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A Bite of Hangzhou:where and what to eat in Hangzhou

Hangzhou, since first being established as a county in the Qin Dynasty, has a history of over 2200 years. Back in the time, it acted the capital of both Wuyue Kingdom and the Southern Song Dynasty, and now rose to fame internationally as the host city of 2016 G20 Summit and 2022 Asia Games and is a must-visit travel destination in China. Renowned for its enchanting scenery, it has long been known as “Paradise on Earth.” However, what Hangzhou has is way more than that. Hangzhou’s time-honored food culture earned the city the reputation of “Heavenly Capital of Food.”

01 Dishes

West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce
West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce is a traditional Hangzhou dish and should most definitely be on your list of things to try. Like the majority of Hangzhou’s dishes, West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce is favored not only for its palatable taste but also for the story lying behind it.

The story is a famous legend and goes something like this… Near the West Lake lived two Song brothers who made a living by fishing. The elder brother had a beautiful wife, Sister Song, who attracted the likes of a local villain and the only way this villain could get close to Sister Song was by murdering her husband, the elder brother. With no way of getting justice from the local government Sister Song had to hide from the villain and together with the younger brother they planned to leave their hometown.

During the farewell dinner and to remind the younger brother of his elder’s death Sister Song cooked a special fish dish which tasted both sweet and sour. Years later the younger brother came back as a high-ranking official and avenged his brother and found Sister Song then resigned his post to live a simple life by the West Lake with her. Since then, West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce has been handed down, generation to generation.

Following fiction there is fact… once a man, who was so enchanted by the amazing taste of West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce, wrote a poem on the restaurant’s wall to praise it and following that a constant stream of people went to taste it and then the dish gained in popularity.

Where to Eat:Lou Wai Lou

Dongpo Pork
This famous dish is named after Su Dongpo, a governor of ancient Hangzhou and a great poet, prose writer and calligrapher too. During his term, as governor, he started the thorough dredging of the West Lake, a project involving thousands of workers and which benefited the local people immensely.

It is no secret that Su Dongpo liked eating pork so, in order to express their gratitude, the local people, during Chinese New Year, presented Su Dongpo with a lot of pork and Shaoxing Wine (a type of cooking wine in Chinese cuisine). Su Donpo knew all too well that it was the workers who truly deserved the gift, so he told his family to stew together with the pork and Shaoxing Wine and distribute the resulting dish to the workers. It turned out that the pork was extremely tasty and because of Su Donpo’s kindness Dongpo Pork became widely favored by all.

The pork used for this dish needs to be half fat and half lean and is usually cut up into cubes. Then the pork, along with vinegar, scallion, ginger, and sugar, is left to stew in a sealed casserole dish over a low heat for about one hour. The pork cooked in this way glows red and is as soft as tofu and while it may be glutinous it is nowhere near greasy.

Where to Eat:Shan Wai Shan

Shelled Shrimps with Dragon Well Green Tea
Combining succulent shelled shrimps with freshly picked Dragon Well tea leaves results in a much sought-after Hangzhounese dish, a local specialty both highly recommended and swimming in flavour.

To prepare this dish the Dragon Well Tea’s elegantly dark green leaves need to be picked around Tomb-Sweeping Day in early spring and the shrimps, selected from local rivers, need to be fresh and as white as snow. The two ingredients both distinct in colour and texture are then combined together to form a dish oozing in flavour and aroma.

Where to Eat:Hangzhou Restaurant

Fried Eel Slices
Fried Eel Slices has gained much fame in Hangzhou. As the name suggests, this dish is prepared out of eel slices. It applies the cooking method prevailing in the northern China by stir-frying eel slices with garlic, which is a typical example of “cooking ingredients of the southern China with the cooking method of the northern”. Eel slices cooked in this way combines the intoxicating fragrance of the garlic with the tender texture of eels, which is of unique flavor. In recent years, renowned chefs in Hangzhou has developed their own way to cook the dish, that is, to deep fry eel slices until partially cooked and then to braise the dish lightly to gain a soft “skin”.

Hangzhou’s version of Fried Eel Slices features appetizing smell, sour and sweet flavor, and is crisp outside but tender inside, catering to every taste.

Where to Eat:Wang Runxing Restaurant

02 Snacks

Pian Er Chuan Noodles
Pian Er Chuan Noodles is a signature noodle dish of “the Noodle King of Jiangnan” — Kuiyuan Restaurant. This restaurant has a history of more than one hundred years. Your trip to Hangzhou won’t be complete without dining in Kuiyuan Restaurant.

It’s said that in the beginning, Kuiyuan Restaurant was a nameless restaurant with few customers. One year, many students flooded into Hangzhou to take the Provincial Imperial Examination. The owner of the restaurant specially made a kind of noodle (which is now Pian’erchuan) out of pork, bamboo shoots and potherb mustard for the students. There was a day when a poor student walked into the restaurant and ordered a bowl of noodles. Aware of the student’s difficulty, the owner took pity on him and put an extra three eggs in the noodles to wish him good luck. Unexpectedly, the poor student did pass the examination. Later he went back to the restaurant to express his gratitude. Learning that the restaurant had not been named yet he offered the restaurant a name ‘Kuiyuan Restaurant’. Kuiyuan Restaurant in Chinese indicates the place which can bring good luck to students taking examinations. Rapidly, Pian’erchuan and Kuiyuan Restaurant gained popularity.

Where to Eat:Kui Yuan Noodle Restaurant

Noodles with Quick-fried Eel Shreds and Shelled Shrimps
Of all those famous noodles of the Kuiyuan Restaurant, Noodles with Quick-fried Eel Shreds and Shelled Shrimps is the most popular. It features tender shrimps, crispy eel shreds, springy noodles and palatable chicken soup.

Its origin can be traced back to the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912). It’s said that back then the Qiantang River was rich in eels but shrimps were rare. Hence, shrimps were in great demand while eels were not. In order to sell out the relatively unpopular eels, fishermen started to sell shrimps and eels as a package. The Kuiyuan Restaurant used to cook noodles with shrimps. As a result of fishermen’s package deal, the restaurant changed the recipe of its old shrimp noodles by adding eels to it. It turned out that noodles with both shrimps and eels tasted even better. Gradually the noodles dish came into shape and was widely favored.

Where to Eat:Kui Yuan Restaurant

Cat’s Ear
Cat’s Ear is a notable refreshment of Hangzhou. It’s a kind of wheaten food cooked with chicken cubes, ham slices, dried scallops, dried mushrooms and sliced bamboo shoots.

There is a widespread story about its name. One day Emperor Qianlong (the sixth emperor of Qing Dynasty) disguised himself as a civilian and was taking a boat trip around West Lake when it began to rain. He hurried into the boat for shelter. But the rain went on for hours without stopping. Cold and hungry, Emperor Qianlong asked the old fisherman in the boat for something to eat. However, only having flour but no rolling pin, the old fisherman found it impossible to make noodles. Qianlong felt quite upset when the old fisherman’s granddaughter came in with her little cat and said: ‘I can make noodles without a rolling pin.’ Then the girl used her bare hands to mold the dough into shell-shaped noodles, cooked them in boiling water and served them with sauce. Immediately Emperor Qianlong was attracted by the tasty noodles and inquired about its name. The girl answered: They are like cat’s ears, so it’s Cat’s Ear.

Where to Eat:Weizhuang Restaurant

Deep Fried Jingle Bells
Deep Fried Jingle Bells is called Ganzha Xiangling in Chinese. Ganzha means deep fry, while Xiangling means jingling bells.

Legend has it that on its first appearance, Deep Fried Jingle Bells (Ganzha Xiangling) didn’t have the same name or look that it has now. There was a time when a traveler passing through Hangzhou ordered this dish in a local restaurant to go with his wine. Rather disappointedly the man found the restaurant had just run out of a crucial ingredient needed to cook the dish — tofu skin. However, he wouldn’t let it go. When he was told that tofu skin was made in Sixiang area he jumped onto his horse and rushed straight to Sixiang to get tofu skin. Moved by the man’s passion for the dish, and inspired by his jingling horse bells, the cook elaborately shaped the food into horse bells to mark the occasion. That’s how Deep Fried Jingle Bells came into shape.

Where to Eat:Shan Wai Shan

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