In my recent trip to Tongli, I was treated to many fine Suzhou-style cuisine. And on the final night, we threw a banquet for all the business associates at the local resort.
It was the end of a two-day conference. There was a lot of brainstorming for the year to come, plenty of discussions and finally we all were exhausted from all the serious stuff. On the final evening, we threw a thank-you dinner to all who made their way to Tongli despite the pandemic across the world. And what a long Chinese banquet it was.
The restaurant is built on a stone boat on a man-made lake that was rugged out to combine nearby smaller lakes into one large lagoon. According to my Chinese friends, the building of these kinds of stone boats and buildings are banned since 2018, so this would be the last of its kind.
Eight Appetisers 精美八冷碟
And the dinner started with 8 cold appetisers that were already placed on the Lazy Susan when we arrived.
Braised Cow’s Head 鸿运当头
The first hot course came with pomp and a really auspicious name, a whole cow’s head skeleton was placed on the table, horns and all. All the parts of the cow’s head had been braised in a savoury brine. You get sliced tongue, slice cheek meat (very tender, my favourite part), and other unrecognisable parts.
Carp Fish Head with Bean Curd Casserole 千岛湖鱼头炖豆腐
I ate a piece of tofu – it was a business dinner, and I was the host so I was mingling more than enjoying the dinner.
Braised Turtle in Red Sauce 红烧甲鱼
I love turtle as a dish. This is not a common ingredient in Western cuisine, but it is featured in Chinese and Japanese cooking as a tonic for good health. The meat is like a very tender chicken and almost not fats. All the fats are stored under the back shell, which also contains the soft bone tissues that are full of collagen. It tasted much better than it looked.
Boiled Marsh Shrimps 白灼基围虾
OK, we were far from a marsh because we were quite inland. So these shrimps were from somewhere further and were as fresh as the live ones we used to have in Shenzhen.
Double-Boiled Bamboo Shoot Goose Soup 竹笋炖老鹅汤
A hot soup one third into the dinner to dilute the amount of alcohol that would have been imbibed by this time.
Braised Bamboo with Yellow Eel 茭白烧野黄鳝
I used to dislike eel because of its appearance, but I grew to love it more and more after I was introduced to all the different ways it can been cooked in Shanghai and Japan. This version, the entire eel was chopped into pieces and then cooked with yellow wine, garlic, preserved vegetables and fresh bamboo shoots. A bit of every good taste (sweet, salty, umami) in one dish.
Shepherd’s Purse with Tofu Casserole 荠菜豆腐煲
Shepherd’s Purse is herb/vegetable that is commonly found in the wild that has a slight bitter taste. It is often collected and salted to add flavours to soup and casserole. It was especially important in this casseroled as it lent its distinct flavours to the bland tofu.
Steamed Grouper 清蒸石斑鱼
Simple steamed farmed fish.
Water Shield and White Bait Soup 莼菜银鱼羹
Classic soup from the Jiangzhe cuisine – the water shield is an aquatic plant that is found in abundance around the waters of Jiangsu. It has a gelatinous slime when cooked and borrowed all the umami from the white bait that is also found in the nearby waterways.
Grilled Salt and Pepper Lamb Chops 椒盐烤羊排
Would have been great if it wasn’t for one, cold, and also sprinkled with cumin.
Sweet Glutinous Balls with Red Bean Soup 红豆沙小丸子
First of two desserts, a warm dessert for a cold autumn night.
Two Dimsum Pastries 点心双拼
Two sweet pastries before the complimentary fruit platter to end the dinner with – black glutinous rice with lotus seed and dried dates, and osmanthus coconut jelly.
Salted Egg Pumpkin Fries 黄金南瓜条
These came after the desserts, and caused the dinner to be dragged on for another hour and more alcohol imbibed.
Baked Salted Egg Mud Crab 味蛋焗肉蟹
And the food kept coming after the desserts were served.
Pumpkin, Taro and Gorgon Fruit 南瓜芋鸡头米
A bit like the Teochew yam paste, it is sweet course, with pumpkin and yam cooked to a mash.
Stir-Fry Vegetable 清炒时蔬
Yes, it was served four courses after the first dessert.
Suzhou-style Noodles 奥灶面
Suzhou’s specialty, noodles with a braised soup base served as the main course for this banquet. We had this noodles for lunch at a local noodle store on the first day and loved it. But when served as a portion for 12 people, the flavours were lost.
Tongli has evolved since I went there 16 years ago. It grew from a sleepy water village, to a bustling tourist attraction. While newer water towns like Wuzhen has sprung up and competed for business, this place still hold a special place in my heart.
Tongli Lake Resort No.1 Ship Restaurant 同里湖度假村同里一号船餐厅
Tel : +86 512 6333 7888
Date Visited : Nov 2020
I had never seen duck tongue before! Interesting!
In Puerto Rico growing up, the only food we at which still had the head was pork (roasted pig) and some fish. My mom used to cover the fish head with a napkin so it couldn’t “look” at her 😅 I would definitely try the turtle, which I’ve never had before, but I think I’d cover the head like my mom. I’m not used to seeing that 🤗
These blogs you write are super interesting! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
I like roasted pig! It is a celebration dish for Chinese and in Asia. And my brothers and I would always fight for the pig’s tongue of the roasted pig 😉
That’s funny! It was the tail that the kids fought over in my family. Guess ’cause there’s also only one of those 😄
We eat fish heads very commonly, but these are huge freshwater carps and are actually sustainable because they are considered pests!