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.
We started with individual plates of crisp corn pancakes and fried sweet potato rounds while they set the table with…
…and chilled radish with salty-sweet dipping sauce.
There was lotus roots, two ways. Served battered and deep-fried and then sauteed with sliced carrots and mushrooms. Don’t worry, there is a lot of mock-meat coming up ;)
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.
There was “shrimp,”…
…and then “abalone!” My grandma lives in Hawai’i, but I really wish she was here at this meal. She’s vegetarian Buddhist and would have loved all these dishes.
This is a “beef” and pepper fry made from wheat gluten.
To accompany the “meat” (haha) dishes, chef said we needed vegetables for balance. Here, baby bamboo picked from the base of the mountain and steamed tender.
Next was the “chicken” and mushroom soup course. The wood ear mushrooms were real, but as for the “chicken?”
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.
Another soup dish came to the table mid-meal. This was slippery tofu with a chewy black fungus. The fungus is thought to prevent all forms of cancer. Drink up, we did.
Fresh sauteed vegetables to signal the start of the end of lunch.
For the very last course we could pick between fresh pulled noodles or fried rice. My sister and I each picked a different one and shared both.
She wound up liking the fried rice more, and I the noodles so it worked out well. The chewy noodles were served with a simple vegetable broth and lots of little side dishes like these…
…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!