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November 22, 2010

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Wuhan's wealth of food and history

CHINA has long been seen as a paradise of food. From south to north, east to west, culinary culture and style vary, greatly.

While Sichuan is famous for spicy hotpot, Guangzhou for all kinds of delicious soups and Beijing for its universally known Peking duck, Wuhan is largely neglected.

Few people know the provincial capital of Hubei Province, which has always been considered as an industrial city, is actually another destination for gourmands as well as a city of culture and history.

Hubu Xiang (Hubu Alley), the pride of all Wuhanese, is known for a kaleidoscope of breakfast choices. The 150m-long lane enjoys a history of 20 years serving breakfast.

At the entrance to Hubu Alley, two lines written by He Zuohuan, a famous Wuhan artist, read: "Rice comes first in breakfast with Han flavor, and Hubu Xiang is the best place to taste the hot and fresh one."

Most breakfast stores in Hubu Xiang are run by local people who are usually living upstairs.

"Hubu Xiang is so famous that most breakfast stores here benefit more or less from its reputation," says one middle-aged store owner who took over the business from her mother.

Many store owners who have a decent full-time job consider the small business an inheritance from their forefathers.

Granny Stone's Hot Dry Noodles, Sister Xu's Fish Noodle Soup, Family Chen's Beef Noodles, The Gaos' Rice Soup and Battercake, Wan's Rice Wine - all are typical and popular breakfast items in Hubu Xiang.

Hot dry noodles are one of the most well-known breakfast items in Wuhan and they only cost 3 yuan (45 US cents).

There is not any soup in traditional Wuhan hot dry noodles. When it is fully cooked by boiled water, the noodles expand and then sesame sauce, which is hand-made with secret ingredients by local people, is added.

The sticky noodles are slightly spicy. When the dish is mixed with dried shrimp, spicy pickles and other ingredients, it tastes even better.

In Wuhan, there is a well-known saying: "With 10 yuan, people can go on an amazing breakfast trip in Hubu Xiang."

Breakfasts in Hubu Alley are available from as early as 5am and are served until midnight (breakfast turns into snacks at night) so that people can have a taste whenever they want.

Lotus root rib soup is another favorite in Wuhan, which only uses locally grown lotus root.

The soup is popular in Wuhan because herbalists believe lotus root is a good tonic, especially for a weak stomach. The main function of lotus root is to help people who don't like eating to gain more of an appetite.

It is also good for women's blood because the lotus root provides nourishment for the blood, especially during menstruation.

In addition, lotus root rib soup is considered as one of the most nourishing soups for skin care and health in general.

After a "delicious" tour in Hubu Alley, head to Jianghan Road to feel a different Wuhan.

The Jianghan Road Night Market is lined with small booths selling local snacks, clothes, accessories, pets, furnishings and other items. Locals always proudly say: "Here on Jianghan Road there is nothing you cannot find."

"We like selling things on Jianghan Road because it is part of our culture and lifestyle," says one of the booth owners, whose BMW is just parked nearby.

Many tenants on Jianghan Road are actually wealthy, but they still keep the small business because "that's the way Wuhan works."

More than food

Wuhan is not just a food paradise, there are also plenty of other attractions.

The landmark Huanghe Lou, or Yellow Crane Tower, is one of the city's best-known tourist sites. It became famous because of Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai's several poems about it.

There people can learn the history of Yellow Crane Tower, including one of many tales about it that suggests how it got its name.

The touching tale says there was once a man who ran a small restaurant for a living. However, the daily earning was low.

One day the man found an old man almost dying in front of his restaurant, and the restaurant owner's kindheartedness drove him to take care of the old man immediately.

When the old man recovered, he asked to stay in the restaurant eating and drinking for free forever, to which the restaurant owner agreed without any hesitation.

One month later, the old man told the restaurant owner: "I will pay you back for your kindness," then he drew a crane on the restaurant wall and left.

The crane suddenly flew down from the wall to perform for customers, helping the restaurant eventually attract more business. So the owner built a tower to commemorate the old man who drew the yellow crane.

Besides, the Hubei Provincial Museum is another place where you can appreciate Chinese history.

It displays the province's heritage and relics, including the sword used by the King of Yue, Gou Jian, in the late Spring and Autumn Period, ancient porcelain and bronze wares. How to get there

Long-distance bus, train and flights are all available from Shanghai to Wuhan. The fastest way is by air and takes about one and a half hours.

Where to stay

After a day's travelling, both your body and feet will be in need of a good rest. Wuhan Shangri-La Hotel is recommended.

The hotel has just completed a renovation and has updated many facilities and services, such as wireless service in all hotel rooms.

It is located right in the heart of the city with 442 guestrooms and a variety of dining options.


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