Monday, May 04, 2009

Hunan Part II

Between Zhangjiajie (see Hunan Part I) and Disney-fied ancient town Fenghuang lies another town named Furong (芙蓉), less crowded, and less "glam", but still touristy. But among the tacky silver and machine embroidered purses they try to pass off as hand-embroidered, there's a good reason for stopping by, and that's for their not-so-humbly named restaurant, which I'll go on about below. But for now, here are some street snacks we had...

Sweet steamed mochi-like things - a green herb that looked suspiciously like marajuana gives the chewy shell its colour and subtle toasted, earthy flavour, and glutinous rice powder gives the texture. Inside is a simple mix of roughly ground peanuts and sugar. Quite yum, and I don't think I got high from it...

"Rice tofu" 米豆腐, made out of rice instead of soybean and is a lot denser, texture is like a cheddar left at room temp, but the taste is very subtle

This is how the rice tofu is served - like noodles, with parsley, chilli flakes and preserved turnip (I think). I like that cabinet they sit in!

Rice tofu close up - hot soup poured over the combination

Preserved meats, a specialty of the region. What kind of meat, I hear you ask? They say it's pork, but your guess is a good as mine. (And no, this isn't street food, they were selling it along the street)

Ok, so we get to the restaurant, daringly called 天下第一楼*, Tian Xia Di Yi Lou, more or less meaning "the best restaurant in the world". Go figure, World's 50 Best, Michelin, Zagat, Miele and friends...!

Tofu & fish soup/stew - both main ingredients are specialties of the area, and it's excellent. The tofu made in-house by the restaurant, fish caught on the day and (sorry RSPCA) gutted before our very eyes.

Rice - looks cute in that basket, but actually we were a little concerned about the hygiene, given that the grains can, and do, get stuck in the weaving, and we really don't know how/if they clean it. Too late to worry now. And a note about rice in China - it usually doesn't taste good, and we have some famous Chinese scientist to thank - rice grown in China nowadays is a mostly a very cost-efficient and high-yield variety, it was developed for the sole purpose of alleviating malnutrition. You don't think about taste as much when you're dying of starvation, do you?

Bamboo shoots - a bit late in the season so not baby shoots anymore (I believe the best time is right at the beginning of spring), but still retained that fresh sweetness.

Preserved meat and eel. I'm pretty sure the meat here is pork - very tasty - think smoked bacon.

More fish, again excellent. So fresh it was sweet and steamed just the right amount of time to cook through and keep it silky and slippery. Needless to say, heavily attacked and devoured in 2 secs flat. I'm not good with fish names but I think this was 桂花魚, a fresh water fish that is now impossible to buy (well, the wild kind anyway) in Hong Kong.

I'll leave you with this bit of greenery. Looking at this photo I can almost smell the clean, humid air... If only they would fix up the sewerage system before it gets any worse. Sigh. The price of progress.

*note: there are two 天下第一楼 in Furong, the one we went to was tucked deeper inside town - cars can't get you right to the door, and it has a better view.

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