At the end of a business trip, friends pointed me to Wuyishan, saying it was like the emerald of China. Since it was only an hour flight away from where I was staying at Xiamen, it wasn’t that far of a jaunt. When I arrived all the cabs had been scooped. I decided that a bus from the airport in Wuyishan was going to get me to the hotel a lot faster than waiting for the already dispersed cabs to return from their drop-offs. And traveling by public transit was a lot more adventurous than being driven anyway. For 1 yuan, I was able to get part-way to my destination. But when I was dropped at the unmarked bustop, I realized that finding my hotel wouldn’t be that easy.
Another 4 yuan later, I was dropped directly at my hotel by a man with a motorbike. There I found my host, Ah Feng. She allowed me to go wash away my journey before demanding to know what dinner I was up to trying. Local fare has always been my staple. And it would be no different tonight.
With relish and delight, Ah Feng took me to her favourite establishment, a remote restaurant towards the mountains where they specialized in the dish of Wuyishan City – Wu Pu Se – Five Steps Snake.
I questioned the name of the dish… strange name. She explained that should I wander into the shaded cliff areas in the parkland, I had to be careful of falling snakes. These pit vipers were so prevalent here. And should I have the misfortune of being bit by one of these vipers, within five steps I would be dead. Lucky for me, the snake was going to be dinner tonight and not vice versa.
After the snake was presented and weighed, it was taken into the back kitchen where it was prepared for our dinner.
The first two accompaniments were the gall bladder and blood, steeped in Chinese wine. Given the selection, I chose the blood. It probably was not really a great idea as I shuddered to down the coagulated wine. Might have just taken a couple of years off my lifespan, although Ah Feng insisted I’d added to it.
The taste was mild, like a poached chicken, but the texture of the snake, although had the silky feel of chicken too long poached was difficult to separate from the bone. Presented in a coil on the platter, it was only Ah Feng who could deftly separate the bone from the meat. She scolded me kindly for leaving too much meat on the bone. For such a culinary delicacy, it was an affront to the chef to leave morsels on the bone. And we certainly didn’t want to be wasting food. After this adventurous first meal, the next day I was ready for some hiking and admiring the scenery to the Heavenly Peak.
We hiked 880 steps high to the top; with each step carved from sheer rock on the mountainside. The pristine air and views of the valley and river made the ascent so worthwhile. The tip of the mountain was heavenly as promised, with sheer drops on one side supported by a wooden handrail. I reminded myself not to look down.
I tried to hold onto the rail built into the mountain as we descended for another one and half kilometer. Our next destination, the river.
Descending from the mountain, we took a bamboo raft along the Nine-Bend creek. Our captain of the raft deftly maneuvered the poles down the stream. The stories of the mountains: hills and peaks, and riverbank rock were informed and enlightening. Their understanding of their surroundings was inspiring. At one with both water and mountain, they immediately made me feel at ease, even if these bamboo rafts didn’t give me much comfort that it would carry 6 people without tipping.
The rest of the day entailed with a trip to the red robe tea plantation, and to climb another mountain where the tea leaves were grown.
The sandy soil, cool climate alters the ground and makes this the ideal place to grow the special tea in the mountains of Wuyi.
After partaking in some tea it was definitely time for the next adventurous meal.
From the choice of the next round of “game”: rabbit, wild boar, frog, or snail, I decided that today was a good day for frog. The preparation is not that of the French style of frog legs…..here, the entire frog is chopped up, head to foot, and served into stir fry with vegetables.
This dish was tasty. And definitely a new experience for me. But certainly not as foreign as the snake dish the night previous.
But for all the majesty of the mountains, valleys and rivers I witnessed, what I learned about the people of Wuyishan from the food they ate was that they were able to take the fauna of this mountainous region and make delectable dishes that demonstrated their resilience and heart. Their rustic nature matched their terrain, and helped me find the resilience in my heart to carry on with my journeys of solitude.