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May 9, 2010

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Refined, delicate food Four Zhejiang styles

BY the East China Sea, Zhejiang Province has a temperate climate, abundant products and a long culinary history. Regarded as the "land of fish and rice," Zhejiang features a wide variety of refined and delicate dishes.

Zhejiang cuisine (zhe cai) is one of the eight cuisines of China derived from the native cooking styles of the Zhejiang region. Its good name is associated with freshness, tenderness, softness and smoothness of taste.

Covering a large number of local food styles, Zhejiang cuisine mainly consists of Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shaoxing and Wenzhou cuisines, each having its own local characteristics.

Food made in the Zhejiang style is not greasy, having instead a fresh and soft flavor with a mellow fragrance.

It specializes in quick-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, simmering and steaming, supporting natural flavor and taste. Special care is taken in the cooking process to make the food fresh, crispy and tender.

Hangzhou cuisine is light, crisp, elegant and highly finished. It is characterized by elaborate preparation and varying techniques of cooking, such as sauteing, stewing and stir- and deep-frying and varies with the change of season.

Food from the coastal Ningbo is a bit salty and its people cook seafood as much as others cook pork. Specializing in steamed, roasted and braised seafood, Ningbo cuisine retains original freshness, tenderness and softness.

Shaoxing cuisine offers fresh aquatic food and poultry that has a special rural flavor, sweet in smell, soft and glutinous in taste, thick in gravy and strong in seasoning.

Shaoxing rice wine is used to tenderize meat and seafood in marinades, and to impart flavor to food.

Sometimes oil is used to give a heavy taste. Chefs are forbidden to use peppers.

Wenzhou style is known for delicious seafood and light and delicious dishes.

Each of the four traditions is noted for its special flavors and taste, and they are all characterized by the careful selection of ingredients, emphasizing minute preparation and unique freshness and tenderness.

Hangzhou cuisine encompasses a variety of dishes and Zhi Wei Guan Restaurant serves a fusion of traditional and modern meals. Boasting nearly 100 years history, it is the only restaurant serving Zhejiang cuisine at Expo.

Zhi Wei Guan Restaurant, founded in 1913 in Hangzhou, proudly flaunts its splendid history by dishing out local delicacies and snacks, ranging from won ton soup and xiaolongbao (small steamed pastries), to noodles and desserts and lip-smacking dim sum.

Hangzhou's well-known traditional dishes and snacks such as West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy, Dragon Well Tea Shrimp, Beggar's Chicken, West Lake Water Shield Soup, Zhi Wei Guan's Steamed Buns and Cat's Ear Noodles are best-sellers.

Four representative dishes

Best represented by some famous Hangzhou dishes, Zhejiang cuisine includes many favorite and long-celebrated meals like Beggar's Chicken, Dongpo Pork, West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy and Madam Song's Fish Soup.

Songsao Yugeng

(Madam Song's Fish Soup)

This signature Zhejiang-style dish dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and has been a favorite dish for over 800 years. Using sea bass as its main ingredient, the soup also contains ham, bamboo shoots, fungus, egg yolk and other seasoning. With chicken soup as the base, Madam Song's Fish Soup has a very rich taste of sweetness and freshness but is also a little sour. After being steamed, the fish need to be beaten in order to bring out the freshness of the flesh and to blend better with the chicken soup base. There is also a legend behind this amazing dish. Some believe that Madam Song, who lived with her brother-in-law near West Lake, first made the soup using ginger, vinegar and some rice wine. Her brother-in-law, who had caught a severe cold, recovered after eating the delicious concoction.

But it eventually became famous due to the praise of Song Gaozong, the emperor of the time. It is said that once the emperor, by chance, sampled the soup during a casual visit to West Lake, he was impressed by its thickness, rich flavor and freshness. The emperor granted Madam Song a huge amount of money because of her impressive cooking. After that, the dish gained wider fame and became admired by many noble people. Some even described it as better than crab soup.

Jiaohua Ji

(Beggar's Chicken)

Legend has it that Beggar's Chicken was accidentally invented by a starving beggar in Hangzhou during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). He stole a chicken and hid it in haste in mud near a riverbank, returning to retrieve it at night when its feathers were covered in mud. Without a cooker, he placed the entire chicken directly into an open fire. A tight clay crust formed as it cooked, and when it was cracked open the feathers came right off, exposing juicy tender meat and an incredible aroma. People today select fat and young chicken, clean the bird thoroughly and add seasoning before wrapping it with a whole lotus leaf then throwing it into a fire. It is aromatic, tasty and soft, with tender meat.

Dongpo Rou

(Dongpo Pork)

Red and bright in color, oily but not greasy, crisp but not soft, and with mellow juice, Dongpo Pork is braised with Chinese fermented wine then slowly stewed on low heat. The dish is named after its inspiration, Su Dongpo, a Song Dynasty writer and poet who served as a Hangzhou official. Legend has it that Hangzhou people once thanked Su for building the Su Causeway across West Lake by sending him pork and wine. He asked them to stew the pork and send it with the wine to thank workers dredging the lake. They misheard his instructions and cooked the pork in the wine before sending it, thus inventing a great culinary tradition.

Xihu Cuyu

(West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy)

Prepared with live grass carp from West Lake, this dish blends sweet and sour tastes with tender fish meat tasting like crab. Before the fish is cooked, it has to starve in clean water for one or two days to rid it of the smell of mud. It is cooked by being immersed in boiling water for about three minutes. The meal is completed by pouring on a sauce made up of water used to cook the fish plus vinegar, sugar, rice wine and soy syrup. The simple cooking method exemplifies the essence of Zhejiang cuisine -- maintaining freshness as much as possible.


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