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Zhejiang: A Crowded Small Province

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 22 to 23

Almost fifty million people live in this almost thirty-nine thousand square mile province that faces the East China Sea. Large areas are mostly mountainous, some are flat and fine for extensive agriculture. Crowded it can be, very prosperous it is, too, and it is China’s smallest province. With more than four thousand miles of coastline, it is the province with the largest number of islands, more than two thousand of them are scattered about.

With lots of rain, this warm place is known for its few typhoons that come most often in summer and fall. Rain here can be concentrated, most falling between spring and summer. It is a region cut in two, north of the Yangtze River delta the terrain differs from the south where it is more like Fujian, that is rugged and intensely cultivated, as it has been for thousands of years. Here there are a dense network of waterways, canals, and irrigation channels; at the south end of one of them is the terminus of the Grand Canal on which foods were shipped to areas in the north that needed them for centuries.

Aside from its great and productive farmland areas, Zhejiang is known for its extensive production of silk. This province produces some one-third of the country’s raw silk, satin, and brocade; and that explains why it is also known as ‘the land of silk.’

The provincial capital is Hangzhou, a most famous beauty spot in China on the Qiantang River. It is east of Shaoxing, Ningbo, and Wenzhou, cities that were and are well known and prosperous. They are port places as are other cities that have been important trading centers at least since the 7th century, maybe even earlier.

HANGZHOU is the capital city of this province. It was founded in the Qin Dynasty and did prosper after the Grand Canal was competed in 610 CE. Seized by the Mongols under Kublai Khan in 1279, and visited by Marco Polo the following year when it was known as Kinsai, the dykes for the canal made Xi Hu or West Lake what it is today. They simply expanded that section of the river into a lake, which someone did tell us renews or adds water to it, fresh water, twice a month. Many visitors like to stroll around the lake, others use bicycles to do so, or they board a boat to enjoy it from the water's vantage. Hangzhou is on the east side of this lake and many love looking at it when misty or seeing it in the moonlight. They like to do this, as well, from its tiny island Autumn Moon on Calm Lake Pavilion.

This capital city is one where Marco Polo passed though and wrote about it; he said “a trip on this lake offers more pleasure than any other experience on earth.” The city grew and gained fame from that and from when the capital moved here after the Song Dynasty. After that, its population grew and has continued to grow since 1275 CE.

There are many things to see in and around the lake. We recommend going to the southwestern region and visiting the Tea Museum. Here, one learns the history of tea drinking, why Longjing Tea is China’s famous Dragon Well Tea and famous, and more. There one can taste it, and learn about all tea’s relationships to Buddhism. The museum has many wonderful dioramas, places to taste many different teas in one of their various ethnic tea-drinking rooms, and if time allows checking out the many volumes in its library. Short of time, just visit its store with books, teas, and tea-ware, all available for purchase.

SHAOXING is a city south of Hangzhou. This extremely old city in this province has fared well even though it has no port. It did well perhaps because of its now famous yellow rice wine or its lesser known ruby-colored nuer hong wine sipped by brides and buried behind their parent’s homes when a daughter is born. A dear restaurant owner did give us such a rafia-wrapped bottle when our daughter arrived. However, we knew not to keep it until her wedding. We drank it many years before, when her husband went to work for him; and later we were embarrassed.

There are two great museums outside this city. One is about shaoxing wine and its manufacture; and it is at their winery. The other is about food and wine use and is in a food factory. Both have been written about years ago in this magazine. Check them out in the index listings; both are in the same issue.

NINGBO, means calm waves, and this was a treaty port and an ocean-going starting point; it is in the province’s northeast corner. Located a dozen or so miles inland where the Yuyao and Yong Rivers meet and flow down together into the ocean, this city has all the trappings of a seaport complete with fish markets. The most unusual is its dried fish market. it also has interesting streets, a drum tower, and a 1516 CE Tainyige Library, said to be China’s oldest surviving library. It has a collection of materials even older than that, and was often used as a location for those studying for their imperial examinations.

Those going to this city need to check outs it outhouses. Some of them have displays of books including wood-block editions of Confucian classics. When there, also see the gold-plated wood-panel buildings, bamboo groves, and the rockeries and pools intended as quiet places to study.

Food in Ningbo is known for its fish and seafood. This culinary reminds us of our favorite restaurant long gone; we went there often years ago. We also educated our children there about Chinese food. Called '4 5 6' named for a winning hand in mah jong, this restaurant was in lower Manhattan’s Chinatown area in Chatham Square. Now, a grandson has his grandfather’s recipes and he uses them in the same-named eatery, but it is on Mott Street. His culinary training makes his food and his grandfather’s recipes a place to visit; and we do often.

We have been told that in Ningbo, the Jinlong Hotel is where to eat fantastic crab dishes, and other fine local foods. On our next visit there, we plan to do that; in the meantime, if you get there before we do, tell us all about it.

WENZHOU, another ancient city in this province, is worth noting and visiting. Founded at the end of the 4th century CE, it is an ocean port that was opened to trade, but not until later in the 1800s, actually in 1877. That was with thanks to a treaty with Great Britain. To our knowledge, no foreign settlement was ever established here, a pity. There are lovely things to see and do. On the far south-eastern coast of this province, one can easily get to Fuzhou and board a ship to Shanghai.

Recently this magazine did write about the foods of Wenzhou, and we recommend you read about them and this small but active port city. Those coming here rave about its Jiangxin Park. It is car-free and in the middle of the Ou River. Wenzhou also has a well-preserved old city, and some say its train and bus stations are the cleanest, nicest, and easiest to use in China. It also has a fine airport east of town with air service of independent aircraft, private and special and a similar train service exists here, as well.

Fot those who have an extra day or two or more, go to the Yandang Shan area and enjoy its cliffs, superb mountain scenery, and very special spots such as Da Long Qui Pubu. The waterfall there is phenomenal, one of the tallest in China, and well worth a visit, too.

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