Winter is here and the weather’s getting colder. The time represented by the Chinese solar term Dongzhi or “Winter Solstice” is just around the corner.
For many Chinese people, seasonal change brings about a change in diet to meet the body’s specific needs for that time of year.
There was a time when pork was a treat worthy of a year’s wait in China’s countryside; individuals raised small numbers of pigs, and butchering a hog was a big deal.
And in Deqing County of Zhejiang Province, having pork at lunar year’s end was then a meal that was taken seriously. The pig butchered during Chinese New Year’s was called “year pig” (nian zhu 年猪), and the meal that included dishes made from that pork was called the “year pig meal” (nian zhu fan 年猪饭).
People living in the mountainous Deqing, a drive of about two hours from Shanghai, retain their custom of the “year pig meal,” with 12 courses, including seven with pork.
“Butchering a pig was part of the ceremony of celebrating Chinese New Year,” says Jin Yaying, who lives in Houwu Village of Deqing.
Even today, the farmers “never buy pork to make the meal, but butcher pigs they feed,” says Jin. Also, the fresh vegetables served in the meal are for the most part raised by the farmers themselves.
As the custom still exists in mountain enclaves like Houwu and Miaoqian villages in Deqing, the local tourism bureau has developed packages — from now till February — that include the ceremony and the “year pig meal.”
The packages also include related and nearby activities, such as making local round dumplings, touring Mogan Mountain and visiting local hot springs.
The “year pig meal” includes Mogan-style pork braised in soy sauce, a classical pork dish; pork braised with preserved vegetables; braised pig intestines; soup of tofu and pig blood pudding; broth of pig tails; and several vegetable dishes.
The local government has regulated the menu of the “year pig meal” in uniformity among all restaurants in Deqing, both in courses and prices, so travelers can freely choose any restaurant.
Making round dumplings is a tradition in many rural villages in south China. The round dumplings, made from flour and glutinous rice powder, usually are green because vegetables are added to the mix.
While many other places use herbs to add the color, Deqing villagers use ground pumpkin leaves to dye the dough green and add fresh flavor.
“It’s because we grow many pumpkins,” says villager Ding Yue. “Pumpkin leaf is refreshing but not very watery, so it’s easy to blend in the dough.”
Tourists are encouraged to make their own dumplings with villagers’ help, blending flour, glutinous rice powder and ground pumpkin leaves to make the dough, then pinching off a piece, kneading it flat, and adding stuffing — which can be sweet if using red bean paste or salty if using minced bamboos and preserved vegetables. The last step is to knead it into a round dumpling and then steam it.
Those who visit often tour Mogan Mountain during the day. The mountain is a scenic area renowned for its lofty bamboo and scenic views. Tourists can hike or bike among the hills.
There are also a lot of “happy farmer houses,” or nong jia le. These simple accommodations are usually run by farmers. The dozens of hotels that dot the mountain are often called by locals “fancy farmer houses” which have sprung up as Deqing’s countryside tourism economy has grown. They are situated in rustic areas but have high-quality service. Unlike standard luxury hotels, they provide a close-to-nature experience and a cozy home-like atmosphere.
Some tourism packages include a stay at a happy farmer house.
But there are also many other activities for tourists, such as pork barbecue feasts at “fancy farmer houses,” campfire parties held on the square of Houwu Village, making rice cake at happy farmer houses and the “year pig” ceremony.
Also, the bicycle-themed restaurant/café/bar called Share provides Western food, and Qingjing Cultural Park provides a Taiwan-style Chinese New Year’s meal that’s a good option for groups. They both are in Moganshan Village.
“To combat the cold weather, more energy is needed by the human body to keep it working properly,” according to Dr Jiang Zaifeng, director of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Health Department of Bao Zhi Di Culture and Arts Salon.
“In TCM concepts, reinforcing the body and storing sufficient energy can help people adapt to the cold weather better just like animals storing foods or fats for hibernation,” he adds.
Foods with energy-adjusting effects can work as well but more safely than medication, TCM practitioners say.
Foods that help reinforce the positive, bright and masculine yang and its complementary negative, dark and feminine yin, as well as the qi or energy flow, and blood are especially popular to help people of different health conditions get through the cold winter.
• 88 yuan per person for one-day trip, including “year pig meal” and Mogan Mountain tour, or, “year pig meal” and DIY dumplings.
• 118 yuan per person for one-day trip, including “year pig meal,” Mogan Mountain tour and DIY dumplings.
• 198 yuan per person for two-day trip, including “year pig meal,” Mogan Mountain tour, hot springs and accommodation at a happy farmer house.
• 268 yuan per person (groups only) for two-day trip, including “year pig meal,” Mogan Mountain tour, hot springs, Xiazhu Lake tour and accommodation at a hotel.
Tel: (0572) 888-9123 to arrange a tour.
If you prefer to stay in a “fancy farmer house,” then go by yourself. “Fancy farmer houses” that provide their own version of “year pig meal” are Houwu Life (Tel: 0572-8041966), No. 73 Xiwuli (Tel: 186-5729-2733) in Houwu Village, and Retreat Mogan (Tel: 0572-8041969) in Miaoqian Village.
The price of a fancy farmer house for one night averages over 500 yuan.
How to get there
There are buses from Shanghai to Deqing, such as those leaving Shanghai South Bus Station. From Hangzhou, take the Bus No. 588 (starting at North Wulinmen stop that passes the North Bus Station) to the last stop. Then take a taxi (about 50 yuan). If you are on the package, take the taxi to Deqing County Tourist Distribution Center; if not, just go directly to the hotel you book.
To drive from Shanghai or Hangzhou, take the G104 to the Deqing exit and, following the signs, turn left and drive for 8 kilometers toward Mogan Mountain.
Source: Shanghai Daily