The Land of Rice and Fish
Shanghai may be as well known for its bustling economy as for dumplings so delicate they practically melt in your mouth. In Chongqing, the people are said to be as spicy as their food; a bowl of noodles is so hot it will blur your vision, yet so delicious that you can’t put it down. Located about 800 miles down river from Chongqing, halfway to Shanghai, Wuhan brims with fresh fish, seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains, and its cuisine reflects the best of China. One of its regional specialties, a delightfully savory-sweet rice wrapped in bean-flour pancakes, is said to have been a favorite meal of Mao Zedong.
On a warm summer evening, as our cruise ship slowly approached the city, I stood on my cabin’s balcony anxiously watching an unfamiliar landscape glide past. It had been more than seven years since I had last seen Wuhan. I tried to pick out the hospital compound overlooking the river where both my parents worked as doctors. I couldn’t find it. The old buildings painted with revolutionary slogans and draped with red flags in the 1970s had been replaced by modern skyscrapers aglow with bright lights. Neon signs danced reflections off the river and brightened the night sky above. For a moment, I couldn’t believe this was my hometown. I was overwhelmed with excitement and pride.
Then the gentle river breeze brought aromas of steamed dumplings and fish pan-fried with ginger and garlic from the restaurants lining the bank. Bits of laughter, interspersed with the familiar local dialect, brought back memories of evening strolls beside the river with my parents; learning to ride a bike with my brothers on the sidewalks; meeting my first date under the clock tower; and the farewell dinner with friends at a restaurant overlooking the river before my first trip to America.