If Suzhou is known for classical gardens, canals, fine silks, and beautiful women, Hangzhou has a different set of attributes. With West Lake at its heart, it is surrounded by mountains on three sides, embodying the very essence of a traditional Chinese landscape painting. Pagodas and temples dot the landscape. Marco Polo was so enchanted by the place when he visited it in the 13th century that he described it as “beyond dispute, the finest and noblest [city] in the world”.
And then there is the food. Zhejiang cuisine, known as Zhe Cai (浙菜) in Putonghua, draws on the cooking styles of Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. Bamboo shoots, poultry, and fresh water fish are favoured ingredients. There are many types of both hot and cold dim sum. Some of the most popular dishes include Dong Po Pork, Beggar’s Chicken, and West Lake Fish Cooked in Vinegar. Flavours tend to be savory.
“Zhe cuisine is fragrant, crispy, and fresh,” says Ng Wing-kun, executive Chinese chef at the Futian Shangri-La, Shenzhen, China. “Fish and prawns are favoured.”
The cuisines of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces are often lumped together as Jiangnan (江南) Cuisine. This appellation is also sometimes also used to include the cooking styles of the other major cities in the region: Changzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Shanghai, Shaoxing, and Wuxi.
Jiangnan cuisine is very popular in Shanghai, and eateries outside the mainland serving it often position themselves as Shanghainese. This probably has more to do with the city’s fame than anything else. Among food experts, however, Shanghainese food – while very, very tasty! – was always considered to be rather unpretentious and – dare we say it? – a bit “working class”. At least that was how a chef I interviewed in Shanghai a couple of years ago put it. So Shanghainese cuisine did not rank among China’s Eight Great Cuisines. Interestingly enough, the same holds true for the nation’s capital, Beijing.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: West Lake at twilight, Hangzhou, China
Photo: courtesy of the Shangri-La Hotel, Hangzhou, China