On our second day in Nine Dragon Valley we took a long ramble to a local village nearby. Leaving the small township of Nine Dragon Valley and a two-lane road behind, we walked gradually uphill along smaller and smaller roads through beautiful tea and farming countryside. The sun was shining, the shrubs were full of butterflies, the wildflowers were in full bloom, and beside the small road flowed a tiny creek. It was about as far from downtown as you can get. For a while I didn’t even hear a single horn, but horn-honking is not restricted to Shanghai, it’s a national characteristic. Sure enough, before long a small goods truck laden with rocks for a building project came honking his way loudly and frequently down the road, just in case we hadn’t seen him. It was a straight stretch, with a clear view of 500m, but it would be really bad luck and a lot of police bother to hit a bunch of foreigners, so he was taking no chances.
Apologies for the short break in transmission but I have been in the wifi-less wilds of the Anji Bamboo Forests for the last 3 days. Escaping from the urban jungle for my birthday, we drove for hours to a remote spot about an hour past Moganshan, through Anji township to the magnificent and sparsely populated Nine Dragon Valley.
This place is incredibly beautiful – lush green bamboo densely covers the steep hills, and between the hills mountain streams run cold and deep, spilling over into small waterfalls. From the top of the mountain to the bottom are nine waterfalls, each representing a mythical dragon with its own story. Dragons figure heavily in the myths and legends attached to natural wonders in China, and this place has nine dragons! Very auspicious.
Although it was the weekend, it wasn’t crowded. A lot of Anji’s tourists come from Shanghai, and as everyone back in Shanghai was working the weekend to make up for this week’s three day Dragon Boat Festival, we were just about the only visitors. Perfect.
We took a trail walk up and over the mountain top on the first morning, to work up a big appetite for lunch (isn’t that why anyone goes for a long walk??). It’s been a long time since I was surrounded by so much green – as you walk through the bamboo forest the ground is covered with tiny wildflowers of all colours, but around you and above you is nothing but green – as the light filters through the top of the bamboo it becomes the colour of jade, and under the bamboo canopy it feels cool even though the day is hot and humid.
The bamboo forest looks wild, but all this bamboo is being cultivated for harvest, and every trunk is marked with the name of the farmer, and the age of the bamboo so that it can be cut down at the correct time. Bamboo shoots not intended for cultivation are cut off for food, and many of Anji’s famous dishes centre around fresh or dried bamboo shoots.
Today is a guess-the-fruit competition. Bet you can’t get it. These luscious, juicy dark plum-coloured beauties appeared in the fruit shops here in Shanghai about 2 weeks ago, and are starting to disappear already. Their season is very short, and I’ve never seen them before moving to Shanghai. They taste a little like a mulberry but are the shape and size of a knobbly plum. No skin to peel either, just bite straight in, then spit out the small seed.
Shanghai is in the grip of bean fever – broad beans are in season and everywhere I look they’re being packed, transported, unpacked, haggled over, bought, sold, shelled and eaten. I never much liked broad beans until I came to China, but these are amazingly good – plump, fresh and delicious.
On early morning walks I see the broad bean boys, out on their scooters and bikes, heavily laden with bulging great green sacks of beans, travelling from Bean Central -the main vegetable wholesale market in west Shanghai – along the broad bean arterial roads and bean highways to the city’s wet markets. Every square inch of footpath now is taken up with broad bean activities – farmers from out of town spread out canvas sheets and sell their beans from rough bamboo baskets, old couples sit side-by-side and shell the beans together, young women shell and gossip. They grab the big fat pods and pop them in three places along their length – pop, pop, pop – to release the beans inside.
And how do you cook them? Once shelled, blanch them quickly in boiling water. Then stir fry them then with loads of garlic and black beans, and lastly a dash of sesame oil.