Food enthusiasts find 'paradise on earth' in Hangzhou
Updated: 2011-10-28 08:06
By Ye Jun (China Daily)
There are 21 dining establishments along Dadou Food Street, half of them home-style restaurants. Photos by Jiang Nan / China Daily
The sublime scenery of West Lake is not the only attraction in Hangzhou. Considered "paradise on earth" by the Chinese since ancient times, the tourist city also has a wealth of culinary traditions that make it a paradise for gourmets.
Locals can easily give you a list of more than 10 food centers - places such as Wulin Square, Gaoyinjie Street, Shengli River and Nanshanlu Road that are already established among foodies.
But two new epicurean destinations promise a shortcut to understanding new developments in cuisine, not just in Hangzhou, but also in China.
As night falls, Zhongshan South Road lights up with warm yellow lamps on more than 100 food carts lining the street that offer some 500 gustatory varieties.
Different from many such streets offering local food, the carts here provide some great samples of xiaochi - or quick food - from around the world and throughout China.
Prepare yourself for a diverse culinary exploration. It could be a bit of a surprise to see lamb kebabs prepared by locals from Xinjiang and roast lamb gigot made freshly on the spot by people from Inner Mongolia.
You soon realize most food carts sell something different from the next - barbequed squid Korean style, Northeast China's boiled dumplings, fried dishes made spicy Sichuan style, and even Japanese sushi and sashimi.
But the majority of foods are still local - mud-wrapped roast chicken and Hangzhou quick-fried dishes that leave vegetables and fish looking very fresh.
An elderly woman cooks cakes stuffed with diced bamboo sprouts and preserved vegetables, a local delicacy. You can follow your nose to find crispy Hangzhou smelly bean curd, which actually tastes delicious.
Zhongshan South Road is adjacent to an old Drum Tower with a pagoda at its southern end. In the old part of Hangzhou - an imperial city in ancient times - the other end of the pedestrian street leads to a square built around the ruins of an ancestral temple from the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The old lanes in the area are being renovated while keeping the ancient architectural style. The food street is in fact part of the local government's effort to revive and restore the old city.
In addition to food carts, Zhongshan South Road has a row of "proper" restaurants representing different regions of China.
The local management has obviously gone to great effort to attract restaurants that have already established themselves nationally.
Xi'an Fanzhuang Restaurant, for example, is a famous eatery from its namesake city in Shaanxi province. It offers dishes popular throughout China, such as sour and spicy cold noodles, and boiled flour cake in lamb soup.
Or try some of their signature "gourd" chicken, which is marinated, boiled, steamed and then deep fried, providing a taste flavorful and soft on the inside with crispy skin.
The Shen Dacheng restaurant chain founded in Shanghai more than 100 years ago has a branch on Zhongshan South Road that makes classic Shanghai dim sum including steamed pork buns with crab roe, crab roe with bean curd and sauted pork buns. The restaurant offers great value for price.
For some genuine local delicacies, visitors can't resist the temptation of Nansong Shiba Xian - 18 delicacies of Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) - Restaurant. Its West Lake vinegar fish is ever so tender. The restaurant has a secret recipe for making soft dough ball soup, leaving it soft and elastic, served in a tasty bowl of clam and shrimp soup.
The food street also has restaurants from Fujian, Nanjing, Xi'ning, Kunming and Chongqing representing their regional cuisines, in addition to a teahouse.
While Zhongshan South Road is in the middle of downtown Hangzhou, Dadou Lu food street is located in the north of the city next to the historic Grand Canal.
Along the Grand Canal
River shrimp and clams are among the popular dishes at Yunhe A'Er restaurant.
The canal, which starts in Beijing and ends Hangzhou, is the oldest and longest in the world. Buildings in the Dadou Lu area have been restored to their traditional Chinese architectural style.
One can admire the canal along Dadou food street, either by day when water traffic is busy, or at night, when lights illuminate the watercourse - or even take a boat, the city's "water bus", to reach the food street from within the city.
The recently rebuilt Xiangji Temple also adds allure to the area. It is the only temple in China worshiping a Bodhisattva who was a cook - one that protected his temple from bandits during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
At night the temple is also picturesque, with rows of red lanterns lighting its wooden rooftops.
There are 21 eateries along Dadou Food Street, half of them home-style restaurants, with the other half clubs and more high-market restaurants. The majority serve local cuisine, with three restaurants - Yunhe A'Er, Green Tea and Jiang Nan Yi - representatives of a new school of Hangzhou food.
Yunhe A'Er is popular for three styles: nutritious slow-boiled soups, river shrimp and clams, and country-style local dishes. A clay pot of soup is prepared inside a huge urn with charcoal for more than 6 hours. Sauted flowery clams, boiled red fish with crab and razor clam are simple, but exceedingly delectable, just because they are so fresh. No MSG or other chemicals are used in the food.
Shui Tian Fan Restaurant, on the other hand, is a good example of an up-market dining experience. The interior is designed in natural Hangzhou style with private rooms including courtyards, bamboo, fountains and open-air spaces. One feels calm and in harmony with the nature while dining.
The food at Shui Tian Fang offers cuisines from Hangzhou, Guangdong, Sichuan and Fujian. Dishes are beautifully laid out, tasting light, but delicious. It includes an array of seafood, and plenty of healthy, tasty dishes.
After a good meal one can sip a nice cup of Longjing - Dragon Well - tea at San Run Jun teahouse, or good latte at Palmax, a film-themed caf. After that, you can relax with a foot massage or a full-body massage at Yi Shui, a courtyard style health club.
The city of Hangzhou will not be just remembered by the eye, but also by the tongue. It is a place to come back to for one more exploration of great tastes and fantastic foods.