Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown
A local specialty from Chongqing, China called Wanzhou Grilled Fish (Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 ) is now all the rage in many restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Usera.
What is Wanzhou Grilled Fish / Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼
It is a grilled /roasted whole fish covered in a dry dressing of Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and and served in a big pan filled with a soup like sauce that is not to dissimilar to the stock used in Sichuan hot pots 火锅 (huoguo).
The dish originates from Wanzhou (formerly WanXiang) in Chongqing municipality: It’s now popular all over Mainland China.
The original way of making this dish is to first grill a freshwater fish (Carp 鲤鱼 is popular) over charcoal and then cover it with various condiments that you order from the menu.
Some of these condiments might include lotus roots, potatoes, bamboo shoots, glass noodles, edible fungus, and beansprouts.
In Madrid the fish is usually Sea Bass (Lubina in Spanish)鲈鱼.
Chongqing to Wuhan on the Yangzi (second time round)
Day 1: Evening departure from Chongqing. Day 2: We wake up in Fengdu, sail past Shibaozhai and Wanzhou, and make an evening stop at the Zhang Fei temple. Day 3: We wake up in Fengjie, sail through the Qutang Gorge, stop at Wushan for the excursion to the three Little Gorges, then go through the Wu Gorge and finally the Xiling Gorge during the night. Day 4: Visit to the Great Dam and early afternoon arrival in Yichang.
Although departure is at 9, we have been told that we can board the boat any time after 6. Driven by curiosity, we get there early. Together with a motley crew of Chinese, loaded down with boxes and plastic bags, we are transported to our boat by cable car. And there it is, our ‘cruise ship’: an ageing rust bucket, covered in nasty, stained carpets. Its sheet metal floors creak and undulate underfoot, causing the carpets to form lumps, dents and creases. Our hearts skip a beat when a member of the crew opens the door to our ‘first class cabin’: what a dive! The cabin, sparsely furnished with two narrow bunks, a small desk and one chair, is tiny and claustrophobic. We have no idea where we might put our backpacks, let alone ourselves! The bathroom is even tinier: a cupboard-sized cubicle in which we spy a brownish, squat toilet with a shower head right above it. There is one miniscule window, no terrace, balcony or anywhere nice to sit. Is this really it? Our cruise ship?
As disappointment sets in, our crafty companion suggests that he can show us a better room; the ‘suite’ at the far end of the corridor. It has the same crummy bathroom, perhaps marginally cleaner, the same insalubrious carpets, but at least it’s spacious: there is a sitting room with windows all around and a separate bedroom with a double bed. For a mere additional 900 Yuan it can be ours.
Between December 1990 and January 1991, Adam and I travelled the Yangztse River from Shanghai to Chongqing; a journey that took us 9 days then. At that time, tourism along the Yangtse was in its infancy and we, as poor backpackers, couldn’t have afforded a cruise ship anyway. So we travelled on Chinese passenger boats that made very few concessions to either comfort or tourists. There were no sightseeing stops or side excursions; we even managed to miss one Gorge altogether, as the boat went through it at night.
Suzhou Creek 1990
In those days, foreign visitors were charged much higher prices for transport, hotels, sights, etc., than Chinese people and had to pay in Foreign Exchange Certificates (a special currency only for foreigners or foreign transactions), rather than Renminbi (the People’s money), which is why many backpackers resorted to black- marketeers. To get his hands on a couple of discounted, Chinese-price tickets for the first leg of the journey, Adam had to follow a Chinese man into the toilets of the Seaman’s Club at the Pujiang Hotel (known as Astor House Hotel after recent makeovers) in an action reminiscent of an old spy movie.
Ciqikou Ancient Town is one of the easiest places you can get to from Chongqing. It’s a traditional village of late-Ming dynasty houses, set on the shores of the Jialing River, about 10 kms from downtown Chongqing.
As we approach Ciqikou, and comment excitedly on the many traditional dark wood and white plaster houses we can see, our taxi driver shrugs his shoulders and says: “Still so many old houses, but what can you do?”.
Beautiful Old House-For-Demolition
When Adam tells him there are a lot of old houses in London too, he asks incredulously: “Why? Is London not developed then?” Ciqikou’s main drag promises to be the usual tourist circus (think Pingle, think Luodai), full of souvenir stalls and junk food,
A smooth two-and-a-half- hour train ride has taken us from Chengdu to Chongqing. As our taxi emerges from the modern station building we are amazed at the panorama in front of us: we can see a labyrinth of motorways and overpasses and a whole forest of gleaming tower blocks.
Nothing we even remotely remember from our previous visit in 1991; that time we arrived in Chongqing by boat, all the way from Shanghai. Though we didn’t stay long, we did like the city. We still have fond memories of its steep, stepped streets, its colourful vegetable markets which invaded all the pavements, and its plucky women, defying the grey winter weather with their vivid outfits.
This time, we will retrace our steps and leave Chongqing by boat, going downriver as far as Yichang, to check out the changes the Yangzi has undergone since the construction of the controversial Dam. But first, we’re planning to have a good look at the city itself.
Surprisingly, given the immense size of the city, the traffic is smooth. In fact, there are hardly any cars on the brand-new multi-lane motorways. In no time at all our taxi driver drops us at the Number Nine Hotel, conveniently located in downtown Jiefangbei district, close to the place where the cruise ships dock.
A bit of sightseeing
After a clean-up, we venture out into the scorching hot streets of Chongqing and head for its number one attraction: the Huguang Guild Hall. To our surprise, Continue reading “Chongqing 重庆”
Pingle and Songji are two traditional ancient towns in the South West of China. The first, Pingle, is a couple of hours away from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, while the second, Songji, is a mere two hours from the metropolis Chongqing. The architecture in both towns is similar: the houses have black slate roofs and white walls supported by dark wooden beams; the streets are narrow and cobble- stoned. Moreover, both towns share a riverside location: while Pingle is built along both banks of a river, the streets of. Songji run downhill towards the Yangtze. As for village life, drinking tea and playing board games are still the favourite pastimes of the locals. However, after that the similarities stop. Pingle has become a hugely popular tourist destination for Chengdu residents and domestic tourists visiting Sichuan. As a result, it is full of souvenir shops, its streets lined with teahouses, inns and restaurants. Songji on the other hand is a slightly melancholy, time- forgotten town without a single souvenir shop, just one hotel and a few local restaurants and traditional teahouses. We visited both this summer and here are our impressions, taken from the Diary:
… First impressions aren’t good. The toilets at the otherwise modern bus station that necessity has forced us to use are high up on the ‘Worst in China’ list: they are piled high in shit, there’s no water and the stench impregnates the station and beyond. Outside a steady drizzle is falling. The next realisation is that Pingle is far from being a hidden gem; in fact, Continue reading “A Tale of two Towns: Pingle 平乐 Versus Songji 松溉”
Dazu Town – 1991 When we first arrived in Dazu on a damp, cold day in January 1991, after a long but uneventful bus ride from Chongqing, we found ourselves in a small, grubby market town under a grey sky and a light drizzle. A couple of grotty, but overpriced hotels were the only evidence that Dazu might be home to something more than the abundant vegetables found in its markets….
In September 2005 we returned to Dazu and discovered the town had changed beyond recognition. These days, Dazu is another example of a Chinese boomtown: new white- tile apartment blocks springing up like mushrooms after an autumn shower, a modern, bustling pedestrian shopping street where the old market area had been and plenty of shiny hotels. The local residents had undergone a transformation too: instead of Mao-suited peasants, there were now hip and fashionably dressed youngsters, wielding mobile phones. The newly refurbished Dazu Hotel was ready to cater to the whims of any fussy and…..