Zhouzhiang and Suzhou, water towns near Shanghai

After two days, I was already growing weary of dodging cars, motorcycles, and rude pedestrians in the city. It was a nice break to take a guided tour outside of the city to the small ancient water town of Zhouzhiang. There are several quaint water towns around Shanghai, connected by numerous canals and Zhouzhiang is one of the more well known ones. The village now mainly caters to tourism but it’s charm is still well preserved.

I spotted many shops displaying these red braised WanShan style pork knuckles in various sizes. They also sold vacuum sealed ready to eat packs, which scared me a little but I still ended up buying a small one to try later. It was a bit salty and coated with a sticky sweet glaze, but the meat was very tender. The tour guide said the recipe came about accidentally many centuries ago when a knuckle was left braising in the pot long after the fire had diminished.

Here is a picture from the local museum of what a traditional dinner table consisted of, with the WanShan style pork knuckle set in the center.

A lady in the museum selling Qingtuan, green sticky rice flour cakes filled with sweet red bean paste and eaten during the Qingming festival.

For lunch we walked past a storefront selling small locally caught fish and shrimps. Those tiny white fish in the middle later ended up being served to us sautéed in eggs. Eating the whole fish including eyes kinda freaked me out but I didn’t want to offend the local guide. The dish was simple but surprisingly good.

At first glance, I thought it was pieces of flaky white fish in the eggs…until I spotted the little black eyes.

A couple days later, I took a high speed bullet train to Suzhou, a larger water town known for its working silk production factory that’s open to the public and the famous and beautiful Humble Administrator’s Gardens. Suzhou has also been referred to as the Venice of the East and similar to Zhouzhiang, tourists can ride gondolas along the canals. I met a wonderful local tour guide by the name of Arthur who was incredibly passionate about Chinese culture, Buddhism, yin and yang and the balance of humans and nature. He was also very curious to learn more of his Western clients and it was great meeting such a joyful, honest, and open individual – so different from many of the city folks we had encountered thus far. We had a light fresh lunch comprised mainly of seasonal vegetables at a restaurant alongside one of the canals and discussed philosophy and China’s cultural revolution during the Mao era – with Arthur doing most of the talking while I listened to him and happily ate my meal.

“Wawa cai” (doll cabbage) with specks of ham for added flavor
Tender mushrooms
Light soup with green locally grown pond leaves, the leaves had a nice texture to them
Food stall that we walked past selling sweet sticky rice cakes shaped as fruit and pigs

If you ever want a tour guide for Suzhou, you’ll want to contact Arthur.


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