Hangzhou cuisine is currently one of the most popular and fashionable styles of cooking throughout China and especially in neighboring Shanghai. A wealth of "Hangzhou" inspired restaurants have shot up throughout the country and the cuisine from this city has been elevated to a superior status.
Hangzhou cooking is closely related to the local culture and characterized by natural flavor, beautiful presentation and a light and palatable taste. Dishes and deserts, which would ever been considerred as the main staple of the Hangzhou diet and recipes here usually contain a great deal of seafood including fish, shrimp, crab and oyster. Any flavor experience in Hangzhou should include at least the following local delicacies: Beggar´s chicken (an entire chicken roated in a ball of mud), West Lake Sweet and Sour Fish (vinegar coated fish from the lake) and braised pork and stewed shelled shrimp cooked in Longjing tea (Dragon Well Tea).
There is a very touching legend on Dongpo pork: in the Yuanyou Period in the Song Dynasty, as a local official in Hangzhou, Su Dongpo launched tens of thousands of workers to dredge the West Lake, build dikes and irrigate fields for the benefit of the people. During the Spring Festival in this year, people brought him much pork and wine called Shaojiu. Su thought that he should share with the workers, so he told his family to cook the pork and send it to the workers. Unexpectedly his family mistakenly cooked wine and meat together, as a result, the pork was extraordinary delicious. As Su Dongpo was a nice official and widely eulogized, the pork that was cooked in this way was called “Dongpo Pork“ by the local people. From then on, “Dongpo Pork“ has become a famous traditional dish of Hangzhou.
"West lake fish in vinegar Gravy", is a traditional and popular dish in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. This dish origin can be traced back to Song Dynasty.
"WestLakeFish in Vinegar Gravy" is also called "A treasure from a man and his sister-in-law". The story goes like this: Long long ago (The Song Dynasty), there were two brothers whose surname was Song. They were very knowledgeable, but they lived at West Lake by fishing. There also lived a rascal Mr. Zhao. Once, rascal Zhao was traveling along West Lake, he saw a beautiful women washing near the lake. When he was told that she was Elder Song's wife, he played an intrigue and killed Elder Song. Younger Song and Elder Song's wife were greatly infuriated by rascal's action. They sued to the local official, hoping to be treated with justice and the rascal be punished. But what beyond their expectation was that the official was in collaboration with rascal. The official gave them a heavy beat and threw them out of the feudal official, needless to say take care of their charge.
After they got home, Madam Song asked the brother-in-law to flee to other place to avoid being retaliated by rascal. On departure, Madam Song cooked a plate of special fish: she added sugar and vinegar in fish. Younger Song felt very strange and asked why. Madam Song told him: "Fish is sweet and sour, which symbolizes life is sweet and sour. I am intending to remind you of the sour life of common oppressed people and the grievance of your sister-in-law when you have a good life." Younger Song was greatly moved. He finished the fish and left, with those words in mind. Later, Younger Song succeeded in pursuit of his fame and came back to Hangzhou. He revenged for his elder brother, punished the rascal. But he couldn't find his sister-in-law. Once Younger Song was invited to have a dinner. In dinner, he found the taste of one dish was just the same as what he ate before leaving home. He immediately asked who made this, and knew it was just his sister-in-law. It was because that after Younger Song left home, his sister-in-law hid herself in an official as a cook to shun harass from rascal. Now they were very happy to see each other. Younger Song resigned and took his sister-in-law home. The again lived as fisherman.
In China, there are many dishes where the name originated from a folklore, legend, or story. Beggar's Chicken is another dish with an interesting history.
Legend has it that a homeless, starving beggar had a chicken but didn't have a stove to prepare it. Desperate for food, he came up with an idea. He killed the chicken and covered it with mud and baked it with fire...
A Qing-dynasty Emperor passed by. Attracted by the aroma of the baked chicken, he stopped and dined with the beggar. The Emperor loved the "Beggar's Chicken" so much that it was added to the list of dishes served at the Imperial court. Hence, Beggar's Chicken is also called "rich and noble chicken" in Beijing.
Beggar's chicken calls for a stuffed and marinated chicken, sealed tight with layers of lotus leaf, parchment paper/wax paper, and mud. This unique cooking technique produces the most tender, juicy, moist, and aromatic chicken that is bursting with intense flavors. The original taste of the chicken is perfectly retained and trapped inside the chicken. The bones just fall off the chicken after hours of baking, and the lotus leaf lends the signature mouthwatering "fragrance" to the chicken. Unattractive and even bizarre! in its appearance, beggar's chicken is a real Chinese delicacy that one should not miss out.
There are some good restaurants in Hangzhou serving up this cuisine in nice settings and with style. Perhaps the best place is the Louwailou restaurant on Solitary Island, but there are other places dotted around. Late at night (ie. after 10pm) the area around Hangzhou´s Fish Market really comes to life. This market is tucked just behind the lake on Yan´an Lu. It is a fun area and bursting with life. The fish is thrown out of the nets in front of the restaurants round here and diners can hand pick what they want to eat! It is very fresh and usually tasty and there is a really local and lively atmosphere about this place. Don´t worry if you don´t speak Chinese- just point instead! Also worth checking out are the Buffets that many of the larger hotels do. The one in The Shangri- La is particularly good.
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