Famous foods in our 3 host cities!
After leaving Beijing last summer, there was one thing I missed more than anything. Yes the Chinese family I stayed with was lovely, the friends that I made were great, the city was so exciting… but more than anything else, I really missed Chinese food!
In the west, at least in England, Chinese food is often associated with being an end-of-the -week takeaway treat. Many families will be seen with plates piled high of egg-fried rice and sweet and sour chicken whilst watching Saturday-night TV. I expected as much, only to find that Chinese Chinese food was delicious and actually healthy. Another thing that I had no idea about is that Chinese food varies greatly depending on the geographical region. Let’s take a look at the typical dishes in our 3 cities…
- Hangzhou -
01 Victory Cake
This cake originated during the Song Dynasty. With a light spongy texture and a sweet flavor with a soft centre, it's a great sweet treat that is still consumed today! It is made with glutinous rice flower to make the sponge with a filling of bean paste mixed with sugar.
According to legend, people made this special dessert to inspire their soldiers which is why there are the Chinese characters “定胜[ding shèng]” on the cake, meaning victory which is where the name of the cake comes from!
If you have a sweet tooth, this is something you definitely don’t want to miss out on!
02 Dongpo Pork
This is a very rich dish, composed of an incredibly tender pork belly that has been cooked for a couple of hours in wine giving it a delicious fragrance.
Specifically, it is made by pan-frying and then stewing. The pork is cut thick, about two square inches, and should consist equally of fat and lean meat with the skin left on. The dish is named after the Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo.
03 Longjing Prawns
This elegant and fresh dish is very famous in Hangzhou. Fresh prawns from the local rivers are cooked with new longjing tea, giving it a light and fragrant flavor. According to legend it arose when the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty visited Southern China. Hangzhou's famous Louwailou restaurant is a well-known producer of Longjing prawns.
If you plan to visit Hangzhou, be sure to reserve a table at Louwailou and Longjing Prawns will be one of the most recommended dishes on the menu!
- Shanghai -
01 Xiaolongbao- soup Dumplings
Xiaolongbao is a type of Chinese steamed bun (baozi) from the Jiangnan region, originally from Shanghai. These are dumplings with a pork, vegetable or shrimp filling in a delicious hot broth.
It is traditionally prepared in Xiaolong, which is a kind of small bamboo steaming basket, which gives them their name. Xiaolongbao is often referred to as a kind of "dumpling", but should not be confused with British or American-style dumplings, nor with Chinese jiaozi. They are also called a "soup dumpling" because they are filled with hot soup and must be eaten carefully!
Xiaolongbao is such a popular dish in Shanghai that you can easily find it in all kinds of Chinese restaurants. People especially like to eat it for breakfast with congee and pickles.
02 Sweet and Sour Pork
Sweet and sour pork is arguably one of the most popular Chinese dishes in the West. The pork is coated and fried until crispy, with tons of nooks and crannies that catch the sweet and sour sauce.
The key to making a good sweet and sour pork is to make a crispy pork and a sauce that uses no added water. This ensures strong flavors that can clear your sinuses and satisfy any sweet tooth, not a watered down weak sauce that you get in a lot of restaurants and take-out places.
If you ask Chinese people to recommend Chinese dishes for you, sweet and sour pork will definitely be one of the top recommendations!
- Beijing -
Bingtanghulu is a traditional Northern Chinese snack of a candied fruit called Chinese hawthorn (山楂). It consists of fruits covered in hard candy on bamboo skewers which are approximately 20cm long. People often mistake tanghulu for regular candied fruits, however, they are coated in a hardened sugar syrup. This sweet and sour treat was made in ancient times, yet many people today still eat this in northern China.
The two common names for the confection literally mean "sugar bottle gourd" and "rock sugar bottle gourd," respectively. The "sugar" or "rock sugar" refers to the sugar coating, while the "bottle gourd" refers to the slight resemblance of the snack to the shape of a gourd.
It can be a delicious dessert after dinner, or a tasty snack.
02 Beijing Duck
Peking duck is perhaps the most famous Beijing dish that has been consumed since the imperial era. The meat is characterized by its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is often eaten with spring onion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings. Sometimes pickled radish is also inside, and other sauces (like hoisin sauce) can be used.
There’s an old Chinese saying that “One who fails to reach the Great Wall is not a hero”, meaning that the Great Wall is where you have to visit if you go to Beijing. Same thing with the Beijing Duck, without trying it, your Beijing trip is incomplete!
03 Zhajiang Noodles
Zhajiangmian, or "noodles with soybean paste", is a Chinese dish consisting of thick wheat noodles topped with zhajiang sauce. Zhajiang sauce is normally made by simmering stir-fried ground pork or beef with salty fermented soybean paste. Zhajiang also means "fried sauce" in Chinese. Although the sauce itself is made by stir-frying, this homonym does not carry over into the Classical Chinese term.
The topping of the noodles are usually sliced fresh or/and pickled vegetables, including cucumber, radish, edamame, depending on regions.
Zhajiang Noodles can make your perfect lunch time snack.
04 Wan Duo Huang
Wandouhuang is made of white pea beans, sometimes flavored with sweet osmanthus blossoms, and dates. It is a typical snack in spring and very popular at the annual temple fairs held in Beijing. Wandouhuang was originally mentioned in the novel from the Ming Dynasty. A more refined version is said to have been a favorite of Empress Dowager Cixi.
This can also make your after dinner dessert if you like.