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Jul 8, 2001 03:11 AM

Jim's Hangzhou banquet report

  • m

Jim, I just caught your report.

The differences that you're seeing between Hangzhou cuisine and what you've experienced as Shanghai food, may be more a function of banquet food versus home-style or street snacks served by restaurants here. High-toned Shanghai cuisine restaurants in Hong Kong and Taipei offer a more refined repetoire.

From your description of lily bulbs as chunky and reminescent of chestnuts, I'm wondering whether these might be fresh lotus roots. I noticed these were available in NY Chinatown markets when I visited last month. These are the tuberous roots of Asian water lilies. The freshest ones cooked ever so slightly will be crunchy, and become chewier and more starchy when older and cooked more thoroughly.

The rice dessert sounds like what's often called 8 treasures rice. It should have some chunks of firm almost crunchy ham fat in it.

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  1. For those who are thinking about going out to Flushing for the Hangzhou meal, make sure you call to confirm. I had planned for a lunch there on Saturday, and had I not checked a second time I would've have gotten the Buffet that they usually served (Not Hangzhou cuisine). The reason they said they're not serving the Hangzhou cuisine for lunch on this Saturday and Sunday, is that the chefs are tired and needed a break.


    7 Replies
    1. re: HLing
      Melanie Wong

      Oh, Jim, I forgot to ask - did they bring in the true regional ham?

      One of my memories of landing at Hangzhou airport was seeing the lines of Japanese tourists getting ready to board, nearly all of them clutching a whole local ham to take home.

      1. re: Melanie Wong


        I didn't spot ham all night...not even in the winter melon with minced chinese ham", which I notice has the word "ham" crossed off on the menu. And, come to think of it, the quail soup had no ham, either (my suspicion: they weren't able to bring the ham with them and didn't like the alternative supplies in NYC)

        BTW, I've corrected a few embarrassing gaffes in that report since last night. Including those.


        1. re: Jim Leff
          Melanie Wong

          Zhejiang ham is dry-cured and smoky, somewhat similar to our Virginia hams which are used as a substitute in this country. When I visited the East China area, I had noodles with slivers of this ham for breakfast almost every day.

      2. re: HLing

        Thanks for the heads up, I had been thinking of lunch their on Saturday.

        1. re: wray

          sorry, just saw this. you probably already found out that the hang zou guys do not make lunch on Saturdays or Sundays. And today (sunday) is their last day.

          That info was, however, posted on this board earlier, so perhaps you did read it.

          1. re: Jim Leff

            Try not to miss this "Last Supper": the four master chefs have prepared a version of a regional Chinese cuisine which is among the most refined, original, and profoundly memorable we've had in our lives (we've yet to visit China, so this view is from abroad). After having had this experience, even the best of what is to be had locally (New York area) now seems less compelling.

            1. re: Allan Evans

              I agree with allan. I regret that I've not updated my single report--I've been there several times since--but each meal has made my estimation grow, and I'm very very very sorry to see these guys go.

      3. See my comments on Hangzhou and its cuisine as I experienced them, on the International board.

        1. "The differences that you're seeing between Hangzhou cuisine and what you've experienced as Shanghai food, may be more a function of banquet food versus home-style or street snacks served by restaurants here. "

          I thought I'd made that clear in my report. If not, it certainly bears repeating. Though my hunch is that it's not entirely a matter of banquet vs home-style. But who knows.

          "From your description of lily bulbs as chunky and reminescent of chestnuts, I'm wondering whether these might be fresh lotus roots. "

          no, gingko nuts. I'm such a dolt sometimes.

          "The rice dessert sounds like what's often called 8 treasures rice."

          yes, that's right. Is it not distinctively Hang Zhou?

          8 Replies
          1. re: Jim Leff
            Melanie Wong

            For me, as an outsider, I tended to see more similarities between the cuisines than differences. But one who is familiar with Shanghai might focus more on the differences. The West Lake district offers up more fresh water fish, which lend themselves to lighter preparations.

            The flesh of gingko nuts is yellow and the shape is sort of like a football. It is firm to the bite, has a smooth, almost creamy texture. The lotus roots (lily bulbs) are tan-brownish might be cut into chunks and will have some fiber.

            Eight treasures rice might have originated in Hangzhou, I don't know. However, it is served all over China and especially at Chinese New Year's for good luck and prosperity. Some will be a combination of sweet and savory (ham fat), others only sweet ingredients of sweet bean paste, nut meats, and candied fruits. But always 8 different kinds. A Cantonese chef would put it in a mold with the fruits arranged in a symetric pattern, no need to mix. I've also had this presented as a mountain of rice with a layer of bean paste, topped with a syrupy blend of the other fruits.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              There seems to be some confusion about lily bulbs and lotus roots. Lotus roots are light brown and have an irregular number of holes(4 to 7, give or take a few) that makes a nice design in the center when sliced into sections. There's a dish where sweet sticky rice are stuffed into the holes and then the lotus root is sliced. You get thin slices of lotus roots with spots of sticky rice. The water-chestnuts like texture of the root adds a nice soft crunch to the stickiness of the rice.
              The "lily" in the lily bulbs refers to the lily of the field(the kind of lily you see at Easter. The Chinese have a different word for "water lily" from the lily of the field)It's white, usually come dried in little fingernail size, and when cooked has a texture more like lotus seeds, or even ginkgo nuts.
              Both Lotus roots and lily bulbs are used as Chinese medicinal herbs as well as in cooking.

              As for ham, I'v always wondered about what's called "Jin-hua" ham. I see that in China Town many places use the Virginia Ham. Wonder if they are similar enough in taste that Chinese in NY use them as a substitute.

              1. re: HLing

                Sorry, I missed your post earlier.

                Thanks for clarifying which lily bulbs were used. What's interesting is that the dried lily buds used in Chinese cooking are from day lilies, which are not true lilies and do not grow from bulbs.

                If you do a Google search for jinhua ham, you'll find plenty of pictures from vendors in China. There also appears to be an unresolved trademark dispute.

                I had jinhua ham (or more broadly zhejiang ham) during my first visit to China and the Eastern region. Soup noodles for breakfast would be topped with a thick julienne of ham. Also had Shanghai cabbage covered with a milky sauce and a very fine mince of the same ham.

                The taste is similar to our Virginia hams. Maybe smokier and served drier. Here in SF Chinatown, Virginia hams are widely available as a substitute. Whenever I hear someone ask about ordering a VA ham, I send them to Chinatown for instant gratification. Many butchers also sell a sliced section, so you don't have to buy a whole ham to make garnish.

                P.S. I was so inspired by the accounts of Hangzhou cuisine here, I found the closest thing on the West Coast and treated myself to a Yangzhou dinner. Post is on the SF Bay Area board.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Lucky you! Our Hangzhou chefs have gone back to China, but yours stay...

                  I'll have to go find out what "day lilies" are. Are you saying that when the package of the dried lily buds says "Bai-her", it's still not the real lily?

                  I've always wondered about the milky sauce they use on the shanghai cabbage. Is it a western influence to use milky/creme sauce? And the Jinghua ham, did it just happen to taste a lot like the Virginia Ham? If one copied the other, I wonder who started first. There's also the shuen-wei ham that's been famous as a Yeun-Nan regional specialty for a long time. I've only heard of but never tasted. Sigh.

                  1. re: HLing

                    The Cantonese name for dried lily buds escapes me at the moment. But I do know that they're made from the Hemerocallis species of day lilies. These are a common ornamental plant. They're drought tolerant and used for roadway medians out here. The wild type has an orangish yellow flower that looks like a lily but it's not part of the lillium family.

                    The coastal trading cities had more foreign influence, so it's plausible that Shanghai cuisine would have picked this up from the west. Checking my handy-dandy Pei Mei's cookbook, the recipe here for cream sauce is much different from a western bechamel. It only uses a couple tablespoons of milk (the remaining liquid is stock) and the white color and thickening comes from beaten egg white.

                    Jinhua ham and Yunnan ham are among the great hams of the world, along with Spain's Serrano, Italy's Parma, Virginia's Smithfield, and Germany's Black Forest. Even if one had copied the other in terms of curing and smoking methods, the basic materials are different and will impart a different taste. The black Iberian is a distinct type of pig used to make Serrano hams and feeds on acorns. The pigs used to make Prosciutto di Parma has a diet of chestnuts and whey and other by-products of parmesan cheese production. Smithfield ham used to be made from local pigs raised on a peanut diet, but I've been told that frozen legs from Midwestern packers are used by some. Don't know what the Chinese pigs eat. The legs of the Jin hua pig are very long.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Tiger lilies, you mean! In Chinese I think they're called jin-jen flowers ("Golden needle"). I'm sorry I realize now that I was thinking still of the roots of the lilies, and so got confused. Thanks for the clarification.

                      I'm so impressed with your Ham knowledge! It's really fascinating to think about. Makes me wonder what, if any, the boars that eats truffles would taste like. In last week's Chinese Newpaper, "World News" there was an article on the origin of Wun-Tsung chicken(Hainan specialty). It apparently had started under some huge banyan trees. The seeds fall on the ground and became the main feeds for the chicken there. Generations after generations the Wun-Tsung Chicken evolved as a petite, thin skin, tender flesh, superior quality chicken. As there are a variety of ways to prepare the chicken, the best way for a good chicken is to just boil as is, with some salt; because it would show off the basic excellence of the chicken un-altered by anything else.

                      1. re: HLing

                        There are many kinds of flowers called tiger lilies, some are members of the lilium family, others are not. You might do a search on Hemerocallis for a photo to be sure we're talkking about the same thing. Again, day lilies do not grow from bulbs.

                        Just to be clear, the chicken should not be boiled. Poached is the more appropriate term, at below boiling temperatures. Boiling would make the flesh unnecessarily coarse and tough.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks, 007, for the correction:
                          "Wun-Tsung chicken: poached, not boiled".