Dishes to tempt Confucius

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am


No matter how many emperors might call a place home, regardless of how refined and elegant the society might be or how many sages and poets were born, raised or exiled there, it is impossible for a Chinese city not to have a raucous, bustling class-distinction-shattering outdoor food market.

Nanjing has two and they're both famous.

One is Fuzimiao Street, named after the great Confucius Temple of Nanjing that was once the centre for all imperial examinations. Now, the old temple is the centrepiece of a radiating market of clothes, toys, gadgets and souvenirs. Brand name outlets and highbrow restaurants share space with bearded fortune-tellers and tofu carts.

The local Su cuisine is slightly spicy, mostly sweet and favours plump duck and fresh seafood. You'll find all of that within walking distance of the temple, and several versions of the stinky tofu foreigners love to hate - charred stinky tofu, soft stinky tofu, spicy stinky tofu and stinky tofu - and other great snacks such as painted dumplings, salted duck, duck blood soup and rice cakes with pickled vegetables.

Fuzimiao Street is one of the great communal locations of Nanjing. The temple is inactive, no one takes imperial examinations any more and it's more about shopping than scholarship, but the market and its nooks and crannies help hold Nanjing society together.

The other street, no less famous, is Shiziqiao Street, by the Xuanwu Gate of Nanjing's City Wall. Shiziqiao Food Street is in the middle of a modernised, temple-less version of Fuzimiao Market.

The Hunan and Shanxi Roads converge to form a pedestrian street lined with international and domestic brand name outlets. In the middle is Shiziqiao Food Street, more a strip of restaurants than a raucous market.

The strip has several Su cuisine stand-outs serving local dishes such as Shiwangfu, an iconic restaurant whose salted duck soup comes out simple yet sublime. The strip also has several popular international restaurants including the Golden Harvest Thai Opera Caf? and Pho Saigon.

Both areas are famous for different reasons.

Fuzimiao is local to the hilt and serves street-food fare amid a bustling market atmosphere. Shiziqiao has a range of choices for food and shopping, and offers respite from the streets in the quiet rooms of Nanjing's best restaurants.