One side effect of Shanghai Expo is that I’m having loads of visitors from home. Usually, once they realise what a behemoth the Expo actually is, they decide not to attend and are left with a one-day hole in their itinerary.
How to fill it? You could go shopping, but often, exhausted by constant, heart-stopping, life-changing shopping, they need a breather and request somewhere quiet and a bit, well, cultured. They often want to visit a water-town, and I have found that Tongli never disappoints. It is small, quaint and quiet, has beautiful scenery and canals, a few small museums (including the famous museum of Sex Culture), wonderful food and is only an hour and a half from Shanghai.
So yesterday I was back in Tongli, where the locals are beginning to wonder if I’m some sort of covert tour guide. They eye me suspiciously as I follow a now well-worn path from the Pearl Pagoda to the Garden of Seclusion and Meditation, on to the Gengle Hall, then straight to my favourite canal-side restauarant, Farm House Food. That’s the proprietor above, watching over proceedings from a comfortable chair. To be honest most of the canal restaurants are almost identical, but Farm House Food has three important things that set it apart from the others.
Firstly, the location is prime – it sits alongside the junction of two canals so all the pleasure boats pass by right next to your table, with blue nankeen coated boat-women on board rhythmically pulling at the single oar.
Secondly, the food is pretty delicious. They of course serve up Tongli’s famous special dish, Wan san pork – a softer-than-pate slow-braised pork shank everyone on the planet, even vegetarians, should have a chance to try, and a favourite only those with a taste for adventure should try – the whole fried small fish. Their cute little eyes stare at you as you bite off their delicious heads, and their salty, crunchy bones go well with a long cold beer.
Lastly, this lovely lady will serenade you with Chinese folk songs as you eat, for the princely sum of 10 kuai. Many would pay more than that to have her go away and let them eat in peace, but I love her warbling vice, her heart-felt rendition of Moli Hua, and her towel.