Most locals in Suzhou swear by a bowl of hot mutton soup.
As the days gets colder, almost nothing can beat a bowl of steaming mutton soup if you want to keep warm. As it happens every winter, mutton shops mushroom on almost every street corner in Suzhou, in Jiangsu province.
People living on the south bank of the Yangtze River love mutton, but what many people don't know is that Suzhou is one place that excels when it comes to preparing it.
In late autumn, the hairy crabs taste the best, and when the season of crustacean meal ends, a bowl of hot mutton soup adds the final touch in winter.
However, for many Suzhou residents, drinking mutton soup in winter is not so much about keeping warm as it is about maintaining a tradition.
Most visitors see Suzhou as gentle and elegant and expect the food to be as refined.
So it is hard for them to imagine that mutton soup is part of the fare. But if you want to find out how much the people of Suzhou love their mutton, just count the number of mutton shops in Suzhou.
Some of the best mutton in the area comes from Cangshu town. But when Cangshu mutton first began making news many were puzzled given that the town has no tradition of raising sheep.
In fact, the town sources sheep from across the country.
The reputation comes from the fact that the locals are fastidious about how their meat is cooked.
Cangshu mutton is all about freshness, and to ensure this the animals are often slaughtered on site.
Also, in order to release the taste of the meat, Cangshu mutton is prepared using a method where the lamb is cooked in a wooden barrel.
Another popular mutton dish comes from Suzhou's Shuangfeng ancient town.
Shuangfeng mutton noodles appeared in the early 1900s when Meng Ajun, who lived in the west of the town, opened a shop called "Meng Yong Mao".
The restaurant is famous for its heavy soup and fine noodles, and the noodles have a unique flavor.
In the late 1980s, as private enterprise took root, mutton noodle shops sprang up all over the town.
Later, in 1990, the Qifeng Hotel, which specializes in mutton noodles, was set up on the west side of National Road 204. A year later, there were 13 mutton noodle shops in the town.
Then, in order to standardize the quality of the mutton noodles, the local government took the lead in monitoring the shops for quality.
Shuangfeng mutton is made from a local breed of goats.
Now, as demand grows and tastes change, the traditional bowl of mutton noodles has evolved to meet the demands of customers.
So the full mutton feast was created in the 1990s comprising mutton, blood and body parts.
The local government built the "Top Quality Lamb Food Street" in 2009, and it now comprises 11 specialty mutton restaurants.
Separately, the authorities have been holding the Blessing Culture and Lamb Food Festival since 2007.
During the festival, a mutton food show and competition are organized, and cultural performances such as a dragon dance and a lion dance are held. In September 2008, Shuangfeng town was designated "Hometown of Chinese Lamb Food" by the China Cuisine Association, and "the full mutton feast" was awarded the special gold medal at the "Fourth Sheep Industry Development Conference" held in September 2007.
Shuangfeng mutton noodles comprise red soup and handmade noodles besides the succulent meat.
So, if you find yourself in Suzhou on a cold night and are hungry, go to a mutton shop for a bowl of hot mutton soup or mutton noodles.