Nothing fishy about the Fish and Mutton Festival

The annual Fish and Mutton Festival is in full swing and far from woolly at the Grand Canal Residential Block of the Yuhang District.

The annual Fish and Mutton Festival is in full swing and far from woolly at the Grand Canal Residential Block of Yuhang District. 

For most, a temperature drop in November is bad news but not for the natives of Yuhang. For the district’s residents, it means only one thing and one thing only — time for the annual food festival. 

The celebration of food will see skilled chefs invited from inside and outside of the area to cook family festival banquets and celebration feasts. Chefs take charge in preparing food ingredients, cooking and serving. Some of them run their own eateries and specialize in cooking famous local dishes. They manage to turn ordinary ingredients into the most sizzling and appetizing dishes. A wide selection of meals, including all kinds of mutton, snakehead fish and soft-shelled turtle cuisines, lures the local and out-of-town gastronomes every year. 

In addition to the mouthwatering cuisine, the festival offers a variety of cultural activities. Visitors can go fishing, weave cloth on primitive wooden loom and stitch traditional shoes.

Shanghai Daily examines the delicacy on the festival and picks two highlights.

Turtles are the calling card of Yuhang District along with goats and sheep. Visitors can taste turtle cuisine and catch the soft-shelled creature by themselves.

Turtles are the calling card of Yuhang District along with goats and sheep. Visitors can taste turtle cuisine and catch the soft-shelled creature by themselves.

Soft-shelled turtle 甲鱼

For centuries, Yuhang has been dubbed the “land for rice and fish” because of its abundance of fish and crop. The villagers also discovered that in time that soft-shelled turtles could reproduce quickly under the local environment and could bring in more income compared with common fish. Therefore, more and more farmers switched to breed turtles and then created a cluster effect.

The residential block has more than 546 hectares of aquatic breeding area with more than 500 breeders. Annual production value can touch up to 200 million yuan (US$30 million). Turtles are generally fed with organic fodder in ecological ways, which makes turtles more popular than its rivals.

Also, villagers cash in on the e-commerce trend and build an online selling platform, which in return can make the turnover growth skyrocket to 115 percent year on year. 

Today, turtles have already become the calling card of Yuhang District along with goats and sheep. But soft-shelled turtle cuisine has already stolen thunder from fish delicacies on the festival.

In Yuhang, soft-shelled turtles are often eaten braised, steamed, or in a soup, while the classic culinary way is to stew with soy sauce. Turtle meat is considered to nourish yin (cold energy), according to traditional Chinese medicine.

Turtle dishes are often served to people who have just had surgery, because it is considered an upscale tonic benefiting wound healing. As for mothers, who just delivered a baby, drinking turtle soup is believed to help recover from exhaustion.

At the festival foodies could catch turtles by themselves in the pond. Organizers have provided waterproof pants and bags, and the catches could be sent to local restaurants and cooked according to personal flavor.

A chef serves red-braised goat meat during the annual Fish and Mutton Festival, which is underway in Yuhang District.

Mutton 羊肉

When calendar turns from October to November it means that goat meat can be sold: That has been the seasonal task for many years for villagers in Yuhang District. The locals buy live goats and sheep before slaughtering them and selling the meat. During this period it is common for most households to have a sizzling pot of braised goat on the stove every day.

Locals say the festival is a golden opportunity for foodies to experience the ancient Chinese custom of eating according to the season. Today, savoring goat is more than a tradition; it’s a thriving business.

Mutton soup and red-braised goat are reputedly good at warming people up during winter, which keeps gastronomes coming back for more on the annual festival.

Goat is famously good because it contains yang (hot energy) and keeps energy in balance in chilly days, according to TCM.

Mutton is beneficial, too. The lean goat and mutton is considered a tonic, as it is lower in cholesterol than beef and pork. It improves blood circulation and digestion and nourishes the kidneys.

Yuhang’s red-braised mutton is famous in the Yangtze River Delta Region for its flavor, aroma and tenderness. Unlike the pale boiled goat soup from the pot, this braised mutton tastes more mellow and umami.

A number of requirements and procedures must be strictly followed when cooking the meat to ensure the red-braised dish tastes delicious.

First of all, the dish has to be made from male Huyang sheep that are only raised in the Hangzhou-Jiaxing-Huzhou Plain. They are fed fresh grass in summer and mulberry leaves in the winter, which makes the meat tender and succulent.

Instead of using a modern cooker, locals prefer a traditional clay stove to simmer the meat. The pot is a steel cauldron, at least 1 meter in diameter, that can cook an entire animal. One secret to ensure the meat turns out yummy and al dente is to cook overnight, using firewood, add sugar, cinnamon, peppery and ginger.

In the Grand Canal Residential Block, there are more than 20 restaurants selling authentic red-braised mutton. Each of them has a secret recipe, which helps distinguish their own dish from others. Some of the recipes date back hundreds of years and only a few are handed down to family offspring.

The festival will run through the end of January. 

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