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December 1, 2011

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Crab and orange combine for a truly royal dish

GOURMANDS only have a few more days to indulge in hairy crabs. After that the little critters will hide out in their caves for the winter.

There is a long tradition of eating crabs in Hangzhou. The cuisine known as xieniangcheng has a history of nearly 1,000 years.

Eating crabs became more popular during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), when the city was the capital, because more seafood and freshwater fish were sent to the imperial court to serve the royal family.

Crab was at the top of the tribute list, and crab cuisine also headed the imperial banquet menu.

According to the book "Meng Liang Lu," or "Record of the Millet Dream," written by Wu Zimu and published in 1274, many crab dishes were developed during this period in the city's restaurants. The list included crab broth, chili crab, fried crab and crab marinated in alcohol.

Xieniangcheng is considered a graceful, luxurious way of having crab.

Xieniangcheng literally means fried crab meat steamed inside an orange.

Since oranges are not commonly used in Chinese cooking, this dish is considered quite special.

The creation of the dish may be due to the moving of the capital.

The Northern Song (960-1127) court moved from Bianjing (now Kaifeng in Henan Province) to Lin'an (now Hangzhou) and established the Southern Song Dynasty.

This allowed for the introduction of different ingredients, like more vegetables and freshwater food, into the cuisine.

Also, xieniangcheng is unique in Chinese food as the orange, rather than a bowl or plate, is used as the container. When the dish is served, the orange, with its top cut off, is placed in a glass cup or a bowl. The sliced white crab meat and the golden crab roe are inside the orange and mixed with the fruit's flesh and other seasonings.

The crab meat absorbs the fragrance of the orange. Juice from the orange also removes the crab roe grease and adds an appetizing flavor. While eating, people use a spoon and take their time to savor the flavor.

An ancient cookbook "Shanjia Qinggong" records a xieniangcheng recipe: Take a big orange and cut off its top. Remove most of the fruit. Stuff crab meat and crab roe into the orange and mix with the orange flesh and juice. Put the orange top back and steam it above water added with alcohol and vinegar. Eat with vinegar and salt.

Today, the recipe has been adapted by generations of chefs. Now the stuffing contains crab, pork, chufa and egg. The seasonings often include ginger, pepper, salt, vinegar and alcohol.

So when the tender crab meat is steamed with the creamy roe and orange flesh, the flavor is delicate and complex - sweet at first, then a bit sour before turning sweet again.

Generally, sliced crab meat and roe are a fixed food ingredient named xiefen (literally means crab powder), and are used in many dishes such as xiefen tofu and xiefen xiaolong (steam buns), which is served at many restaurants in Hangzhou.

Where to eat xieniangcheng:

? Zhiweiguan Restaurant

Address: 10 Yanggong Causeway

Tel: (0571) 8797-1913

Address: 83 Renhe Rd

Tel: (0571) 8701-8638

? Louwailou Restaurant

Address: 30 Gushan Rd

Tel: (0571) 8799-7416

? Yuqilin Restaurant

Address: 12 Dongpo Rd

Tel: (0571) 8708-6858


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