Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lian Yun Gang - Welcome with Dumplings

Welcome with Dumplings

Mid Autumn treats - mooncake, chestnuts, horn nuts (I don't really know what it's called) and small yams.

Over the recent Chinese National Day holidays, a bunch of us drove up to Lian Yun Gang, a port town north of Jiangsu Province. Having seen very little of China, despite being here for 10 years, I decided to join this trip. And since it was with a group of very very good friends, it made the trip all the more enjoyable. So, off we went – 10 adults and 9 children packed into 4 cars.

The drive to Lian Yun Gang took approximately 4 hours. The expressway was excellent, dotted with rest stops. It provided a great view of the countryside. (I enjoyed it more on the way back to Suzhou as I was plagued with car-sickness on the drive to the port). The hotel we booked into was easy to find.

As a courtesy, CS called a colleague, whose hometown is Lian Yun Gang. He was home for the holidays too. In typical Chinese fashion, he was extremely hospitable and insisted on taking us for a seafood dinner. It is, after all, what the town is famous for. We drove not far from the hotel, and along a narrow street, flanked on both sides by small seafood restaurants. It was typical small Chinese town restaurant, and one could be forgiven for doubting the hygiene of the place. I wasn't sure about the others, but I have eaten in such places before and not once did I suffer from any kind of tummy trouble. I did, however, suffer after dining at a 5-star hotel several years ago.

Our host, Mr Chen ordered quite a meal. I lost count of the number of dishes. There were fish, crabs, octopus, mantis prawns, regular prawns, mussels, scallops, clams of various varieties, eel, and a few vegetable dishes to balance the menu out. Each dish prepared in a different way and each gravy or sauce complemented the seafood. I have to admit I was a little cautious when he said the octopus was only 80% cooked. If cooked all the way, the flesh would be rubbery. Still, I did not have any tummy troubles.

But, among all the eye catching dishes that was served to us, the humble dumpling had the most meaning. There is a saying “Qing chi jiao zi, qian chi mian”. To welcome we eat dumplings, to bid farewell, we eat noodles. Sealed within the plain white wrapper was minced seafood. A symbol of the simplicity of Chinese food of days of yore. Simple, yet held a special meaning.

Since the objective was to have a relaxing trip, we didn't bother with back to back sightseeing. We did conquer the Hua Guo Shan – home of the famed Monkey God or Xun Wu Kong. Along the way we munched on roasted chestnuts plucked from the area. Later in the day we went to the beach and sampled dried cuttlefish. It's much sweeter than the kind we get in Malaysia, but yummy all the same.

While it was a wonderful trip, I would strongly caution against unscrupulous traders preying on the unsuspecting tourist. Having a friend familiar with the area paved the way for a smooth trip, but those relying on the 'let's see when we get there' method could very well fall into tourist traps, which I could see, were laid everywhere.

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