels through Dali with a Leg of Ham tour.