Lijiang old town, in north western Yunnan, is the type of place that almost seems too nice. With its narrow streets, gushing canals and Naxi architecture there is no doubt that it is beautiful, but nevertheless many people seem to come away disappointed in the town.
What's missing, it seems, is the presence of any sense of the real China. Lijiang is too clean, ordered and touristy to come even close to authenticity. The Old Town looks and feels, for the most part, like a Las Vegas casino could have built it.
It's not surprising that this superficiality is reflected by bad food. With a few notable exceptions, allot of the dining options in the old town appear to be a case of style over substance. Most of the restaurants and cafes are way overpriced, and seem to be staffed exclusively by a breed of young arrogant types who consider any sort of service an infringement on their human rights.
Rise early in the morning however (before the town has had a chance to rouge up) and another Lijiang presents itself. At these hours, the tour buses have yet to arrive and people seem to be doing normal, everyday things. It's at this time that you're also likely to come across Lijiang Baba, the town's street breakfast of choice.
Lijiang Baba consists of a pancake-sized piece of dough, freshly rolled then dropped into a frying pan with about an inch of hot oil. Into the middle is cracked a whole egg and some chopped green onions are also added. The whole thing is then flipped and allowed to cook on the reverse. The result is a piece of eggy bread about the same thickness and texture of naan bread.
As breakfasts go, this one is close to unbeatable. All too often in China fried flatbread is stodgy and saturated with oil. Not so in Lijiang. Here the bread somehow manages to remain crispy on the outside, yet light and fluffy in the middle. The egg, for its part, is well distributed and along with the green onions adds a little flavour. The Baba also comes with two tart and spicy chilli sauces - a real wake up call.
By midday the Lijiang Baba stalls have by and large cleared away and the tourist onslaught is in full swing. In this respect Lijiang Baba serves a second purpose; that of giving you the energy to get the hell out of there!