Suffering the winter blues? Rural hospitality is the perfect antidote
By Wing Tan
THE Chinese New Year is just around the corner. It’s that time of year again when families gather for Spring Festival festivities and food.
Planning is already under way for activities to mark the weeklong holiday, and suburban Songjiang District offers some very attractive options for family outings.
Head for rural areas on the edge of the district, where you can luxuriate in hot springs, pick fresh strawberries and gulp down bowls of steaming hot mutton with rice wine.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the best destinations.
Hot springs in winter
There is nothing more soothing that stepping into an open-air hot spring on a chilly winter’s afternoon and luxuriating in an environment surrounded by bamboo forests. Xuelanghu Resort, which offers spa baths and hot springs, is a relatively new tourism attraction in Songjiang.
The bathing will help you work up an appetite. Some excellent dining awaits. The prize-winning fish pot includes a wide variety of aquatic produce from the Huangpu River, such as shrimp, soft-shelled turtle, eel, carp, crab and river snails, all served with salted pork.
The resort is located on the upper reaches of the Huangpu River, where pollution isn’t a serious problem. The organic turtle on the menu comes from the coastal city Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province.
A local snack meat pie, which won a gold medal in a district-wide culinary contest, is made from baked pork soaked in a secret sauce and fresh lettuce.
The resort, covering more than 10,000 square meters, has 28 spring-fed ponds and cultivates a range of health-giving Chinese herbs such as ginseng, tea leaves, angelica and honeysuckle. For the ladies, there are also ponds teeming with lotus and gardens of jasmine and lavender.
Average per person cost: 100 yuan
Address: 100, Lane 699 Hucao Rd, Xinbang Town
Farm cuisine in Maogang Town
The original flavors of Old Songjiang can be found in the town’s Gelin Hotel, which employs grannies from nearby villages as chefs. Its kitchen features two old-fashioned clay ovens, heated by firewood. The main ingredient is soybean sauce, while salt and monosodium glutamate are seldom used.
Signature dishes include traditional red braised pork, drunken chicken and duck soup. One of the most popular dishes is vegetable rice, sautéed with diced pork.
All the vegetables — potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, cabbages and gourds — are freshly picked from nearby farms. Fish and eel on the menu are caught fresh from the local river every day.
The hotel offers barbeque areas on the grassy shore of the river at a fee of 48 yuan to 98 yuan. Guests are also allowed to bring their own drinks. In addition, guests can enjoy special discounts from nearby orchards.
Children under 10 years old have free accommodation at the hotel.
Average cost: 50-60 yuan
Address: 198 Xishe Rd, Maogang Town
Xibu Fishing Village in Xiaokunshan Town is an easy-to-miss hidden treasure. To get there, drive west along Wenxiang Road until the road ends in a vista of rice paddies.
On weekends, a steady influx of seafood lovers flocks to the village, which is a national cultivation center for aquatic products. All menu ingredients, including Songjiang hairy crab, the prize-winning No.1 Pujiang bream and Moyu organic rice, are bred by the Songjiang Agricultural Committee.
Though it’s not the prime season for hairy crab, the crustaceans are still on the menu. They come in six sizes, priced from 58 yuan to 288 yuan (US$9.3-US$46.4). Many visitors also buy crab from the village sales center to take home.
Another menu-must is the Pujiang bream, caught live every day. Each bream weighs about 1.5 kilograms, which can serve three to four diners. The most popular cooking method is steaming the fish and serving it with a slather of red chili.
Salted pork with shredded bamboo shoots and sliced dried tofu is also a signature dish in the village. Each winter, older visitors from downtown areas drive to the village and buy the salted pork to take home to cook.
Average cost per person: 60 yuan
Address: Western end of Wenxiang Rd, Xiaokunshan Town
Songjiang hairy crab sales center: 648 Tangcun Village, Xiaokunshan Town
Fish banquet at Yele Dock
Children will love this place, with its fishing areas, boating and suspension bridge. Fish dishes are the stars of the menu. The specialty winter hot pot features goat meat in a thick soup flavored with carp.
Pan-fried fish heads, pickled beforehand for 12 hours, are golden and crispy outside, and tender inside. As accompaniments, you can’t beat handmade fish balls and dried salty fish.
The dock also offers homegrown rice, vegetables, fruits and free-range poultry products.
Average cost per person: 80-100 yuan
Address: 1888 Lupeng Rd, Xinbang Town
Angling fun in Jinmao Fishing Village
This idyllic village on the shores of the Huangpu River is crisscrossed by canals and dotted with ponds. Goats, pheasants and even white peacocks are found in the surrounding woods, and yuanyang, or mandarin ducks, paddle about in the river.
Songjiang’s biggest fishing net, as large as a football pitch, is aerial spread over the water surface. Visitors can try their luck fishing for carp, eel, shrimp and small crabs. Guests can have their catch cooked in the village for immediate dining or take their harvest home.
Average cost per person: 80-100 yuan
Address: 8 Maodao Rd, Shihudang Town
Goat meat gala in Zhangze
The annual Goat Meat Festival is under way in Zhangze Village, offering goat leg, goat liver, goat blood and, well, all things goat. Mutton is a traditional winter dish said to ward off the adversities of cold weather.
On Zhangze Old Street, people can not only enjoy takeaway meals of goat soup and goat noodles, but they can also choose more elaborate dining in restaurants offering a full goat meat banquet that includes steamed goat, leg of goat, spiced goat and goat offal. A steaming hot goat soup is served with warmed rice wine.
According to a centuries-old farm tradition, goat meat is marinated in rice wine or other local alcohols. It is then used in a variety of dishes, including stir-fry and braised dishes. Hot chili is the traditional condiment.
The most popular menu items are steamed sliced goat meat, red braised goat meat and minced goat meat. For true aficionados, there is a hot pot that includes goat blood, goat liver, goat spine and goat tripe. Local farmers still practice the traditional method of the steamboat in a wooden vat on a clay oven.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, goat meat builds up yang energy in winter, easing poor circulation, some heart problems and menstrual irregularities.
Eating goat can also help expel body toxins, especially when the meat is consumed with a distilled liquor, such as baijiu.
Visitors to the village can also buy freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Among the famous local specialties are rice, eggs, glutinous rice, beans and dried tofu. In addition, homemade salted pork, salted chicken and the popular Yexie cake are available.