China is truly a culinary adventure and is bound to indulge every foodie looking to expand their horizons and prowess of palate. Every region in China is said to have its own culinary specialties and features a variety of dishes with different spices, aromas and flavors. In the North, the food tends to be savory and commonly accompanied by baozi - buns filled with meat, red bean or veggies. In the southern region of Guangzhou, presentation and a variety of colors are a known feature of dishes. In the western region of Sichuan, food is known for its spicy flavor and red chili usage. In the Jiangsu region of China, one finds Suzhou: a city of culinary delights. Here the food is typically more sweet and mild to the palette. But do not be deceived, here there is a dish to suit every taste.
Suzhou is surrounded by multiple lakes and is a mere 110km from Shanghai. Thus, it should come as no surprise that seafood and local freshwater delicacies can be found on the menu at most, if not all, Suzhou traditional restaurants. Rice, noodles and local seasonal produce are staples of the traditional Suzhou meal and can be infused with various spices, oils and flavorings to accompany any meal. In Suzhou, there is an emphasis on eating local products and the menu tends to fluctuate with the seasons. The choice of diet and to eat with the seasons of representative of a people who want to live in harmony with nature and to respect the balance of the seasons for both the environment and for their health. The result is a astounding plethora of dishes for every season.
Today, I am here to take you on a food tour of Suzhou, China. Through this virtual tour, you will learn about some of the most highly acclaimed specialties and classic dishes of Suzhou, which are available throughout the year at most classic Suzhou restaurants:
Seafood and Freshwater Fish
Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish: Dong Shu Gui Yu:
I’m going to commence our tour with a personal favorite of mine: “Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish”. “Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish”, known locally as Song Shu Gui Yu has acquired its name for appearing to resemble a squirrel’s tail, due to a special method of frying. It is a local favorite and its popularity can be attributed to its unique sweet and sour taste. It is typically coated with a sweet pepper paste, pine nuts and other spices which add to its flavor and will leave your mouth wanting more after the first bite.
Braised Tofu with Crab Roe:
This dish may seem like an unexpected combination and may leave you feeling hesitant. But don’t be fooled: this dish incorporates a fusion of flavors and textures and is a culinary delight for those who enjoy crab and tofu. With this dish, the tofu is slowly stewed over low-heat with crab roe and the result is a slightly sweet and mellow seafood stew of sorts.
Cracking Eel Paste:
Nothing beats Suzhou eel on a hot summer day on a cold winter day, or on ANY day for that matter. Suzhou eel is in demand by the locals and can be enjoyed during all times of the year thanks to the mild climate of the Jiangsu region. Cracking Eel Paste is a popular classic dish which typically incorporates local eel, oil, scallions, bamboo shoots, garlic, leeks, soy sauce and caraway seeds. The eel paste, akin to a thick soup or sauce in texture, is made with rice field eels being broiled, stir-fried or quick-boiled. The texture of the eels can be likened to boneless fish and was a pleasant surprise in my experience.
Biluo Shelled Shrimps:
Biluo Shelled Shrimps is named after Bi Luo Chun tea, which is produced in Suzhou and is arguably the finest green tea. This dish, infused with the green tea fragrance is light and mellow.
Suzhou Fresh Meat Moon Cakes:
Suzhou style moon cakes are popular in Suzhou, China. These beloved pastries are known for their savory and sweet flavors. Sweet fillings include pine nuts, walnuts, roses, and red beans. One can also opt to include savory toppings such as ham, shrimp, and scallions. Suzhou fresh meat moon cakes can be found at the stands of street market vendors all year long and are a local favorite.
Su-style Pork Belly:
Su-style Pork Belly is a well-known dish from the Jiangsu & Zhejiang provinces. It is made half fat, and half lean pork belly meat. When you eat Suzhou pork belly, it instantly melts in your mouth, and with a taste of Shaoxing wine. According to the legend, this dish was created by Su Dong Po, an acclaimed writer from the Song Dynasty.
Suzhou Braised Duck:
Suzhou Braised Duck is another local dish, which will melt in your mouth and leave you wanting more. In this recipe, the dark meat of the duck is stewed over weak-medium flame and basted in a red sweet and sour sauce. The result is a sweet and savory dish with delicate, tender dark meat. It’s a culinary delight, which often completes the classic Suzhou table.
Fengzhen Noodles are a special kind of seasonal noodle popular in Suzhou. It is only available in the beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn. Fengzhen Noodles are typically cooked with meaty bones, eel bones, vinasse and river snails. It is stewed with red wine which infuses a sweet fragrance into its broth. It’s a fusion of sweet and savory and is acclaimed for its unique taste.
Suzhou style noodles:
Suzhou style noodles are an acclaimed staple dish and are popular for foreigners and locals alike. These noodles are known for a hearty soup base and thin, delicate noodles, which differ in textural experience from other varieties of noodles. There are two varieties of noodles and one distinguishes the noodle based on the color of the soup base. Toppings are a characteristic feature of Suzhou style noodle and include—but are not limited to—chop steak, smoked fish, peeled prawns, eel paste and chopped vegetables.
Suzhou Sugar Porridge is a dessert highly acclaimed by locals and foreign visitors alike in Suzhou. This sweet porridge is composed of white glutinous rice porridge, brown sugar and red bean. The red bean is typically coated on top of the porridge and produces a distinct layering effect. The recipe itself seems quite simple, and the hallmark of this dish is the layers of color which add to the aesthetic appeal. The warm fragrance of the brown sugar fused with the red bean adds to the appeal and will warm you up on the coolest of days.
Spring festival arrived in Suzhou and, during the fact, I noted the advent of a sweet and sour fragrance wafting towards me at every street corner. What I was smelling, is none other than Jiuniang Cake. Jiuniang Cake is a snack sold exclusively during the spring festival and season and is best enjoyed hot, fresh and from a street vendor. Its appearance can be likened to that of a moon cake and it flaky, crispy texture is bound to keep you coming back for more. This local delight is typically sweetened with bean paste, fried sesame, walnut rose or other fillings of choice.
This has been an insight into Suzhou cuisine based on my personal experiences thus far with Suzhou traditional food and should provide you with basic understanding of what Suzhou food entails. To learn more about Suzhou local delicacies, or to try your hand at some of the favorite local recipes, I invite you to visit the websites below:
Flavor and Fortune: Index of Chinese recipes and traditional cooking methods http://www.flavorandfortune.com/index.html
Suzhou Restaurants: https://www.chinahighlights.com/suzhou/restaurants.htm
Suzhou Banquet Dishes: http://cultureofchinese.com/food/discover-suzhou-food-delights/
A Northeastern girl from Camden, Maine, Amanda never imagined her passion for languages and diplomacy would coalesce in a global journey of discovery. This ITA Alumni Ambassador is now embarking on her fourth year teaching ESL
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