Posts tagged ‘west lake’

Hangzhou Food Guide

When I first came to Shanghai, I was surprised by how sweet, oily and heavy the local Shanghainese food tasted. Shanghainese food is a close cousin to Hangzhou food, which is sweet but very light and delicate. Most restaurants I have tried in Hangzhou outshine those in Shanghai, and my favorite restaurant in China is also located in Hangzhou. Here are some of the most famous Hangzhou dishes, and some recommendations for where to try them.

Dongpo Pork: Named after a famous poet who was also appointed governor of Hangzhou twice, Dongpo pork is a very fatty piece of pork that is slowly cooked with wine and lots of sugar. While this dish might not look appetizing, a square of very fatty pork served with the pork fat and the skin in tact, this dish is so delicate and tender that you won’t have too much time to fixate on its presentation. Also, all of my local girlfriends proclaim that it’s good for their skin, which makes ordering pork fat easier to justify.

Beggar’s Chicken: This dish will not win any prizes for presentation either. It is typically served still encased in a layer of dried mud. Contrary to how it might look, the chicken is actually very juicy because it is soaked in Shaoxing wine (a sweet rice wine), baked with fried pork, and wrapped with lotus leaves. When served, the clay is smashed on your table for effect, which will release a very strong fragrance of lotus leaves and ginger. Be warned though, don’t order this dish for two people, even though every server in Hangzhou will try to sell it to you. There’s just no way you can finish it.

Sweet and Sour Carp: Probably the simplest dish, but also one of the tastiest, this is traditionally prepared with a West Lake grass carp. The fish is simply boiled for three minutes, and then a sugar and vinegar sauce is poured over it. The fish tastes so delicate that it tastes similar to crabmeat. Just be cautious of the bones that can accompany this and most fish dishes in China.

Shrimp with Dragon Well Tea: Aside from great fresh-water seafood, Hangzhou is also famous for its Dragon Well tea. For this dish, shelled fresh-water shrimp and Dragon Well tea leaves are cooked together. The aroma of the green tea serves as a great balance to the gaminess of the shrimp. The color contrast is also beautiful.

West Lake Water Shield Soup: this is the only dish that that I don’t “love” in Hangzhou. Although very unique and distinctive in its lack of taste, the soup is, well, not very tasty. However, it is very light, and a very healthy balance to rich Hangzhou meals. The soup is prepared with the West Lake Water Shield (a plant that grows in West Lake) and minced chicken slices. This is one dish that you can only find in Hangzhou, and it is quite refreshing. When not cooked properly, though it can taste a little slimy.

Restaurant Recommendations:
Crystal Garden: My all-time favorite. The food there is always fresh, delicate and perfectly balanced. Every dish is perfect, but I highly recommend its house specials, which are arguably better than the Hangzhou classics.

Louwailou: To taste the classics, you can’t go wrong with this restaurant nestled inside the West Lake grounds. Albeit the service can be testy, its well-known for a reason.


August 24, 2009 at 4:04 am 1 comment

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