Nanxiang, An Ancient Water Town

Located in the north-western Jiading District of Shanghai, Nanxiang Ancient Water Town is a small town with a history of nearly 1500 years. It is the birthplace of local snack Nanxiang Steam Soup Buns (南翔小笼包). The old street in Nanxiang Ancient Water Town is certainly the great sight to visit, but it is somewhat similar to what you may have traveled in other ancient water towns near Shanghai. However, the town is also the home to one of Shanghai’s five most beautiful classical gardens, the Guyi Garden of Nanxiang which is designed in the typical style of a Southern China’s classical garden. And this is an unique spot belongs to this ancient water town. The highlights of the town include:

Nanxiang Twin Pagodas (南翔双塔)

The Nanxiang Twin Pagodas were built in the Five Dynasties period (907-960), are the only pair of Buddhist twin pagodas and the only existing brick pagodas in the country. They used belong to a temple. But in 1766 the temple was burned down and all treasures and were gone, except the bricks still left there. In 1990s, based on historical information and documents scientists and skillful workers repaired them. Since then they are the landmarks of Nanxiang Ancient WaterTown. They are 11 meters high, with seven stories and octahedral sides.

Old streets

The old centre mainly includes Renmin Street(人民街), Gonghe Street (共和街), Jiefang Street (解放街) and Shengli Street (胜利街). The old street in Nanxiang Ancient Town is another great sight to visit. This part is somewhat similar to what you may have traveled in other water towns like Zhujiajiao, Wuzhen, Zhouzhuang, etc. and the streets here are full of the rich smell from Chinese cuisine. There are also souvenir shops selling some small things.

Street Scene During Chinese Spring Festival
Street Scene During Chinese Spring Festival

The Yunxiang Temple (云翔寺)

It has a past that dates back to 505AD. However, the current temple was rebuilt between 2000-2004 in a Tang Dynasty style. It is a religious place for the locals and is also open to tourists.

Tan Garden (檀园)

It was the former private garden of scholar and artist Li Liufang. In the past artists and scholars often gathered there to drink teas and discuss poems with each other. The pavilions, trees and pond in the park were personally arranged by Li Liufang. Later the restoration work was also done according to the garden map and detailed records that Li Liufang painted. The tall white walls separate the garden form bustles of the town outside. When I entered this garden, I felt like being invited to someone’s home garden. The restored Tan Garden is undeniable beautiful.

Guyi Garden (古猗园)

Nanxiang Ancient Water Town is also the home to one of Shanghai’s five most important classical gardens, the Guyi Garden. It is designed in the typical style of a Southern China’s classical garden. I visited this garden during the Chinese New Year. It was decorated with some latterns and exhibitions of Chinese paintings. It has halls, small gardens, ponds , pavilions and a wall with stone sculpture. There are many tall trees and plants so it is also a good place to visit during the hot summer time. The garden is very big and it easily takes you half day or one day time.

View in Nanxiang Guyi Garden
View in Nanxiang Guyi Garden

When you feel hungry, then you can sample the local famous food, Nanxiang Steamed Soup Buns (南翔小笼包)

Tasting Nanxiang Steamed Soup Buns (南翔小笼包)

This ancient town is the birthplace of the famous steamed soup buns (also called steamed soup dumplings, I think in general it is difficult to name some of Chinese foods).

Its pastry (a king of wheat dough) is paper-thin and gets gathered up. Then the perfectly seasoned fillings is placed into the pastry and closed it with a tiny knot at the top. The typical fillings is minced meat and pork skin. Pork skin needs to be processed before cook. It is first broiled in chicken soup. Then chill the broth until the broth turns into jelly state. The jelly is then mixed with the minced meat. This process is called Guan Tang(灌汤). After steaming, the jelly inside the buns melts out and the rich flavored filling soup is formed. If you just give a big bite then most likely you get messed up or your mouth burned. The proper way to start the eat is to bite a little on the top and suck the soup out gently.

Making Nanxiang Steam Soup Buns
Making Nanxiang Steam Soup Buns
Nanxiang steam Soup Buns in Bamboo Steamer
Nanxiang steam Soup Buns in Bamboo Steamer

This tantalizing snack is probably one of the most famous local foods in Shanghai. It’s definitely worth trying a few of these delicious buns. However, to make them require high skill. Not all the time you can get authentic steamed soup buns. There is one next to the entrance of Guyi Garden. The settings of the eatery is very simple but their buns are authentic and tasty. The buns are usually served in bamboo steamers. Many restaurants in Shanghai specialize this food as well. The famous one is located in Yu Garden near Bund, Shanghai.

How to get there

You may take Metro Line 11 from Jiangsu Lu (江苏路) to Nanxiang directly (takes around 40 minutes). Then take a 15 minute walk along Huyi Gong Lu (沪宜公路 ) to reach Guyi Garden or you can carry on walking straight down Minzhu Jie (民主街) and the garden is located on the left hand of the road. Or you can take Bus 517, 562, 822 and get off at Nanxiang Gu Zhen Station.

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