Suzhou is just a half hour away from Shanghai by train, and is famous for its many gardens and silk. Another important export from Suzhou – the famous Suzhou Noodles. Today we tried one of the oldest noodle shop in Suzhou that has opened shop in Shanghai.
Songhe Noodles Shop
Songhe Lou 松鶴樓 was founded 2nd year of Emperor Qianlong Reign (1737). It started as a noodle shop but later progressed to become one of the famous restaurants in Suzhou, and some say China. Together with Beijing’s Quanjude, Yangzhou’s Fuchun and Hangzhou’s Louwailou, Songhe Lou is considered one of the four most famous ancient restaurants of China.
When the Communist took over China, Songhe Lou was nationalised and became a state-operated establishment. You used to need noodle tickets like these to eat in their restaurants during the days when all staples are rationed. During the privatisation drive in the 80s, the restaurant became part of the corporatised Songhe Lou dining group. And in 2019, they revived the 260 year old noodle house brand.
Since 2020, they have revived the old noodle shop brand and opened many franchises around the country, starting with Beijing and now Shanghai. This shop in Putuo was just opened in Jul 2021. There’s one in the basement of the mall at my office in Shanghai too.
Suzhou Noodles “奥灶面”
A good bowl of Suzhou noodles depends on five different aspects 面、露、汤、浇、青 – the noodle, the sauces, the soup, the toppings and the final touch of scallions. Every restaurant has its unique sauce and soup that gives the noodle its distinct flavour. This shop is famous for its red soup, i.e. braised meat sauce with fish, eel and pork soup.
Urban legend has it that the Emperor Qianlong (this guy appeared in many of my blogs) on one of his trip to Suzhou was so attracted to the fragrance coming from a dirty kitchen, he approached the lady manning the stove for a taste of the noodles she was cooking. After tasting the noodles and the soup, he declared that it was the best he had tasted and gave it the name “奥灶面” meaning literally “noodles from a dirty stove”. Of course when an emperor gave it such a name, nobody can say it sounded awful. Luckily, it really tastes so much better than its name.
Ordering the noodles for the uninitiated can be a daunting task as it is laden with codes – from the doneness of the noodles (硬面、烂面) to the amount of soup (紧汤、宽汤、拌面) to the amount of scallions (重青、免青). So just like your coffee order, you can do al dente noodle with normal red soup and lots of scallions and sautéed crab meat topping on the side.
The topping for the noodles is called 浇头 (“drizzled on top”) and you can choose to have them drizzled on the noodles before serving, or served separately called 过桥 (“over the bridge”).
This is a classic topping using boiled chicken marinated in yellow wine. These days we eat them as an appetiser instead of a noodle topping. But the older generation like the wine taste in the noodles.
The braise that has been used to stew the pork belly is used to stew the pig intestines. I usually would not put them directly into the noodles in fear of the cleaning process – there have been cases when they tasted bad.
Songhe Lou is famous for four toppings – braised pork belly in sauce 燜肉, marinated duck in sauce 滷鴨, sautéed shredded eel in hot oil and ginger 响油鱔糊 and sautéed shelled shrimp 清炒蝦仁. The marinated duck has been around for over a couple of century and used to be seasonal; but these days they are available all year round. I ordered the sautéed shrimp this time to go with the sautéed crab meat.
Sautéed crab meat 清炒蟹粉 used to be seasonal too, available only in the autumn months when the hairy crabs are fatten and full of roe. But with modern day refrigeration, they can be stored and available all year round. However, they are the best during the autumn months.
Some chose to eat the toppings separately, some dump it all in the soup or on dry noodles. I ate the chicken and intestines separately and dumped the crab meat and shrimps into the noodles.
八寶清涼綠豆湯 Double-boiled Dried Tangerine Peel Lily with Mung Bean Soup
To suite the modern palate, they have introduced many new dishes and desserts. One of them is this surprisingly delicious mung bean soup. In addition to the glutinous wine lee 酒釀 and other ingredients, I was surprised by the refreshing minty water used to boil the mung bean.
A really good and inexpensive eat in Shanghai. You can settle a satisfying lunch under ¥80, but to splurge you need to be prepared to spend ¥200. English menu available though none of the waiters speak English. But self-service ordering using WeChat mini app took away all those issues. Will go back when I am back in Shanghai.
Songhe Noodles Shop 松鶴樓麵館
Multiple locations in Shanghai
Date Visited : Jul 2021