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Jul 8, 2001 08:30 PM

More on Hangzhou Cuisine

  • m

Following up on what pan was saying (and apologies for the repition), Hangzhou is most famed for its amazing Western Lake (Xihu), a place Marco Polo described as one of the most beautiful places he visited in his travels. I have actually been and eaten there. It is exquisite. The best food that I had in my brief stay in Hangzhou was actually fish (from the lake), and I would imagine a lot of the best food originates in fresh water food dishes-West Lake fish, a combo of vinegar and sugar, is one of the city's more famed dishes, though I don't think Jeff mentions this being served in his post. The city actually has a more refined tradition of food than Shanghai only because Shanghai is basically a modern city that had fewer residents than Hangzhou only 200 years ago and burgeoned only after the British started forcing opium upon the Chinese in the 19th century. So Shanghai cuisine almost by definition is relatively new phenomenon, made possible by the wealth and demand for better food that came with trade since the middle of the 19th century. The provincial region around Shanghai, including Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, consists of essentially two provinces Zhejiang and Jiangsu, which have been one of 3-4 major centers of elite culture for the last 800 years. And most Shanghainese cuisine is largely a late 19th early 20th century development in which the flavors and cooking of this very wealthy region flocked into the bulging commercial port. As one Chinese website I came across put it: "Shanghai, the major seaport in the estuary of the Yangtze River, does not really have a cuisine of its own, but successfully refines all the work of the surrounding provinces." One Shanghainese friend referred to the cuisine of Shanghai as Jiangzhe cai (meaning Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisine). In brief, Hangzhou has a long culinary tradition and can be seen as one more specialized subset or strand of a broader provincial tradition of cooking, whereas Shanghai food is a relatively new cuisine that synthesizes the culinary traditions around it, including, of course, Hangzhou food. Also, apparently, Hangzhou restaurants are very popular in Shanghai.

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