Hangzhou cuisine, one of China’s top eight culinary disciplines, is characterized by its sweet and light flavor. It features a delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables, often served in soup or by the liberal use of sugar and a myriad of sauces. Typical cooking methods include boiling, stewing, braising and simmering. The result is a fresh, tender, fragrant and rich flavor, either crispy or soft, but far from greasy. Due to its unrivaled cuisine, Hangzhou shines as a culinary paradise. Its dishes, desserts, dim sums and snacks, are simply irresistible for food aficionados.
Every traveler should sample Hangzhou's Top Ten Dishes. These including Dongpo Pork, Beggar’s Chicken, West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce, Shelled Shrimps with Dragon Well Green Tea, Jingle Bells, Sizzling Rice in Tomato Sauce, West Lake Water Shield Soup, Sister Song’s Fish Broth, Honey Ham and Stewed Spring Bamboo Shoots. For a taste of these as well as top snacks like Wu Hill Crisp Cakes, Happy Pairs and Cat’s Ears, you can head to Lou Wai Lou, the oldest culinary establishment in Hangzhou, or Zhi Wei Guan, a one-stop snack shop.
Here is a brief introduction of Hangzhou’s representative dishes and snacks:
Dongpo Pork (东坡肉)
Though its appearance fails to evoke a vision of deliciousness, this dish named after Su Dongpo, one of the most talented poets living in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), will surprise you for its succulent, juicy and savory taste.
Beggar's Chicken (叫花鸡)
No banquet will be complete without this famous dish of humble beginnings. Rumors had it that, when Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) was riding a horse along Qing He Fang Historic Street, he smelled something exceptionally aromatic. Looking around, he searched for the source of this fragrance only to find a beggar sitting in the corner and enjoying a roasted chicken. When the emperor’s escorts asked the beggar about the cooking method, they got a very simple answer: “You just need to clean it, muddy it and roast it.” Returning home, the imperial chefs prepared a chicken in this way, and it turned out to be the best one this emperor had ever tasted.
West Lake Carp in Sweet and Sour Sauce (西湖醋鱼)
Tender, sweet and sour, this dish has graced the dining tables of the local people for millennium. The most authentic version is prepared with carp from West Lake and seasoned with a special mixture of sauces that give it an appealing taste. Just be careful, because it is kind of tricky to pick out the bones.
Shelled Shrimps with Dragon Well Green Tea (龙井虾仁)
When the fresh shrimp from West Lake meets the famous Dragon Well Green tea leaves along those rolling tea plantations, a most famous delicacy takes form.
Jingle Bells (干炸响铃)
Fried bundles of tofu are a crunchy treat favored by both Hangzhou natives and international friends for their impeccable taste and arresting history. To prepare this dish, rolled-up sheets of tofu will be sprinkled with minced meat before being stir-fried to a golden color. This treat goes particularly well with sweet ketchup or thick soy sauce.
Sizzling Rice in Tomato Sauce (番茄锅巴)
To make this dish, paper thin and crispy rice crusts contained within bowls will be softened by steaming hot soup and seasoned with a tomato base which is both sweet and sour. It also involves shrimp which are netted in local waters. Take a bite, and you will fall in love with it instantly.
West Lake Water Shield Soup (西湖莼菜汤)
It could be the most famous, though not necessarily the most common soup served in Hangzhou’s restaurants. An aquatic plant thriving in West Lake is key to the success of this dish. This soup has an appealing color and is also rich in Vitamin C and iron.
This is often served as dessert at the end of a banquet. Happy Pairs symbolizes the star-crossed “Butterfly Lovers”, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the counterpart of Romeo and Juliet, and is a snack you do not want to miss. It is a kind of bun filled with an assortment of ingredients like ham, candied dates, chestnuts, plums, pine nuts, meat and Sweet Osmanthus flowers.