Jiangnan refers to the region just south of the lower reaches of China’s legendary Yangtze River. It includes the northern parts of Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces and the southern parts of Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Important cities include Changzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Shanghai, Shaoxing, and Wuxi – as well as the legendary twin cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou, reputedly the loveliest cities in all China. Suzhou is located in Jiangsu Province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.
According to an old Chinese saying, there is heaven above and the cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou below. Something is lost in the translation, of course, because in Chinese this saying forms a rhyming couplet, and there is no way to make that rhyme in English. But you get the idea. Suzhou and Hangzhou are considered to be as close as you can get to heaven on earth.
Suzhou is known for many things. There are classical gardens, which are thought of as a poetic mix of natural and man-made elements, creating a restful sense of peace and tranquility. It is also known for the canals that crisscross the landscape. Then there are the fine silks and beautiful women. According to legend, they are the comeliest in the country. And finally comes the food of Jiangsu province, considered to rank among China’s Eight Great Cuisines. Jiangsu cuisine draws on the cooking styles of Nanjing, Suzhou, and Wuxi. It is known as Yang Cai (扬菜), Huaiyang Cai (淮揚菜), or Su Cai (苏菜) in Mandarin
Braising and stewing are the primary cooking techniques. Lion’s head – ground meat in the shape of a lion’s head – is one of the most popular dishes. Crab powder enhances the taste. There are various interpretations of the dish, but the two most popular are braised in a clear soup or red-cooked in a dense soup. I prefer the latter.
“The use of fresh ingredients is a key element in Yang cuisine,” says An Wing-kun, executive Chinese chef at the Futian Shangri-La, Shenzhen, China.. “Special attention is paid to the presentation of the dish – especially in terms of colour and shape.”
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: Suzhou is cross-crossed by canals
Photo Credit: courtesy of the Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou, China