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December 4, 2010

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Where to go to really grab your goat

A food festival currently taking place in Shanghai's Zhangqiao Village is cementing the area's reputation as the place to go for the finest in goat gourmet. Tan Weiyun takes a bite.

A big bowl of goat meat and spicy goat blood soup, loaded with yang (hot) energy to warm people up throughout the chilly winter, is a centuries-old staple on the dinner tables of farmers in Zhangqiao Village of Jinshanwei Town, Jinshan District.

The town's Goat Meat Festival is currently in full swing, offering various dishes made of goat meat, liver and blood to local diners and urban gourmets alike. The festival will run until the end of January next year.

Traditional Chinese medicine suggests that goat meat is especially good in winter as it enhances yang energy to warm and power your system.

An infusion of yang energy can help relieve blood stasis (poor circulation), some heart problems and menstrual irregularities.

"A good way to supplement yang energy is to eat goat meat in winter," says Wu Yingen, a professor from Longhua Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. "The healthy heat created by the goat lasts the whole winter to help combat seasonal yin or cold energy."

Eating goat meat can also help expel toxins, especially when combined with drinking strong liquor.

The village's annual goat gala in winter goes back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when the famous General Qi Jiguang (1528-88) lead his troops in a great victory over Japanese pirates who were harassing Chinese along the coastal waters in the Zhangqiao area.

To celebrate the victory and reward his soldiers, the general ordered the construction of a giant bronze pot which was said to contain goat meat that could feed more than 1,000 people. Thus the goat-eating tradition was passed down from generation to generation.

During the 1960s, a local farmer called Huang Zhiyun, who raised and butchered goats, started a shabby restaurant offering goat meat.

For a long time, Huang's restaurant was the only one in the village offering goat meat. In 1996 with the widening of the Xinwei Road and the construction of Jinshi Road, other goat meat restaurants began to open nearby.

These days, restaurants of all sizes are offering roasted, grilled, sauteed and braised goat meat, which are super fresh, right off the hoof and steaming hot. The bistros are thriving along both sides of Jinshi Road, the main street that traverses the little village.

Many villagers have started raising one or two goats at home and selling them later to the restaurants. Earning the reputation of "Village of Goat Meat" (a registered trademark), Zhangqiao has built up its goat industry, increasing goat raising and butchering and opening more restaurants and stalls in a central goat-cuisine plaza.

For the past three years, the village has been holding goat festivals and it aims to transform itself from a charming rural retreat into a tourist attraction with entertainment facilities, teahouses, motels and goat souvenir shops.

In recent years, the local government, seeing the opportunity to develop the goat meat business as a way of increasing incomes for farmers, has launched a series of preferential policies to encourage villagers to raise goats.

In 2006, it invested 3 million yuan (US$450,349) to set up a 10,000-square-meter goat base in the village and a 14,000-square-meter goat plaza, which houses many home-style bistros offering steamed hot goat dishes, three supermarkets of goat meat products, a central square and a parking lot.

"Zhangqiao Village, for years cut off from the outside world, has relied heavily on farming. But now the government senses a golden business opportunity with goat meat," says Lu Baijun, office director of the village. "We have pitched a detailed plan to develop the goat meat industry in the village."

According to the plan, Zhangqiao will become the city's base for goat raising, butchering, processing, catering and selling over the next four years.

The project, covering 24 hectares, includes not only goat meat restaurants but also entertainment facilities such as fishing ponds, teahouses, parks and bars.

Motels and souvenir shops are also planned.

"Based on goat meat, we hope to build the village into a tourist attraction," Lu says.

The Zhangqiao Goat Raising Association was established in 2008, and almost each family in the village is involved in the goat business.

Currently the village has more than 350 goat raisers, rearing about 3,200 goats.

Its annual output value can reach 2.56 million yuan. The association has sold about 1,800 goats this year, earning almost 900,000 yuan. And by the end of 2012, the sales number is going to reach 3,000 goats.

"It's not difficult to raise goats, which don't need much attention, only simple sheds and grass, so we encourage our villagers to raise goats," the director says.

"A goat costs 600-700 yuan which is quite a large sum for our farmers."

The 62-year-old Shen Weizhen began raising goats in her backyard two years ago. She built some simple sheds for her goats, and in the spare time when the farming work is not busy she reaps grass to feed them.

"It doesn't take much of my time, but can make profit for me," she says with a smile. The farmer can sell more than 30 goats each year to the restaurants, earning about 20,000 yuan for her.

In 2008 the government registered the trademark "Goat Meat Village," and this year sees the third goat festival held in the village. It also developed various types of goat meat products in vacuum packaging for urban diners who want to take some home.

"We are going to build the Zhangqiao goat meat as a brand in Shanghai and throughout the Yangtze River delta region," Lu says. "I hope the word 'Zhangqiao' is the first thing that pops into people's minds when they want to eat goat meat."

In addition, other famed Jinshan agricultural products such as black kerneled rice, glutinous rice, red beans, green beans, bamboo leaves, rice straw and a wide range of fresh fruits are also on display and available during the goat meat festival.


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