The 7Yunnan (七彩雲南) restaurant chain is operated by a woman from a Chinese minority group, and it serves cuisine from her native Yunnan Province at five locations across Taoyuan County.
At the Bade (八德) location, the dining area is warmly lit and adorned with colorful handicrafts, such as a collection of candy apple-red hats woven by the Dai (傣) people, sourced from Yunnan province.
Dishes arrive briskly — often with a story. Like this one, about Crossing the Bridge Noodles (過橋米線, NT$100): A woman in Yunnan invented it to keep her husband at peak health while he studied alone for the imperial exams. To get to his dormitory, she had to travel over a long bridge, so she created a soup that would stay piping hot and carried the meal in an earthen pot.
This is the best-selling dish at 7Yunnan, and it is also one of the best-known from the province. The Taoyuan version is also served in an earthen pot. It contains chicken broth with thin meat slices, rice noodles, julienned carrots, garlic and cilantro and a glistening layer of clarified fat to trap heat. You can request that it all arrive in the pot, or have the ingredients brought out separately so you can cook them on your own, hot-pot style. Either way, it’s a comforting and filling dish that you can eat a lot of because the broth is velvety and subtle, salted in a mildly pleasant way.
Other menu items are spiced much more heavily. 7Yunnan has a few dishes similar to Sichuan food: firecracker colored soups, meats showered with peppercorns that range from spirited to incendiary. There are also dishes that are sweet and sour, or intensely salty and savory, in the way of the better-known Vietnamese or Thai cuisines.
The butter-battered soft-shell crab (奶香黃薑蟹, NT$250) has Thai influences and came highly recommended by the server. This dish — steaming, flavorful and very tender chunks of crab — is very magical, though it’s also a shock of trans fats that could delete two days from your life expectancy. It consists of roughly chopped soft-shell crabs, encrusted in a deep-fried spiced batter that includes fresh ginger, and topped with crispy fried basil.
Moon Shrimp Cake (月亮蝦餅, NT$200) is a second dish that you could also find at a Thai restaurant. It’s a standard eight triangles arranged like a star around a dipping sauce, but the thin little pancakes are made from scratch and embedded with morsels of real shrimp.
In addition, 7Yunnan serves foods native to the large population of minority peoples in Yunnan. The squid cold plate (傣味拌花枝, NT$180), borrowed from the Dai people, arrives looking like an inexpert onion-rich stir fry, though in reality it’s pretty thoughtfully composed. The sharpness has been drawn out of the onion with a vinegar marinade, and the onion combines with the celery and baby tomatoes to create a sweetly tart punch. The squid is springy, but with a flatlining saltiness on its own. When that’s eaten with a bit of the vegetable haystack, nearly all the flavors are there, in a funky, refreshing dish that’s a lot like ceviche.