Huangshan, THE No.1 Mountain in China

We love outdoors, we love to hike.  Recently I hiked Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, in Anhui Province in Southern China.  Let me tell you, there is nothing like it, nothing!

In China there is a well-known saying: 五岳归来不看山,黄山归来不看岳. Chinese people like ranking things, here five famous mountains are collectively called the “Five Mountains” with Mt.Tai in the East, Mt. Heng (衡) in the South, Mt. Hua in the West, Mt. Heng (恒) in the North and Mt. Song (famous for Shaolin Kongfu) in the Center.   The saying boasts that after touring these Five you can forget about the rest of the mountains in China; however if you come back from Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, you can skip the big Five all together!!!

IMG_1239

Really?!! I was skeptical.  I had hiked to the top of Mt. Tai, the head of the Five Mountains, years ago when I was in college.  There was no cable then, I climbed the total 7,200 steps with my dad and my brother. Talking about steep and strenuous!!  There were temples dotted along the way which left the footprints and calligraphy of emperors and poets from various dynasties of past two thousand years. Talking about history! And we saw sunrise at the top of the mountain next morning.  Talking about glorious reward!!

DSC08641

Well, I spent three days in Huangshan with my college classmates at the recent college reunion. I have to admit I am a new convert.  Huangshan blew me in every way! Check out my photos, if you are still not convinced, make your own visit! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

We average hiked about nine miles or 15 km, 152-floor high, in a day.  To release the muscle spasm, I feed on ibiprofen three times a day! Many thanks to my sister Wendy who brought pain med for everybody.

 

 

 

This is 西海大峡谷 the Grand Canyon of the West Sea. Down down down, it took us a whole morning to go down.  Thankfully there was a cable ride to bring us up!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huangshan is famous with 奇松,怪石,云海,温泉. The #1 attraction is the unique pine trees.

 

 

 

The #2 is the rock formations in all shapes and sizes.

 

 

 

The #3 is the sea of clouds. We were extremely fortunate with the weather.  The first two days were sunny, then cloudy, it rained on our last morning.

 

 

 

If you have extra time, the #4 attraction is the hot springs.

The below chart (L) is our hiking path, it proved to be a very wise design.  Thanks to my brother Chaoyang we did not waste energy on overlapping hike; and the chart on the right lists the hiking time between each sight.

 

 

 

If you want to reserve energy, take the cable up which drops you right in the middle of action, there is still lot of hiking once you get off.

Pack LIGHT.  A pound might feel like a ton after carrying it for eight hours uphill!! I was extremely grateful for my sister Lin who challenged me to a simpler mountain life without makeup and other accessories that I thought were “unpartable”.  You can leave your luggage at the train station or the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, start hiking early in the morning.  If I can live three days and two nights on a light backpack, you can too!  And a hiking stick is a must!

 

 

 


We stayed at Xihai Hotel西海饭店 on top of the mountain roof, an excellent choice both for the service and the location, highly recommended!

 

 

 

Go and conquer the most beautiful mountain in China!!  Enjoy!!!

DSC08634

 

 

 

 

 

Jackfruit Is the King!

Have you seen this in the supermarket and wonder what it is?  The name is jackfruit, not durian.  It is not a huge monster but rather a delicious fruit. In fact, it is the largest tree-borne fruit on Earth.  Once you try it,  I promise you will come back for a second!

IMG_6064

One fruit can go up to 100 pounds! This “small” one I got at my local Meijer weighs more than 20 pounds. (FYI: $1.49/Ib for whole, $2.29/Ib for cut.)

IMG_6213

Cut open the fruit longitudinally to expose the yellow fresh (the avrils), the first thing that hits your nose is the fragrance!  The aroma! You will totally ignore the scary look of the cut surface.

First, I use a sharp knife to remove the white center core, this helps to expose the yellow fresh that in-bedded in the fibrous chambers (the rags). It is much easier that it looks, just dig in and get messy.  There are lots of fruits! So it’s time for jackfruit party!

IMG_6220

The avril is meaty and DELICIOUSLY sweet, with a taste all its own.  Some says it tastes like mango, some says peach or banana; while others say juicy fruit gum. It is not.  The literal Chinese translation of jackfruit is “pineapple honey 菠萝蜜”, it doesn’t taste like pineapple, not even close.  You have to try it yourself.

IMG_6215

Don’t throw away the leftover once the flesh is removed.  The rags are edible!

IMG_6066

Recently my mother visited us, she made this rag stirfry for us.  She removed the rags from the rinds, and soaked them overnight in water, and stir-fried with carrots. They are refreshing, but a bit bland to my taste.  Next time, I will try to stir-fry with some hot chili pepper or cumin to boost the flavor.

IMG_6222

IMG_6225

There is a smooth stone inside each fruit, don’t throw it away since that is the third edible part of the jackfruit.  Collect the stones, cook them like you boil potatoes!  I boil them with little salt for about half an hour. They even taste like potato!  However the skin outside the stone is much harder than potato skin.

Lot of people confuse jackfruit with another tropical fruit, durian (a nasty fruit in my opinion).  They look similar, both are big with bumpy green skin.  But they taste different like day and night. It is also personal. My cousin in Shanghai thinks the flesh of durian resemble high-end quality soft cheese, such an delicacy to her; however, it smells and tastes like something rotten to me. Yikes!

IMG_7014

If a whole fruit is too much for you, especially for someone who never had this before. Meijer also sells cut jackfruit, a quarter or a piece of the whole fruit.  A good option to test the water.  Also if you can’t finish the whole fruit, the flesh and the stones freeze well, you can store away the fruits for later enjoyment.  Just make sure to remove the flesh from the rags and take out the stone, and freeze them separately.

My whole family love this fruit, even my picky teenage daughter! So give it a try and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

How to Loose a Tea Brick

Many of my friends have a beautiful tea brick somewhere inside the house.  It may be a gift received or purchased during one of the China trips. However it just sits there because they haven’t figured out how to chip a small piece off the brick as recommended or suggested.

Are you one of them? Loosing the tea brick is actually easier than you think.

You need:

  1. a steamer pot with a perforated stack, the pot should be wide enough to hold the tea brick flat.
  2. water, at least an inch deep in the pot, but not too deep to touch the tea tray
  3. a mitten
  4. a flat tray, as a working surface for breaking and drying the tea. I use my cookie sheet lined with paper to absorb the moist.
  5. tea jar and/or any container, to store the loosened tea

First, prepare the steam pot by bringing water to boil.  Then carefully (hot steam) put the tea brick on the steamer stack, close the lid.  Set a timer for FIVE minutes.  That is right, all you need is to steam the tea brick for no more than five minutes!

While the tea is being steamed, get your mitten ready.  When the time is up, use your mittened hand to take the tea out to the tray.  The edge of the brick will be slightly bendable and center still solid. Work QUICKLY with both hands. Start from the edge, breaking your way into the center of the brick. Once the broken pieces cool, they turn harden again; so you only have a few minutes of workable window.

I didn’t take any pictures while actually working on the tea brick.  Too busy!

Five-minute is a good time frame for my round pu’er tea brick, less than an inch in thickness. If your tea is thicker or thinner than mine, you may need to adjust one minute more or less of steaming period. As we all know, tea making is a delicate process.  The brief steaming here is to loose the binding of the tea only. Never we want to introduce excess moist, which will create all sort of problems, such as taste change, or worse, mold growth etc.

After the broken pieces cool and dry, it is time to store them away.  I usually put the chunks in a cloth bag and the loose tea into a jar.  Always use the loose tea first.

Well, I hope this article help and good luck with your tea brick! If you like, I appreciate you hit “like” at the bottom of this blog, and give me your feedback and thoughts. Bon AppeTEA!

 

The Quest for the Exotic Stirfry

Whenever traveling to the Far East, I am always on the lookout for new vegetables to stir fry. Stir frying is my weekday go-to cooking since it is fast and healthy. If you can grow it, I can stir fry it. I recently added four more new vegetables on my list, hooray!

  1. Shansu 山蘇 (Hualien, Taiwan)
  2. Red Phoenix 红鳯菜 (New Taipei, Taiwan)
  3. Dragon Bean 龙豆 (Shanghai, China)
  4. Water Celery 水芹 (Suzhou, China)

Shansu (Asplenium) belongs to the fern families, one of oldest plants on earth. I first encountered shansu’s tender shoots when strolling along the night market of Hualien. I remembered thinking it would make a delicious stirfry!  The next day on the return route of hiking Shakadang Trail in Taroko Gorge, I spotted a field full of wild shansu, completely covered the hill on my left. This time I wondered about which condiments to pair with shansu, maybe roasted peanut? The following stir-fried dish showed the plate from a small restaurant in Tianxiang, there shansu was stir fried with a handful of tiny dried anchovies. Totally unexpected, but surprisingly delicious!

红鳯菜 literally means Red Phoenix (Gynura). I was attracted by the deep purple color in a three-table family-owned restaurant.  I asked the mom what the fresh vegetable looked like.  She run back to the kitchen, a few minutes later emerged with the colander filled with purple leaves. How sweet the people!

My cousins in Shanghai know about my quest.  Each time we go to visit her, they bring something new to the table to satisfy my curiosity. This time was no exception, I love them so much!

 

Here Dragon Beans were sliced and stir fried with lily bulbs (the white pieces). An unusual combination.  We had this dish in 全聚德, which was famous for its trademark Roasted Peking Duck.

This Water Celery was stir fried with garlic.  Garlic was the most common condiment for stirfry, the unexpected was Water Celery didn’t taste like celery at all!

The Natural Beauty of Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

My First impression of Taiwan was her stunning beauty.  Although an island just about 14 thousand square miles, Taiwan has nine National Parks!

I visited Taroko National Park (太鲁阁国家公园) last November, it was a perfect time to avoid the island’s hot and humid summer. Taroko, a word for the Truku aboriginal tribe, Gorge is the main attraction of the national park, however there are other attractions in the park and surrounding Hualien City. So plan for at least two days, and be prepared to be blown away for there is nothing like it!

The park is free.  Most of the hiking trails are flat and paved, suitable to all physical conditions. Here is a short list of my must-sees and tips.

I recommend making Qingshui Cliff your first stop.  The morning is usually less crowded, and the lighting before 10 am is at its best.

Shakadang Trail has the most amazing blue stream running alongside the trail, with marbles, big and small, popping and scattered in the creek.  The best view is at the end of the trail.

The next one is Swallow Grotto Trail. It is mandatory to wear a helmet to walk the trail because there is an issue of landslide and falling rocks. Haha, I had the same thought–a plastic helmet vs falling boulders?! But a rule is a rule.

Lushui Trail is a bit more strenuous than the previous two. There is some climbing, here and there, and part of the trail is dirt road.  The words ‘Lushui’ mean ‘green water’. When we were on the trail, a gloomy cloud covered the sky, started drizzle.  As you could see from the photo, the water was not green at all.

The most iconic view in the Taroko Gorge is probably the Eternal Spring Shrine.  It was built to commemorate the lives lost during the construction of road through the Gorge. No one is allowed to enter the Shrine any more.

Looking for a quick stop for lunch inside the park? Look no farther than Tianxiang, a cute and colorful town inside the park. There are a couple of restaurants there with a reasonable price tag.  Since Hualien area is famous for rice, so I ordered purple rice steamed in a bamboo tube. To keep the bamboo theme going, I also had a broth made from the tender part of bamboo shoots.

Temples, marble gazebos, bridges and suspension bridges, the park has all, and many more.

A few words of cautions: we took Taiwan Railroad from Taipei to Hualien City.  The speed train tickets are usually hard to get for the individual travelers since travel agents often stock most tickets.  So remember to buy tickets ahead of time; an alternative route is to take the bus which takes 4-5 hours, double the time of the train. If you fancy Taiwan’s local food like me, make sure to have dinner at Hualien’s night market, 自强夜市. There are variety of local food, fruits and vegetables to choose from, I had the grilled squid (it was delicious!) and oyster as the island was famous for fresh seafood.

Also I highly recommend to hire a taxi for the day.  For $100 (New Taiwan $3,000) or less, you can hire a private driver for 8 hours.  Don’t pick up any from the train station, wait until you check in your hotel, the hotel staff can arrange one for you.  We were very satisfied with the service of our driver. He was not only our driver, but also our tour guide plus photographer, and he went the extra mile to please us. Simply decent down-to-earth people.

So with the spectacular natural beauty, stunning gorges, hiking trails, shrine, temples, waterfalls and bridges,  Taroko is not to be missed if you are in the area!