Best Eats of 2012: LongJing Village 龙井村

龙井茶 LongJing tea, also known as Dragonwell tea, was grandpa’s favorite.

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So when the opportunity came to travel to Hangzhou, the home of the LongJing tea plantations, I grabbed it.

Grabbing was the right choice because I ended up having two of the best meals I’ve ever had in China, in one day, in one village.

The entire basis of the trip to Hangzhou, a two hour bullet train ride from Shanghai, was to check out a renowned restaurant called Dragonwell Manor. My travel mates and I had made reservations for dinner at Dragonwell Manor and decided to grab a light lunch nearby. I’d read a bit about the LongJing tea village so we did what you do in China and had a local driver take us there.

While I usually I have an eating itinerary mapped out for almost any occasion (literally. I use Google Map’s My Places), in this instance [and I didn’t tell my companions this], I had no real plan but to show up in this village in the foothills of a mountain and drink good tea– awaken my inner grandpa!

Sometimes, the best adventures are the impromptu, fortuitous ones.

Like any ride with a Chinese cabbie, or with a hired local driver in this case, we got to chatting and naturally, conversation shifted from casual chitchat of cabbie wondering, ‘where are you from?’ and ‘what are you doing here?’, to us wondering, ‘hey cabbie, where should we eat next‘? With the mention of food, he immediately grew enthusiastic and not only explained to us where and what we should eat, but began driving us there, up the winding, mountain roads that are two-way but really meant to be one-way.

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I say “restaurant” because: 1) We sat outdoors under an umbrella, next to the neighborhood cats and dogs basking in the sun 2) We were handed a long pole with a net attached to the end of it to select our own fish from the nearby creek (which was then returned to the creek because we had selected inadequately, so they showed us how and which to scoop), 3) The fish was killed and prepared three feet from our umbrella,

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4) The baby asparagus shoots and baby cherries were harvested just up the stairs in the slightly higher foothills of the property. If there were ever a more appropriate definition of creek-t0-table or farm-to-table cooking, this “restaurant” was just that.P1090255

When the chef-owners finished preparing these meals, they came out of the half indoor, half outdoor kitchen and pulled up a few stools to join us. It was the ultimate afternoon tea time as we enjoyed the rest of the sunny day over LongJing tea, more baby cherries (I couldn’t get enough of these), all in good company. We talked about local produce, blue skies in China, Hangzhou culture and dialect and the picturesque tea plantations beyond the city walls. P1090257

Although it would be impossible to relive this, I do hope I can return to this LongJing Village some day soon to experience an equally delicious home-grown and home-cooked meal. I love cities for their hustle and bustle, their cultural diversity as well as restaurant diversity, but to appreciate these components, I must leave and return renewed; this was the perfect getaway. 

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