I originally planned to write posts in the order of each city we visited, but somewhere between Mongolia and Shen Zhen that idea went out the window. Sometimes you just feel like writing one thing and not another. Today we are on Mount Jiuhua. This mountain is one of the four scared mountains of Buddhism, and it’s a three-hour drive from Hefei, a city where we spent a few nights. Many people haven’t heard of Hefei before – Hefei is in eastern China, the Anhui province.
We left Hefei at 7am in the morning and arrived at Mount Jiuhua just before noon. Day trip! Mount Jiuhua is best known for beautiful landscape and sacred temples and it’s visited by both locals and tourists alike. They say that if you make a wish to the gods at the temples here it is a guaranteed to come true. But once the wish comes true, you must return to the same spot and give thanks. Oddly enough, the bulk of the people we encountered on this mountain were not Chinese but Koreans. I later learned that first monk to set foot on these mountains was Kim Gyo-gak, a prince-turned monk from South Korea.
There are ten temples located throughout Mount Jiuhua, and we were lucky to visit three of them (before the misty rain turned into thunder, dark skies and pouring rain!) The monks who live here are known for living long lives. They say it is because of the climate and spirits in the air. And when they pass away, their bodies are naturally preserved. In one temple we even saw the body of one monk who had died over 500 years ago. He was still sitting upright (!) in meditation position and though his body was shrunken it was still very much there. No photos allowed of course.
At each temple, candles to burn incense. Here’s what these stations look like if you take a few steps back. After visiting the first temple, the assistant whom dad’s friend set us up with took us to lunch at a nearby restaurant. It was an all-vegetarian Buddhist meal, but a dozen times more elaborate than any vegetarian meal I’ve had in the past! There was mock “fish” and chicken” and “pork belly” (fat included) and even “shrimp,” all made from tofu and various forms of wheat gluten. Pretty spectacular.
To transition into the “meat” dishes, we each had our own braised “sea cucumber.” Will you look at that! This was a combination of a natural gelatin and tofu, with the crisp, clean bite of real sea cucumber.
Then came the onslaught of mock meat dishes, my favorite of which was the “pork belly,” featuring nearly equal proportions of meat and fat. My sister wouldn’t eat this because she said there was too much “fat.” But the “fat” was actually wheat gluten made to look (and taste) like fat! It was served with baby bok choy and just flat out awesome with it’s savory, so intensely pork-flavor.
It was made out of tofu! From the moist and chewy, meaty texture – especially the texture, to flavor and consistency, you could have sworn it was chicken. The clear broth was just as meaty…mark me impressed.
The pork belly and this whole braised fish with pickled vegetables were tied to be the two most real looking and tasting dishes to be fake. The fish was so intricate down to the scales (and even bones, not kidding). It bore the flaky-firm texture of perfectly cooked fish and the skin was spot on.
…salted preserved tofu cubes. In Hawai’i we eat something similar to this (only the tofu is a much darker color), and we eat it only with jook. It’s incredibly salty and quite pungent so a little goes a long way.
We were advised to eat light during lunch because of all the walking and stairs required to see the temple. I didn’t listen, and “suffered” accordingly ;) Well worth it though!