Lower East Side’s Yunnan Kitchen Shuns Assimilation

Barely a month has passed since Erika Chou opened the buzzed-about Yunnan Kitchen, her first restaurant on the Lower East Side with chef Travis Post formerly of Bklyn Larder and Franny’s in Brooklyn. Their menu features, you guessed it, food from the Chinese province Yunnan. Inside the 60-seat Clinton Street restaurant, you can spot hipsters and neighborhood regulars alike sitting under the faux tiger skin on the wall or at the community table.

“We wanted to introduce more people to the beauty of the region and its food,” says Chou, over a steaming plate of meaty trumpet mushrooms. “Each province has its own cooking style and in New York we have a lot of Cantonese and Sichuan food.”

Heck, nearby you can get Cantonese at Congee Village or Hop Kee, and for Sichuan try Old Sichuan on Bayard Street.

Here, while they try to use as many seasonal and local ingredients as possible, the cuisine remains solely Yunnan. Says Chef Post: “These are very pure flavors, not fusion food,” says Post. “It makes me so crazy when I see harissa in Thai curry.” For Chou, who grew up in North Carolina, food played a strong roll in her childhood, which pushed her to where she is today. "Food is such a big part of my culture and my family,” she says. “I remember walking around the aquarium when I was a little girl and my mom and grandma were talking, thankfully in Chinese, about how to cook each fish.”

Before she opened Yunnan Kitchen, Chou worked at the Standard Grill, where she started as a bus girl and eventually moved up the ladder to manager. When she decided to go the restaurateur route, Chou chose the Lower East Side and the long abandoned 99-cent store to house her project. She found Post on Craigslist and opened in beginning of May this year.

Unlike San Francisco’s much lauded Mission Chinese Food, which serves "Americanized Oriental Food," Yunnan Kitchen’s mission is purity and, in that, it is Mission Accomplished.

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