Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Wu Yuan


nakji
 Share

Recommended Posts

This past Labour Day (May 1st), I had a four day holiday and took a road trip with some friends to Wu Yuan, an area somewhere in Northeastern Jiangxi, bordering on Anhui province.

Wu Yuan is a charming collection of some very old villages, cobbled together and managed as a tourism district by the local party authorities. It's quite popular with domestic tourists, but seems to be relatively unknown to foreign tourists. I'm not sure why - they are beautiful - the houses date from the Eighth century, but are still working villages, with people planting rice and still living a relatively rural lifestyle - no doubt heavily subsidized by the government. For a cool 160 kuai, we bought a three day pass to have unlimited visits to the villages, drive around rice paddies, canola fields, and tea plantations, and generally take in the clean air of the countryside, fresh tea, and killer dried pork products.

It's now tea season, which happily coincides with young bamboo season - 笋 We ate a lot of both.

We encountered heavy construction on our first night in the area, and so were late getting into town. Although our guidebooks recommended staying in the actual villages surrounding Wu Yuan, it was dark by the time we got there, and we weren't sure of the condition of the road. We elected to stay in Wu Yuan proper, which I can say with confidence you can give a miss on your next trip - unless you're a tea trader. No matter the town, however, you're never far away from a good meal in China, though, so we stopped at a restaurant next to our guesthouse (the rooms of which performed the unusual trick of looking better in the light of day than they did in the dim evening light) which had set some tables out along the sidewalk to better take advantage of the warm evening.

The beer was as warm as the evening, but the dishes were nice. We were at a bit of a disadvantage as our conversational Chinese is better than our ability to read menus, so we simply asked for the house specialties, which didn't disappoint.

We started with cold beef and boiled bamboo shoots, which I thought reminded me of eating artichokes.

2010 05 03 180.JPG

Then, we had some lamb skewers with cumin, dressed with chili and green onions.

2010 05 03 182.JPG

Waaay too many for the three of us. Especially considering we'd also ordered:

2010 05 03 185.JPG

Pork belly in mystery herb. Anyone know what this black herb is? I feel strongly that it was tea that had been dried and then deep fried, but language skills escaped me. It was really complex and earthy, and unlike anything else I'd tasted before. Marvelous.

We'd also ordered the house specialty - dumplings made with rice and chrysanthemum-leaf wrappers, and stuffed with garlic chives, mushrooms, and smoked tofu. Wow. Wow. I was the only one who liked them, though. I blame them and the warm beer I ate for falling into my dubious bed at 9:30 and sleeping through the fireworks display.

2010 05 03 186.JPG

So...anyone know what that pork dish was? I have a good idea how to recreate it, but only once I verify what the herb was.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the herb you are talking about is called "Mei Cai" or "Cai Gan". The dish is called "Mei Cai Kou Rou".

Mei Cai is basically salted, dried and preserved chinese cabbage (not the regular cabbage in the supermarket here in US).

Different regions have different name of this preserved vegetable. It's also possiblly called "Tian Jin Dong Cai" ("Tian Jin" is the name of the city where the product is famous for).

In Shanghai, this dish will be called "Mei Gan Cai Shao Rou".

confused enough?

nice pictures.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks! Interesting to know about the mei cai - it has such a unique flavour, I really couldn't get over how delicious it was.

The second day was our first day of really beautiful weather since about...well, November quite frankly. It was great to see the sun, especially shining on all the villages. We didn't want to spend any more time wandering around Wu Yuan proper, so we skipped a morning noodle/bao search and went right to the villages. (We had some granola bars that I always keep on hand for travel breakfasts.)

So, of course, by about 11 am, we were starving when we decided to stop in the village restaurant in Yancun. The staff were surprised by early diners, but seemed game. The restaurant must have been built along with the gate infrastructure by the government, as it clearly wasn't original to the village. Normally these sorts of things are pretty soulless, but the designer had had the sense to build it out of local slate tile, use traditional Chinese furnishings, and then light the whole (cavernous, really) room by cutting out a giant swath of the back wall and turning it into a balcony facing a small mountain and river. Natural lighting! It was a beautiful place for a beautiful meal.

We encountered another non-picture menu, so I dredged up by best classroom mandarin to request a pork dish, a vegetable, and a soup; whatever the cooks thought we might like. Thankfully, everywhere I go in China, it seems de rigueur to spend upwards of ten minutes discussing the menu with restaurant staff in detail; here, most of the discussion took place between the restaurant staff; but in the end they suggested qing cai, hongshao rou, and something involving noodles I couldn't catch. We all agreed that their suggestions sounded great - mainly because we actually recognized the dishes in question. Since we were so early, they had to send someone off to find the chef, so we had lots of time to admire the view. We got cups of local green tea, and one of the ubiquitous pink thermoses that no indoor space in China is complete without to refill our cups.

When the food came, we couldn't believe our luck.

Copy of 2010 05 03 083.JPG

Perfectly cooked - I can never get my hong shao rou this good at home. How can workers in a government cafeteria achieve such excellence? Because they have been cooking it forever? I am humbled.

Copy of 2010 05 03 085.JPG

Noodle soup - there was so much of it, I felt like we pulled bowls of it one after another without ever making a dent. The qing cai was also perfectly fresh and with the perfect amount of wok hei.

The vegetables came from the village gardens, which explains their freshness. Countryside cooking at its best!

Our view of the village:

2010 05 03 080_edited-1.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That afternoon we walked over to Si Xi, a village about 500 m down the road from Yan Cun. This village was much smaller, but had some truly spectacularly carved courtyards. There were also lots of free range chickens hopping about, and some of the mysterious dinner herb drying - I think. Can we confirm this is Mei Cai?

Copy of 2010 05 03 107.JPG

Wu Yuan area is also known for its tea, if the information I was seeing off the signs everywhere - along with the hundreds of tea fields that surrounded us - were anything to judge by. I took a chance on a local vendor and bought some bi luo chun-esque tea off him.

Copy of 2010 05 03 109.JPG

Actually, most of the village was filled with tea shops and antique stores, but everyone was off on their afternoon nap when we arrived. Here is one of the deserted tea shops in an old courtyard:

2010 05 03 106_edited-1.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That afternoon we went to one of the most touristy of the villages in the area - Likeng. This village was swamped with tour buses, but we still managed to see enough of it to get a feel for the traditional nature of the area. It was really hot that afternoon, so the canal up to the village was covered with children on the banks with tubs of fresh raw cucumbers, a popular snack in Asia when it heats up. I did not indulge, as I prefer my cucumbers with dip.

Around the village, and actually, in the whole area - we could see pork being preserved outside in the wind and heat. Here's a shot of one of the restaurants and their house charcuterie.

2010 05 03 140_edited-1.jpg

It was still too early for dinner, so we stopped for a cup of local tea and sunflower seeds boiled with anise.

2010 05 03 144_edited-1.jpg

The tea houses of Likeng overlook the canals and the rest of the village on lovely wooden decks. Ours was filled with Chinese families also taking a break from the heat with a restorative cuppa. The best part was wading through the piles of seed casings to our seats. I've never been much of a sunflower seed eater, but these were some of the biggest, fattest pods I've ever encountered, and the subtle anise salt makes them addictive eating. The view:

2010 05 03 148_edited-1.jpg

Everywhere, thin yellow bamboo shoots were being offered for sale - I knew we'd have to order some of these for our dinner if we were going to have a true countryside experience.

2010 05 03 027_edited-1.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We ended up staying the night in another village, Wang Kou. We stopped in at a pension and made arrangements with the owner for a couple of rooms and dinner at 7pm. We had a brief wander around the old town, which was beginning to close up for the evening. Then we opted for showers over more old carvings, and went back to the hotel. I negotiated briefly with the owner to convince him to put some beer in the cooler for us, as it's usually, like all other beverages in China, room temperature. Success, although I did get a strange look. When we came down to dinner, I realized once again that I'd have to really start cramming characters, because I still couldn't read the menu beyond "beef", "chicken", "fish" and so on. Fortunately the menu was really only pro forma, like the owner had seen one once in another restaurant somewhere and thought his pension ought to have one too. When I pointed out several dishes randomly, they turned out to be "mei you" - unavailable. Which was fine, as I'd had no idea what they were anyway. Might have dodged a bullet? We chatted in a limited fashion for a few minutes and it was agreed that we would eat what everyone else was having, which was: rou, cai, mi fan. Meat, vegetables, and rice. Why try to get creative?

Fresh bamboo shoots with local wind-dried ham:

2010 05 03 157.JPG

Greens:

2010 05 03 158.JPG

More mystery-herb pork belly. Better than the previous night's - much less oily.

2010 05 03 159.JPG

After that, we went up to the fourth floor balcony over the street, and watched the town wander around and enjoy their holiday. We ate a sleeve of Oreos for dessert and I finished off the cold beer, since I didn't want to leave the owner with unsaleable bottles.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Beautiful travelogue, Erin. How nice to visit a place where you're never far from an excellent meal!

Margo Thompson

Allentown, PA

You're my little potato, you're my little potato,

You're my little potato, they dug you up!

You come from underground!

-Malcolm Dalglish

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Margo. It's true, China is one of the nicest countries for food travel I've ever been.

So the next morning we got up early so we could see a little more before heading back to Suzhou. Since the tolls on the highway are still quite expensive for the average person, we knew there'd be little to no traffic on the highway - stunning in this country of a billion people. We knew we could make it back in three or four hour's of straight driving, so we wanted to cram in a visit to Huang Shan city, where our friend is living as the private tutor for the daughter of a local development magnate.

First, though, we had to have breakfast. Fortunately, there were a couple of noodle and dumpling shops set up on the main street.

2010 05 03 001.JPG

They were stuffed with cabbage, yellow-bean and chili paste, and a teeny bit of the local wind-dried ham fat, I think. Incredible. I could have eaten ten, but then I'm a sucker for dumplings.

2010 05 03 002.JPG

Coffee was not going to happen, but a good cup of tea is never far away, so we stopped in at a tea house for a caffeine hit. More sunflower seeds resulted, and my friend took a few minutes to tutor us in the fine art of eating sunflowers seeds using only one hand and your teeth.

2010 05 03 004.JPG

The teahouse was situated next to the river to take advantage of the shade and cool. Terrifying bathrooms; excellent local tea.

2010 05 03 006.JPG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That afternoon we walked over to Si Xi, a village about 500 m down the road from Yan Cun. This village was much smaller, but had some truly spectacularly carved courtyards. There were also lots of free range chickens hopping about, and some of the mysterious dinner herb drying - I think. Can we confirm this is Mei Cai?

Copy of 2010 05 03 107.JPG

I too think that the ingredient in your braised pork dish is Mei Cai (or in Cantonese: Mui Choy). It is a preserved vegetable, not an herb. It is the Chinese mustard greens kind of vegetable turned moldy. :laugh: Sorry.

http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-hk/%E6%A2%85%E8%8F%9C

But what you showed in this picture seemed to be just tea leaves being sun dried.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is the Chinese mustard greens kind of vegetable turned moldy.

That is one fine tasting mold, then. Really excellent. Is the pork braised with the 梅菜, or is it braised another way then fried with it at the end?

After the tea and dumplings we put our trust in the GPS and plotted a course to Huang Shan to meet up with our friend for lunch. I couldn't resist snapping these pictures at one of our re-fuelling stops:

2010 05 03 040.JPG

That's right, those hams are drying on the side of a SINOPEC:

2010 05 03 039.JPG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is the Chinese mustard greens kind of vegetable turned moldy.

That is one fine tasting mold, then. Really excellent. Is the pork braised with the 梅菜, or is it braised another way then fried with it at the end?

Here is one recipe on the dish you tasted. All in Chinese, sorry.

But rough translations:

http://wenbanzhu.jamesqi.com/%E6%A2%85%E8%8F%9C%E6%89%A3%E8%82%89%E6%80%8E%E4%B9%88%E5%81%9A%EF%BC%9F

梅乾菜洗凈,用清水浸泡30分鐘。

Soak the mui choy in water for 30 min.

五花肉,加入姜、八角、草果,在清水裡煮30分鐘。

Pork belly, add ginger, star anise, cardamin: boil in water for 30 min.

熱鍋熱油,放入煮好的五花肉,把豬皮的一面煎成金黃,再倒入老抽上色。

Wok, heat oil, add pork belly, fry until one side is golden brown. Then add dark soy sauce.

將肉切成1厘米左右的片。

Chop the pork belly into roughly 1/2 inch slices.

肉皮朝下擺在碗中。

Add pork belly to big bowl.

熱鍋熱油,爆香蒜茸、八角,放入梅菜、白糖炒勻,加入肉湯燒5分鐘。

Wok, add a bit of oil. Fry the minced garlic, star anise. Add mui choy and sugar. And add boullion. Cook for about 5 min.

把炒好的梅菜覆蓋在肉上,上籠屜用旺火蒸1小時。

Add the mui choy mixture to the bowl of pork belly. Steam for at least 1 hour (strong heat).

把蒸菜的汁倒出,將梅菜扣肉倒扣進盤裡。原汁加入少量澱粉勾芡,淋在肉上就可以了。

After steaming, drain out the liquid. Use a little bit of corn starch (heated) to thinken the liquid, then pour on top of the pork belly.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

.....as he was climbing Huang Shan at the time, and he loves pork belly.

Good for him. Huang Shan is the comparable of Half Dome in China. Tough climb. Thousands of steps. I did that at 22. Don't think I can climb it at my age now. They have built a cable car at Huang Shan. You can ride it to the top now.

While in that region (Hang Zhou and nearby), I remember the best dish that enticed me was the sweet and sour whole fish. Their sweet and sour version is very different from Cantonese sweet and sour (they are closer to Shanghainese style). Brownish color. More sweet than sour side. A whole fish deep-fried and topped with the sweet and sour sauce.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

He climbed it - and hung over, too, damn him. He'd spent the previous night at a banquet thrown by the family that employs one of our friends as a private tutor. I can only imagine the cigarettes and moutai they'd gone through. He admits to taking the cable car back down, though.

While in that region (Hang Zhou and nearby), I remember the best dish that enticed me was the sweet and sour whole fish. Their sweet and sour version is very different from Cantonese sweet and sour (they are closer to Shanghainese style). Brownish color. More sweet than sour side. A whole fish deep-fried and topped with the sweet and sour sauce.

Do you mean the "squirrel-shaped fish" - the whole fish deep-fried and cut into a porcupine shape? I've had it at several banquets here in the Jiangsu area, but I've never been happy with the quality of fish used. It tastes like mud. It's an impressive-looking dish, though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...