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Local Eats: Cang Shu Lamb

“藏书羊肉” (Cang Shu Yang Rou)  If you have been living in the Jiangsu province for a while, you have probably come across these four words many times.  Today, City Weekend sheds some light on this traditional Jiangsu delicacy.

As its name suggests, the origins of this dish began in the town of Cang Shu, in the Western area of Suzhou (within the Taihu Basin).  The Taihu Basin was an important area for the early development of the Chinese especially in terms of agriculture and livestock production.  In the Zhou dynasty, there were official positions in the court directly translated to be the “Sheep men”.  The area of Cang Shu, being naturally surrounded by hills and vegetation, was a perfect natural environment for the rearing of sheep, and hence, since the early days, the entire chain of rearing, selling, killing and cooking of sheep thrived in Cang Shu. 

During winter, the locals had the custom of consuming more food that provided energy or vitality to fight against the cold weather.  Lamb was slowly recognized to be able to provide certain immunity due to its nutrition, leading to a common saying “A bowl of lamb soup in the winter, and you won’t need to see a doctor”.

Initially, cooked lamb was sold on the roadside by people carrying the food with a pole and loads on both sides.  It was only till the Qing Dynasty that the first stores were open in Suzhou city.  Today, there are over 600 stores in Suzhou.

Hoping into a random Cang Shu Lamb restaurant in the New District, we ordered an 80rmb portion of lamb.  The sliced boneless lamb pieces came up in a broth with glass noodles, cabbage, tofu and lamb blood.  The lamb was cooked (boiled) beforehand and there was a heater on the table to bring the broth to a boil before consumption. 

Usually, nothing other than salt is added to the broth, and the most important part of this dish is that there is no strong lamb smell or taste in the meat that lamb usually has.  The chilli sauce placed on every table is also a must for spice lovers.  The taste will probably differ from store to store, but as a traditional Suzhou dish, we give it a thumbs up.



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