Hongcun is a small village dating back a thousand years to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The 140 houses are perfect examples of the Anhui province style architecture with oversized white walls topped by grey tiles. The village is very much in use today, and not at all given over to tourism, so when you see pork drying outside a house, it’s for the owner to eat, rather than to tempt a passing tourist. Hongcun was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, which has slightly increased visitor numbers but done far more to preserve the village and the villager’s way of life.
The village is in the (very rough) shape of an ox and in the 17th century was dramatically improved with a very advance sewage and irrigation system that runs past every house in the village.
After working up an appetite wandering round the local politicians house and a 28-room mansion we looked for something to eat. There is a restaurant in town, but it’s very overpriced and after a brief attempt to buy the local speciality – a preserved vegetable flatbread, we were invited into the vendors house for a simple but delicious lunch of stinky tofu and bamboo shoots.
If the village looks familiar it’s because a number of scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed on location here. Not far outside of town is the bamboo forest from the same film.
Dinner that evening was a revelation – all sorts of mushrooms, served with lichen scraped off of rocks. The golden arrow mushroom is a long spindly stalk that makes a loud crunching noise as you chew it, which is at odds with the soft texture. Flower mushrooms are rich, meaty and filling, and a speciality of the Anhui province. The one we saw dried but didn’t get to try was the Monkey Head mushroom, a light brown fungus given its name due to a hairy appearance.
Dinner was served with the locally picked Mao Feng Cha (“Fur Peak Tea”) – one of the most famous in China and considerably nicer than many of the more mundane green teas that can cost 20 times as much in Beijing. I didn’t take a camera to dinner, but wished I has as the whole meal was overseen by the largest house fly I’ve ever seen at about 4cm in length.