Zhouzhuang has a long tea drinking history, as indicated above, but the city likes its pastries as well as its more substantial dishes, such as those made with pork, traditionally the most popular meat in China.
Wansan Pork Shank
The most famous dish in Zhouzhuang is Wansan Pork Shank, which was the centerpiece dish of feasts hosted by the richest family in South China during the Ming Dynasty, the Wansan family, whose leader, Shen Wansan, was the relative of the Shen Benren who built Zhouzhuang's most impressive architectural edifice, Shen Mansion. There is an old Zhouzhuang saying which claims that "crispy pork shanks are the essence of a good feast". Having developed over the years, "Wansan Pork Shank" has become "the essence" not only of the feasts of the wealthy class, but also of ordinary people, namely, "the essence" of marriage and festival celebrations such as the Fast-Boat Race and the Lantern Rowing Ceremony.
The Wansan Pork Shank of today is less crispy but more tender – and perhaps more tasty – than the original recipe. It is made today by slowly stewing whole pork shanks (thighs, or upper legs) in large crockery pots for "a day and a night", flavored with special spices and herbs, until the flavors of the spices and herbs have fused with the delicious, succulently tender meat. The meat is then sliced, garnished with fresh herbs, and served on platters as the main dish of the banquet.
Zhouzhuang's Wansan Pastry is at least as old as Wanshan Pork Shanks, and is named after the same illustrious Zhouzhuang family for which Wanshan Pork Shanks is named, the Shen Wanshan family, though the pastry was made by a local baker by the name of Zou.
The Zou family had operated a bakery in Zhouzhuang for centuries prior to the bakery's ascendancy to Zhouzhuang fame in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, when a younger family member took over the business and produced bread and pastries of such a superior quality that the town's wealthiest merchant, Shen Wanshan, became a client. Shen Wanshan was not only fond of pork shank, he was apparently also fond of good pastries. Shen Wanshan so liked a certain pastry produced at the Zou bakery in Zhouzhuang that he not only purchased it for everyday use at his mansion, but ordered it in large quantities whenever he entertained guests. Baker Zou renamed the pastry, whose original name has long since receded into oblivion, after his illustrious client, Wanshan.
The present-day bakery not only makes the now-famous Wanshan Pastry, but also many other tasty and more modern pastries and cakes such as the so-called Blessed Pastry (named in honor of Quanfu Temple, sometimes referred to as "Blessed Temple", as indicated) and numerous cake types such as sesame cakes, walnut cakes, pine nut cakes, peanut cakes, mint cakes and layer cakes, as well as numerous cakes and pastries inspired by recipies brought back home from the West by native Zhouzhuangers who have travelled or studied abroad.
Two Qing Dynasty period teahouses in Zhouzhuang where you can enjoy tea and Wanshan Pastry – as well as the other cakes and pastries of Zhouzhuang – are Wuqingfeng Tea House, established during the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, and Chengyitai Tea House, which dates back to the much later Qing Dynasty period during the reign (CE 1735-1796) of Emperor Qianlong. A newer teahouse, Huibang Tea House, has gained local fame for its devotion to purchasing the best teas from the best sources, then sorting and grading them by quality. If you like their teas, you would surely be allowed to purchase some of their tea leaves to take back home with you.
Zhouzhuang is a beautiful, picturesque village of willow-lined canals that are contiguous with rows of waterside buildings with whitewashed walls and gray slate roofs, and whose wooden eaves are upturned in the quintessentially Chinese fashion. » more
Zhouzhuang has a long tea drinking history, as indicated above, but the city likes its pastries as well as its more substantial dishes, such as those made with pork, traditionally the most popular meat in China.» more
There are direct buses from Shanghai, Suzhou, Kunshan or Qingpu to Zhouzhuang. You can take a bus or a train from Shanghai to Suzhou, then take one of the Suzhou-Zhouzhuang options. » more
If you have time for it, spending a night in Zhouzhuang is an excellent idea, as it will give you more time to see the sights at a more leisurely pace, especially the sites where the tourist traffic can be considerable as the day progresses.» more
Day 1: After having checked in at your choice of lodging, stroll/ rickshaw about town to get your bearings, and make note of the layout of the village. » more
Despite its small size, Zhouzhuang observes a fair share of annual festivals, the most popular being the Fast-Boat Race and the Lantern Rowing Ceremony. » more