Gourmet Trips

Eating in Hangzhou

Hangzhou cuisine features tender, light, and fresh food. The most famous Hangzhou dishes include West Lake fish in sweet and sour sauce, shelled shrimp with Dragon Well tea, and Dongpo pork. Here’s some more lesser known dishes from Hangzhou.

It was another lunchtime place around the CBD of Hangzhou. Surprising for a reasonable price, you can get a 10-course lunch. I forgot the name of this restaurant, but the chefs were allegedly from the other famous Hangzhou establishment Shan Wai Shan 山外山, so there’s a huge lunchtime crowd despite a huge location.

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While most of the dishes were quite normal, some of the classics were still quite good.

Jiangzhe Classics

盐水河虾 poached river prawn

盐水河虾 poached river prawn

Seemingly simple dish (again), but the temperature and timing controls are very important. A second more, the shrimp becomes too hard, a bit too hot the dish is ruined.

Here, it was OK, but I didn’t like the soy sauce base instead of a simple salt water base.

甜豆三丁 peas with ham

甜豆三丁 sweet peas with ham

It looks like a very simple stir-fry of peas, Jinhua ham, shrimps and bamboo shoots. But 甜豆三丁 sweet peas with ham is a Huaiyang classic, and that means it has a lot of work behind it. First the sweet peas are taken off pods of snow peas. The stock used to cook the peas is a strong chicken and Jihua ham bone stock. The ham is a must and the most authentic way to do it is Jihua ham. Then you have the bamboo shoots, diced and blanced with stock. The shrimp is the same used for 清炒虾仁 stir-fry shrimp, i.e. every shrimp has been properly deveined and perfectly white. So the red of the ham, the white of shrimp, the yellow of the bamboo shoot played in the sea of green.

Here they used frozen green peas and normal ham, so it was not so authentic.

 糯米粉蒸蛋糕 steamed glutinous rice cake

 糯米粉蒸蛋糕 steamed glutinous rice cake

Made famous by 朱一堂 located in the old town of 塘栖, the steamed glutinous rice cake is a traditional steamed kueh using glutinous rice. However the original has become so famous that everything has been mechanised and made from a factory, Luckily, the handcrafted cake has been passed down to many competent chefs (and housewives) in Hangzhou.

The cake is sweet and can be eaten as a dessert, but it is made from glutinous flour so it can be quite filling.

极品鱼头皇 seafood in a pot

极品鱼头皇 seafood in a pot

In the “lands of fish and rice” 鱼米之乡, as Chinese call the country’s regions of agricultural bounties, fish ball is a common food. Like in Hangzhou, Teochew, Fuzhou and Guangdong , fish ball is widely available. In the pre-refrigerator era, beating fresh fish into paste, and shaping the paste into spheres helps postpone its expiry date.

In the style of Hangzhou’s other famous restaurant, Shan Wai Shan 山外山, the seafood in a pot 极品鱼头皇 is made from a fish head casserole with additional ingredients like abalone mushrooms, shrimps, vegetables, etc. But the star of the casserole has always been the fishballs. Big, bouncy, crunchy to the bite, it tasted like a cross between tofu and fish cake with lots of umami.

猪头肉 pig face

猪头肉 pig face

Many cultures make a fine cuisine using the pig face. What is deemed a waste by most would be skilful transformed into another delicious form, like the Italian Porchetta de Testa. Here, they steamed the pig face and took out all the delicious morsels of skin and meat. And then it was stir-fried with aromatics. Only if they improved the presentation it would be a palatable dish.

Hangzhou, the new culinary capital of China?

While I had many good experiences in Hangzhou, it is hard to beat Hong Kong as the culinary capital. Two main reasons:

1/ Innovation – During all my visits, most of the restaurants were too conservative and stuck to the old, proven formula. Rightly so as the tourism trade expected it. As Hangzhou opens up to the world after the G20 summit and hosts the annual World Internet Congress, more and more are repeat visitors and Jiangzhe cuisine can only draw so much awe. The only one I have come across recently that improved on the solid foundation was West Lake Tea Chapter 西湖玉茶集, which was a refreshing.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, has been innovative and incorporated international cuisines into its base of Cantonese cuisine. As a result, many innovative dishes were created in the last decade salted egg coated prawns, etc.

2/ Acceptance – Locals have a very critical opinion of everything that’s not Jiangzhe cuisine. Even within Hangzhou, if it’s not Hangzhou style Jiangzhe cuisine, there would be criticism. It can be traced back to the long history of the region (over 2000 years) that made it the centre of the literary world and cultural heartbeat of China. So the pride is understandable.

But that also meant that other cuisines find it difficult to find a foothold here. Thus without strong competition, there would be innovation. As they say – Success needs friends, greater success needs competition.

Date Visited : Jun 2019

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