Sanhe has witnessed epic battles. It was here that in 1858, the eighth year of the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Xianfeng, commanders of the Taiping Rebe-llion, namely Chen Yucheng, Li Xiucheng and Wu Dinggui, defeated the army led by Qing commander Li Xubin. The battle was a major engagement of the Taiping Rebellion, bringing instant national fame to the town.
Standing atop the ancient city wall and surveying a commander’s post and rusted barbettes, formidable warriors fill my imagination. I seem to hear the sound of blasting cannons. But the days of battle in Sanhe are long gone. Today’s Sanhe is a tranquil riverside town, albeit with some bloody history.
The breeze soothes my skin as we descend to the Xiaonan River. Ten bridges straddle it, many of which are renowned as engineering feats. Of the 10, our guide says, Sanxian Bridge is the best known and Quezhu Covered Bridge the oldest. Fish dart close to the river’s surface, drooping willows sway gently in the breeze, slow boats meander along the bank and life on the river is a charming and beautiful sight to behold.
Food, Glorious Food
We stopped by a food stall to sample the local specialty – Sanhe Mijiao (dumplings in wrappers made from rice flour). In northern China, jiaozi wrappers are made from wheat flour, but in Sanhe they use rice flour. These dumplings are stuffed with minced meat and beancurd. The difference sounds trivial, but it makes a big difference to the taste. The deep-fried dumplings are crispy and delicious.
Near the mijiao stall was a grocery store selling locally made rice wine and dried beancurd. The owner told us that the production of dried beancurd in Sanhe has a history of over 1,000 years, and that their beancurd was especially tasty due to the outstanding quality of the local water.
In front of the store, we spied locals drying small river fish in the sun. Such dried fish count as Anhui’s favorite complement to rice in the winter months.
The culinary culture of Sanhe Town has a long and interesting history. Owing to frequent north-south traffic along the Xiaonan River, many visitors spent time in the town and left their culinary mark. Local cuisine thus developed its distinctive style that combines the best of Anhui, Sichuan and Jiangsu dishes. A well-known folk song in Sanhe mentions a number of local gastronomic favorites, such as melon seeds, Yudai cake, shrimp-flavored dried beancurd and fried Shaomai – a kind of steamed dumpling.
In October 2008, Shu Ting, a renowned Chinese poetess, visited Sanhe Town and fell in love with the local food. She expressed her feelings for the town in a subsequent travel piece, in which she also admitted to gaining much poetic inspiration from its delicately prepared specialties. She singled out Sanhe’s glutinous rice wine, shredded whitebait and soy sauce-stewed duck as favorites.
Walking down ancient slabstone pathways, breathing air redolent of nearby rivers and sampling delicious local food, I found myself falling deeply in love with this peaceful and simple town. It was hard to leave.