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{China} Come to My House & Enjoy “Nong Jia Fan”!

[bq_right]She laughed and said “Come to my house. We can have one of my neighbors cook up “nong jia fan” for you!”[/bq_right]One of the reasons we enjoy travel so much is the new friends we make on our trips. There’s no better way to learn about the local culture than to talk to the people you meet! When in Hangzhou, we used the local buses to get around. That’s a great way to interact with locals. NOTE: You do however have to be able to judge who on the bus are friendly and can be approached and who can’t. If they dont smile back at you or make eye contact with you, they probably don’t want to be disturbed.

On our trip to Hangzhou at the end of 2008, we knew that “Dragon Well Tea“, grown on the hills surrounding the city, is one of Hangzhou’s specialty. We took one of the tourist buses (buses with “Y” in their numbering) and headed to Long Jing Village (literally translated means “Dragon Well Village”) – It was either Y3 or Y4 (don’t recall exactly).

A tea farmer lady sat beside Jeremy on the bus. With a friendly smile, she politely asked where we were from. We learnt that she was a tea farmer and that she lives in the vicinity of Long Jing Village. During our conversation, we mentioned that we wanted to go look for  restaurants that served “Nong Jia Fan” (literally translated, it means “Farmer’s Home Cooked Meal”) style cuisine. In her bubbly manner, she laughed and said “Come to my house. We can have one of my neighbors cook up “nong jia fan” for you!”.

If I were back at the US and a stranger invites me to their home for dinner, my mind would probably conjure up images of girls getting kidnapped and other worst case scenarios! But when you’re traveling, I guess an “adventure” switch gets flipped in you. When she offered, we jumped at the offer and accepted without a second thought!

 

{HANG ZHOU} LONG JING VILLAGE & NONG JIA FAN


We got off the bus somewhere in Long Jing Village (I don’t recall which stop it was) and she led us to a nearby well. She explained that it was called “Lao Long Jing” meaning “Old Dragon Well”. It was good luck to wash our face and neck with the water from this well. So we did as she suggested. It was probably 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) at that time but we took off our gloves, lowered a metal bucket into the well and proceeded to splash our faces with the ice cold water from the Dragon Well. It was actually very refreshing albeit freezing!

Image of dragon well

An intriguing sight greeted us as we weaved our way around the residential area of the village – chicken and duck being cured/dried outside homes (think “prosciutto style preparation“).

residential area of longjing village

 

residential area of long jing village

image of cured duck images of cured meat

We stopped by a neighbor’s home (we literally walked into the neighbor’s kitchen through the open back door) where our host helped place the orders for our meal. The neighbors also had duck legs drying/hanging on the ceiling around their kitchen. We made sure we had that in the order so we get to try it. Our host’s home was just a couple houses down. We were shown to a room that had a table and some chairs. That’s also where she stored all her equipment for picking and roasting the dragon well tea leaves.

While waiting for the food to arrive, we chatted some more about her life as a tea farmer and learnt more about the famous tea.

  1. Tea from the higher areas of the mountains tastes better and cost more than the ones from the lower mountains (cleaner air, better temperature etc…).
  2. When dragon well tea leaves sinks to the bottom of the cup, that’s when the tea is ready to drink.
  3. After picking the leaves, they hand-roast and hand-shape the leaves in a hot work to further dry it. The process is called “Pan Frying”.
  4. You can identify dragon well tea by its brilliant emerald green spear shaped leaves about three quarter inches long, the result of highly skilled “hand pan-frying” by tea farmers.

We were served dragon well tea from a bag containing the leaves she had roasted herself. The leaves were from the higher altitude tea farms. It had a toasty aroma and a sweet, nutty flavor with a pleasantly crisp and light finish.

Pan used to dry and shape the leaves

Pan or wok that is used to ‘pan-fry’ and shape the tea leaves

dragon well tea leaves

Some already-shaped-and-dried Dragon Well tea leaves

we were served tea

She served us tea while we chatted and waited for the food to arrive

Dragon well tea

When the leaves sink to the bottom of the cup, that’s when the tea is ready for you to drink.

image of us in the dining room

We chatted with our friendly host while waiting for dinner.

It was just like in the chinese movies… the neighbor delivered our food using traditional baskets hanging from a bamboo that is balanced on his shoulder! The food was simply mouthwatering. The dishes were simple yet each had its own distinct flavors. It was as authentic as can be! We still vividly remember the herbs and spices that infused the chicken soup, the freshness of the fish, the aromatic dried/cured duck and the simple yet flavorful pickled vegetable dish. We paid the neighbor for the food. It was probably ~15 USD for all that food! We asked the lady to eat with us but she politely declined and left us to enjoy our meal.

Food delivered via baskets

Neighbor delivered the food in traditional farmer’s baskets.

cured duck

Delicious cured duck! It was very fragrant and tasty!

chicken soup

Mouthwatering chicken soup! The meat was falling off the bone and was thoroughly infused with the herbs from the soup!

photo of our meal

Our delicious home cooked “nong jia fan”!

When we were done with the meal, the lady came back and we chatted a bit more. We asked if we could buy some of the tea she had to which she obliged. What we paid for the tea was about 1/3 the price that we saw in stores in the city!

packing tea

We asked if we could buy some of the tea she had to which she obliged.

sealing the packet

Sealing the packet of tea using candle.

farmer's home

Group picture before we headed home.

group photo

All this experience and adventure just by talking to a stranger on a bus! This beats our original plan of looking for a restaurant and a tea tasting parlor to try Dragon Well tea and eat “Nong Jia Fan” anytime! So remember to interact with the locals at your next travel destination! The stories they tell, the conversations you have, the experience you get and the things you learn are priceless!

 

[notification type="star"] REMEMBER:

  1. Interact with the locals. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about a place through a conversation.
  2. If language is a barrier, make an effort to learn simple words in the local language. With just a few simple words, you never know what you can learn or where it’ll take you!
  3. Visit Long Jing Village when you’re in Hang Zhou. Either take the bus or take a cab. Another place known for dragon well tea in the area is called “Mei Jia Wu” village.
  4. Do not forget to either taste or buy some Dragon Well tea from Hang Zhou. It is the region’s specialty!
  5. Make a point to try “nong jia fan” when you’re in Hang Zhou. Ask around Long Jing Village to locate a place that sells nong jia fan!
[/notification]

 

Have you had any “local” experience on your travels? Any tips of things to do and not to do when interacting with the locals? Do share!

 

21 Comments

  1. Saurabh Nagar
    Twitter:
    January 20, 2013 Reply

    Chinese are the friendliest people I have met, living in china since 3 years now and I am not bored. They might not know your language but would make sure you pick up some chinese words haha…..they are very good at that. Nice article!

  2. Robin
    Twitter:
    May 18, 2011 Reply

    What an experience, and that looks like a meal I would LOVE!

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 19, 2011 Reply

      Wished we could share the meal with you!

  3. Ben Reed May 18, 2011 Reply

    I think my tip would be to spend a day doing errands with locals. It sounds kind of ordinary, but you’ll go to all the places the locals go to and see what a typical day is like.

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 19, 2011 Reply

      That’s an awesome tip! I think next time we visit a friend in their country, we’ll try to spend a day *with* them instead of going to tourist attractions all the time!

  4. Adam May 17, 2011 Reply

    Awesome story and what a great experience. We were invited to a local shopkeeper’s store in India for lunch the day after we bought a painting from him. He insisted that his wife made the best biryani and that we had to come the following day for lunch. We obliged and came the next day to eat with him, one of his students, and a friend. It was an incredible experience, not to mention the food was fantastic. One of my most memorable travel memories.

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      Wow – thanks for sharing your story! These kinds of unique experiences definitely are what makes travel memorable! I hope many more travelers will get to experience these “special” moments in their trips too!

      We’re headed to India next week. I hope we get to meet folks like the shopkeeper when we’re there too!

  5. Christy & Kali May 17, 2011 Reply

    That’s so interesting that they just hang the meat out there like that! I’m curious how they keep stray kitties away from it. ;)

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      LOL I know! I think the way they keep stray kitties away from it is by hanging it up high… like ceiling/rooftop high!

  6. Lisa Overman May 17, 2011 Reply

    What a great experience for you! I love your article. The food in China is amazing. I hope I can return some day.

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      I 100% agree with you – food is amazing in China! I’m sure you’ll have a good time when you return one day!

  7. Debbie Beardsley
    Twitter:
    May 17, 2011 Reply

    This experience sounds like one you will remember forever! I agree with about getting to know locals. Adds that special something to your travels. The information on tea was very interesting.

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      This is definitely one experience we’ll remember forever! I hope you get to experience the same when you try interacting with the locals on your travels!

  8. Jade
    Twitter:
    May 17, 2011 Reply

    Looks like this was such a great experience. I’m not a huge fan of duck- but your description is making me change my mind!

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      It was definitely an absolutely memorable experience. The duck was tastier than it looked! I was expecting it to be all dry and tasteless but it was the opposite!

  9. Jeremy Branham
    Twitter:
    May 17, 2011 Reply

    What a great experience! Not used to seeing meat and animals hanging up like that though!

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      LOL – I know! We were experiencing a bit of “culture shock” when we saw them hanging outside like that!

  10. The Travel Chica May 17, 2011 Reply

    What a feast! Looks delicious. And great advice about interacting with locals.

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! Yeah it was delicious – it was a welcomed “comfort food” after days of traveling and eating out at restaurants! we’re going to try and “interact with the locals” at least one time on every trip we go on. Let’s see what we learn from it!

  11. Lona53 May 17, 2011 Reply

    So syiok to see you all have so much adventures on your trip… how about another full family trip to Beijing, lets go great wall climbing… hehe

    • Author
      Anonymous
      Twitter:
      May 18, 2011 Reply

      Yeah! Let’s find a good time to go!

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