Tongli Water Town is famous for its canals, bridges and classical gardens. Before it became a tourist attraction, Tongli was home to the locals and business flourished in the “fertile land”.
How the Name Came About
Here’s a trivial – the current name of Tongli 同里 has only been in existence since the Song dynasty, almost a 1000 years ago. However the town existed before that in the Han dynasty. Back then, it was known as 富土 or fertile land, and during the Tang dynasty was changed to 铜里 or “Copper Town”. And then it was renamed in Song dynasty to the current name. And the reason for the name change? They were trying to be humble about their trading success and stayed out of limelight and prying eyes of the greedy officials.
Once you enter the main entrance, you will come to the Main Street, where shops, banks (modern ones of course with the important ATM) and postal services are available for you ship back your purchases.
Ancient Shophouse Row 明清商业街
Most of the town have been renovated or rebuilt due to wear and tear. Only this ancient shophouse row has maintained the original facade and traditional trades.
None of the shops or building here was allowed to change anything in terms of the structure or look. It was meant to be an exact representation of how trading was done during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Tongli Culinary Destination
You will never go hungry in Tongli. At every corner on every street, there’s a cafe or an eatery selling sweets and local delicacies.
And Chinese is not the only type of cuisine available. Due to an influx of foreign tourist from neighbouring Shanghai that consisted of expats working in that metropolis wanting a quiet weekend, you can find International choices in an ancient house.
Walking around the town, you are spoiled for choices, even though most of them are not that good.
状元蹄 Scholar Pork Knuckle.
Braised pork knuckles have been called different names in different places – 万三蹄 Wan San Pork Knuckles when in Zhou Zhuang 周庄 and 状元蹄 Scholar Pork Knuckle in Tongli.
During the Qing Emperor Guangxu period (1875 – 1908), the emperor held a competition to find the best braised knuckles under Heaven i.e. in his vast Empire. Scholars were invited to judge the knuckles as scholars (i.e. privileged well to do officials) had the most discerning palates of the time. Hence, the winner was named the Scholar Knuckles.
The winning entry was made with fresh pork knuckles weighing around 1-1.25 kg each. They were braised with 18 Chinese herbs for 4 hours, 80 knuckles at a time.
I don’t know how the original Scholar Knuckle tasted like during the Qing Dynasty. But the modern day rendition tastes mildly savoury from the braising stock with subtle sweetness and spice aroma. The fat was soft, meat tenderly juicy and the skin a little chewy.
Must try this dish, if only because of its novelty but it has been so commercialised that it was not that fantastic.
The local government has invested a lot of money to turn the night of Tongli into a beautiful destination of LED lights. If you are staying for the evening, do come and feel the different between the night and day.
This is Part 3 of a Five-Part Special on Tongli
- #1/5 Jiangnan Water Town 同里水乡
- #2/5 Retreat and Reflection Garden 退思园
- #3/5 Sights and Sounds 同里声色
- #4/5 Night and Day 同里日不落
- #5/5 Memories 老朋友
Date Visited : Nov 2020