The start of Nanxiang Town, now in Jiading District, can be traced back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589). Originally the location, which was somewhat desolate, was named Chaxi.
During the reign of Emperor Liangwu (AD 464-549), a farmer dug out a big rock at a farm. As soon as the rock was exposed, a pair of red-crowned cranes flew above it. As cranes are regarded as holy animals in Buddhism, a monk named Deqi believed that the place is a holy land for Buddha. In AD 505, a temple was built in Chaxi, which was named Baihe Nanxiang Temple, meaning Òtemple of white cranes flying south.Ó Because of the temple, a town was gradually developed there, so the town was called Nanxiang.
Nanxiang has become one of the key travel destinations in Shanghai and is known for ancient gardens and the snack xiaolongbao, or steamed mini-dumplings. Last weekend, Shanghai Daily organized 30 members of its readers club to spend a day in the town. Readers from nearly 10 countries and regions all around the world visited the ancient gardens and old streets and tried to make xiaolongbao themselves.Bamboo garden
Guyi Garden, first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), is like most Suzhou-style gardens in the region of lower valley of Yangtze River in that it served as a private garden.
The features of the garden also are typical Suzhou-style. Water-side pavilions, lotus, peonies and corridors compose a tranquil, harmonious green lung in the modern city.
Bamboo is the biggest feature of the garden. More than 10 kinds of bamboo are planted in the 10 hectare garden. The name of the garden is also related to bamboo, as it was taken after the expression lu zhu yi yi, which means a vast land of green bamboo.
Apart from real bamboo, the image of the plant is also carved everywhere on pillars, corridors and pavilions, expressing the fondness of the owner and the designers for it.
In ancient China, bamboo was a symbol of strong vitality, longevity and high morality, thus officials often used bamboo as a symbol.
The garden also has some cultural relics, among which a pair of Dhvajas, or victory banners, crafted in Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) were the most precious. The Dhvajas are two stone pillars on which scriptures and figures of Buddha are carved.
One of the Dhvajas was struck by lightning in the 1960s, but the other is still intact.
Today the garden has become a popular location for visitors and a relaxing venue for locals. Every morning, people living in the area, especially seniors, visit the garden for physical exercises, dancing and singing.
Address: 218 Huyi Highway
Admission: 12 yuan (US$1.9)
Spots near Old Street
The Twin Towers, Yunxiang Temple and Tanyuan Garden are near the Nanxiang Old Street.
The Twin Towers are at the gate of Old Street. First built in late Southern and Northern Dynasties or the early Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1127), the brick towers once were located at the gate of the Baihe Nanxiang Temple. The temple burned down during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), leaving only the twin towers, now the most ancient towers in Shanghai.
Walking past the towers, you reach Nanxiang Old Street. Apart from historic relics such as a nearly 1,000-year-old well, the street is like a small market for snacks and souvenirs. Two of the oldest restaurants serving xiaolongbao, Rihuaxuan and Changxinglou, are popular. Both have a history of more than 100 years. Other snacks, such as alfalfa pancakes, deep-fried radish cakes and barbeque are also available.
Not far from Old Street is Yunxiang Temple. After the original Beihe Nanxiang Temple was burnt, a new temple was built in 2004 near the original site. The new temple, however, is still gorgeous with magnificent buildings. It also has become the most popular site during the Spring Festival in Nanxiang as people from all over the city come to pray for a prosperous new year.
Nearby Tanyuan Garden, though much smaller than Guyi, also is a Suzhou-style garden. First built in the Ming Dynasty, it originally was owned by Li Liufang, a poet and artist. After Li was foiled in his official career, he came back to his hometown and built the garden, which became a place for Li to meet fellow men of letters.
Xiaolongbao, one of the most well-known snacks in China, has become one of the key symbols of Shanghai. As an area that gave birth to the snack, Nanxing is regarded as having the most authentic xiaolongbao in the city.
This time Shanghai Daily readers were not only able to taste the delicious cuisine, but also to try to make xiaolongbao under the guidance of professional cooks.
The readers went to the Wujieguan restaurant that, while deep in a lane, still attracts customers in an endless stream. The chef once won cooking contests for making xiaolongbao.
Authentic Nanxiang xiaolongbao needs to have very thin dough, rich and soft stuffings and, most importantly, delicious juice from meat. The top of the dumpling needs no fewer than 14 folds at the top.
Making the folds was the hardest for the readers.
“I have tried other types of dumplings before, such as jiaozi, but making xiaolongbao is very different,” said Bliss Burgess from Australia, who has been living in Shanghai for seven years. “It’s quite difficult, but the experience is fun.”
Eating xiaolongbao may also be difficult for people who are new to the snack. Freshly steamed xiaolongbao contains very hot meat juice, so one needs to nibble at the dough and cautiously suck up the juice.
Biting too hard can make the juice spill everywhere and also may burn the tongue.
Rice vinegar is always a good companion for xiaolongbao as the sour taste brings out the delicacy of the stuffing.