The Secret Kitchens of Jiangxi's Village Ayis Cooking Experience

By Sophie Steiner, April 6, 2023

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Wuyuan, in Jiangxi province, is located just 3-4 hours from Shanghai by high-speed train but is a world away from the humming city life. 

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Boasting an impressive array of options for travelers seeking any combination of relaxation, nature, culture, art and food, if offers visitors an arguably more authentic side of China than other top of mind alternatives – like Moganshan, Guilin or Yunnan. 

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Despite the more recent government investment and construction of multiple high speed railway stations around the area, Wuyuan still remains relatively untouched and retains its rustic, genuine countryside charm. 

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Wuyuan Skywells is a family inn and passion project of Englishman Edward Gawne and his Jiangxi-born wife Selina Liao. The 300-year old refurbished mansion from the Qing Dynasty is their antidote to the mile-high skyscrapers, always-online, ruthless overtime culture and relentless pace of life in modern China. 

READ MORE: Wuyuan Skywells: Rural Qing Mansion Antidote to Overtime Culture

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Ed and Selina take pride in tailor-making itineraries to fit each person’s individual wants, caring about everyone’s overall experience both in and out of the inn. Since they live at Skywells about 80-90% of the time, it’s not uncommon for them to enjoy a dinner with guests, pouring over maps, pulling up photos and sending WeChat pins of obscurely famous tofu makers and mooncake bakers located in farflung villages. 

READ MORE: Wuyuan: Authentic Getaway of Villages and Vistas is Within Reach

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Taking their itinerary plotting to a new level, they recently launched culinary-focused packages for guests, offering a glimpse into the secret kitchens of Jiangxi’s village ayis – a bespoke, immersive dining experience now available to be booked directly through Skywells. 

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“If it’s on Dianping or Google, we generally won’t send our guests there. We prefer to find our own trails and unique trip highlights to make each person’s stay that much more memorable,” says Ed, while picking Jerusalem artichokes in the garden and preparing them to be pickled as a breakfast side dish. 

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All participants will have the opportunity to visit one village kitchen – selected based on group size, proximity to other booked activities and availability. Dishes will showcase local ingredients reaped specifically for that meal and cooked in Wuyuan’s own rapeseed oil, a regional specialty that is harvested each year in early summer. 

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Expect everything from water bamboo shoots sautéed with cured pork and greens to pickled jiaobai – or wild rice stem; 

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From water-grown tubers stir-fried with garlic and sweet peppers to sticky rice fried with mixed veggies and pork belly resulting in a risotto or even paella-like texture. 

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There’s water celery with dried tofu, steamed pork coated in ground rice flour, dried long beans, pan-fried ferns, and homemade qingmingguo – a steamed sticky rice cake filled with mugwort, shredded daikon radish, garlic and chili. 

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Pair your meal with a glass of wildly fertilized sticky rice mijiu – known colloquially as shuijiu, for the village water that is so integral in crafting the liquor’s delicately sweet, sour and slightly funky flavor profile. 

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No two meal experiences are the same as any other as each ayi selects only the most in-season vegetables, preparing and cooking them using her own family recipes. 

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Following a feast for the senses, guests can explore the nearby villages for a bona fide opportunity that involves partaking in the slow-paced lifestyle of a bygone era. Visit remote hamlets like Kengtou – previously named 18 Miles Peach Blossom Stream; Sixi Yancun, with its ancient charm and Qing dynasty bridges; or totally-off-the-grid Xindu and its nearby tea-processing factory.

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In addition to the village dining experiences, the couple have also designed a set of hiking, biking and of-interest village maps for their guests to use. From grueling 10-kilometer treks through forests, across tea fields and into tiny villages, to relaxing bike rides passing by farms and corn fields, they pride themselves on finding something special and appealing, no matter what their guests seeks out of a vacation. 

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Ed and Selina are also the owners of Victoria House, an English Country Manor located in the Jiangxi countryside, just 20 minutes from Wuyuan Railway Station. Hiking, local dining and village exploration packages can also be booked through Victoria House upon request. 

READ MORE: Victoria House, the Jiangxi Countryside English Manor Getaway

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March and April see the largest influx of tourists for the sea of yellow rapeseed flowers that cover the rolling hills and small villages, but Wuyuan really is a year-round destination, with outdoor activities and distinct natural benefits found in all four seasons – plus a year-round evolving selection of local crops to be harvested, cooked and presented as regional delicacies to guests interested in learning about seasonal produce.

The Local Ladies Lunch Club: Village Dining Package Details 

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To partake in this one-of-a-kind village dining experience, guests at Skywells (or Victoria House) can visit one or two locations, with varying package options. For those tight on time, there's a local dining option located in Sixi Yancun, the village in which Skywells is situated. Here, one of the ayis and her mother will cook a lovely lunch for you in their home.

The second location brings diners "off the beaten track" to the Kengtou village, a 40-minute drive from Skywells, with the option to add on a five-kilometer hike through the wild-pathed hilltops, arriving in Kengtou with hungry tummies. 

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Please note that this village dining experience is not suitable for strict vegetarians as pork lard is a fundamental part of the cooking process within the villages. All cooking packages must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. 

Option 1: Village Foodie Package, RMB700/two people

This package includes:

  • One dinner at Skywells (for two people)

  • One Local Ladies Lunch in Kengtou (for two people), including roundtrip Kengtou to/from Skywells taxi

  • One local Ladies Lunch in Sixi Yancun (for two people) with 1 beer included per person

Option 2: One Time Village Lunch, RMB200/two people 

This package includes:

  • One Local Ladies Lunch in either Kengtou or Sixi Yancun (for two people) – price excludes taxi fee to/from Kengtou if you choose that village destination.

*Neither of the packages include train station pickup, village entry fee, room fee, further alcohol. 

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How To Book 

To book a room and/or village cooking package through Wuyuan Skywells, call +86 199 7030 8207 or email frontdesk@wuyuanskywells.com


To read a travel guide to Wuyuan, click here.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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