Natural retreat calls visitors for easy summer
Nestled in mountains, charming Moganshan offers plenty of good eats as well as a natural retreat. Xu Xiaomin in Shanghai reports.
Moganshan, a mountainous area in Deqing, Zhejiang province, boasts bamboo forests, tea gardens, streams, architecture from the early 20th century and boutique hotels and hostels. It is a popular vacation spot for Shanghai people to avoid summer heat.
Apart from gifts from nature, the Xanadu-like Moganshan also offers nice food options. Thanks to the pleasant climate and geographic conditions, the place is perfect for growing vegetables, and almost every farmer raises free-range chickens. That means fresh and good-quality food ingredients are guaranteed through out the year.
To me, a good day in Moganshan always starts with a localstyle breakfast in the fresh air.
In Ringing Heights, a small four-room hotel opened by a young couple from Shanghai, owner Jiang Cang jing and his wife prepare breakfast by themselves: steamed sweet potatoes and corn are must-haves in this season. The corn is sticky, chewy and a little sweet — a lot tastier than corn I bought in the highend supermarket in Shanghai.
The couple also grows green vegetables in a s mall field behind the hotel and makes green-leaf salad with seasonal fruits and tomatoes. Together with a bowl of hot congee, it forms a perfect breakfast for both Chinese and Western diners. What served the congee well: the homemade preserved vegetable that l ooks oily and black but tastes really good.
The preserved vegetable, simply called xiancai (salty vegetable), is a popular side dish in local kitchens throughout the year. Highly recommended is the noodle soup topped with the salty greens.
In Yucun, a small town on the way up the mountain, there are several long-established restaurants such as Yucun Old Restaurant and Yucun Old Noodle Restaurant run by local farmers.
Yao Xaoqin, the owner and chef of the noodle restaurant, serves the best noodle I have tasted in Moganshan. She adds fresh green beans and bean curd and only a small amount of minced pork into the traditional preserved-vegetable noodle soup, which tastes extremely savory. If you like a light taste, you might remind Auntie Yao to put in less of the salty vegetable. The price is also a surprise: 9 yuan ($1.50).
Almost all the hotels, no matter how small, offer meals, some without a menu like Ringing Heights. What is served depends on what the wet market offers on the day and what grows in the hotel’s field.
Lu Hua, the self-taught chef of Ringing Heights, is good at Moganshan-style home cooking, which is quite similar to Shanghai cuisine but less sweet. It emphasizes fresh ingredients.
Her signature stewed lake fish with soybean sauce has a perfect balance of flavor: With the addition of a little local rice wine, the fish wears a special fragrance and is smooth and tender. Lu’s chicken soup, without any additional ingredients but chicken and shal- lots, highlights the flavor of the chicken and features a clean and light taste.
Yucun, now a dining hub in the Moganshan area, offers more variety in drinks and dining. The recently opened boutique hotel, Lost Villa, catches my eye immediately with its simple look. Its restaurant called Wilds presents a luxurious fusion of food. The dining room with huge windows allows guests a panoramic view of mountains in the distance. Its menu features classic dishes from Sichuan cuisine, Cantonese food and local tastes, with food quality, plate setting and service that can compete with most restaurants back in Shanghai. My favorite dish is deep-fried tofu with abalone sauce. The tofu, crispy outside and tender inside wearing its layer of sauce, tastes extremely delicious.
The hotel also recently opened a small casual bar in Yucun, a walking distance from Lost Villa, which fills the nightlife gap in the mountainous town. Guests can enjoy beers and sakes, together with Japanese kebabs in the summer air.
Go deeper into the mountains, and you can have decent homemade Italian pizza at The Prodigy Outdoor Base in Houwu village, a hostel that organizes cycling activities. The big pizza oven was built years ago. Zhang Linyuan, the owner of the club, says proudly that it offers the best pizza in Moganshan. Just imagine, after a day of energy-consuming cycling in the mountains, having a huge slice of pizza with local flavors from the garden.
Don’t worry about gaining weight after enjoying so much nice food. You will have enough things to do: The mountain is here to keep you active.
Ringing Heights, a small four-room hotel, is among many boutique hotels and hostels in Moganshan, a popular vacation spot in Deqing, Zhejiang province.
Clockwise from top left: Homemade pizza at the Prodigy Outdoor Base; dinner with local flavor at Ringing Heights; Auntie Yao’s noodle soup with salty vegetables; tofu dish at the Wilds restaurant of Lost Villa; green-leaf salad with seasonal fruits at Ringing Heights.