The Dai people have had a strong influence on Yunnan cuisine with their use of lemon grass, lime juice, chilli and other spices. Indeed when the Dai ethnic minority is mentioned, many people immediately think of the sour or acid dishes that highlight Dai cuisine. In fact the Dai ethnic minority is sometimes referred to as "Suān dǎizú" [酸傣族] or Acid Dai.
One dish that is particularly popular is Xiāngmáocǎo kǎo yú [香茅草烤鱼] or fish grilled with lemon grass. It evokes tastes less of China but of Vietnam and the Laos, both countries with which Yunnan borders.
The gutted fish is stuffed with a variety of herbs and spices and grilled over a charcoal fire. This method of cooking isn’t practical in Western kitchens. However one can get satisfactory results from grilling in a conventional oven.
To start you will need to assemble a number of ingredients. In Yunnan river fish such as carp is often used. However, once again one can improvise and use a large sea bream, tilapia or even sea bass.
Other ingredients include spring onions, ginger, garlic, green chilli, fresh coriander, limes and salt.
Finely chop one or two spring onions and a good handful of fresh coriander. Mix this with one or more finely chopped green chillies, a little grated ginger and a finely chopped clove of garlic. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a small pinch of salt and then stuff the mixture into the cleaned fish. Sometimes the fish is cleaved along the spine - such that the fish is almost cut in two - to make the cavity that much larger.
The fish is then wrapped and tied with lemon grass before being placed in a dish, sprinkled with a little Chinese wine, soy and lime juice and allowed to marinate. The short rather dry stems of lemon grass available in the UK are not satisfactory to tie the fish thus oven proof string will be needed. The lemon grass can meanwhile be place under the fish.
The fish can be left overnight in a refrigerator if desired, but an hour is sufficient.
When ready preheat the oven to around 200°C. Oil the fish, sesame is best, and a dash of soy and place it into a dish before putting it in the oven. After 15-20 minutes, turn on the grill and cook both sides of the fish to crisp the skin.
Finally turn the fish out onto a decorative serving dish and garnish with a little fresh coriander.