Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hangzhou 2015 - Wuzhen Water Village Part II

On the way out from the water village, you pass through a market area that is normally a tourist trap to squeeze more dollars out of the visitors. Here it is quite well integrated into the village and does not feel too out of place.

Some of the storekeepers look like they just stepped out of an old movie.

You can buy a Chinese fan and get it customized with special dedications or poetry.

Or get a pipe and smoke like a local.

There are also lots of local delicacies to sample. Like in the other water villages, there are lots of stewed pork which always look delectable.

There are also a surprising variety of delicate snacks and desserts on offer.

Having a break at the market area - enjoying a few nice snacks, make a pleasant ending to the visit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hangzhou 2015 - Wuzhen Water Village Part I

The region between Shanghai and Hangzhou is famous for its scenic water villages. One of the most famous is Wuzhen - which is located almost in the middle between Hangzhou and Suzhou. This is also one of the largest water villages in the area.

Being one of the most popular water villages, Wuzhen is also one of the most commercialized. Most of the old houses have become shops, restaurants and tea houses catering to the tourist trade. During peak season it is thronged with mainland tourists. Even on a normal day the crowd is pretty heavy and as most of the visitors are funneled through the main street it can get a bit claustrophobic with no chance of escape.

Behind the main street is the canal and this is where you can see the beauty of the water village. Find a quiet tea house with a nice view - and you can imagine yourself going back in time.

It must have been very nice to live in a place like this, and many poets, artists and writers have come here searching for inspiration.

Wuzhen is very big and is divided into 2 main sections - Dong Zha (East Area)  and Xi Zha (West Area). We only had time to visit Dong Zha which already takes half a day. To really appreciate the village it is best to stay overnight in the many charming guest houses within the West Area.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hangzhou 2015 - Dinner at Yun Shui Yao

Hangzhou is full of "famous" restaurants - mostly state-run enterprises concentrating on the standard Zhejiang cuisine. If you are looking for something a little bit different, then you have to look a little bit harder. Yun Shui Yao is a very interesting restaurant in a some what obscure location. It is actually quite near the Gongchen Bridge - but even many locals don't know that it exists. 

Yun Shui Yao specializes in cuisine from Yunnan - so the food is a bit more spicy compared to the standard Chinese fare. The restaurant is in a traditional old house next to a canal. It is very scenic and if you want to appreciate the beautiful surroundings it is best to go for lunch. We were there for dinner so unfortunately it was too dark to appreciate the unique location. 

Faced with a long menu and having no idea about the food served in this restaurant - I had to call on the waiter to help. We ended up with quite a number of dishes that were all interesting and delicious. To start off was smoked chicken feet - which was crunchy and flavourful. 

Next was white-cooked chicken in a spicy sauce. The chicken was very tender, and the sauce had just the right balance of salty, sour and spicy.

Next was grilled beef on a bed of spring onion. The beef was well marinated and very flavourful.  It was served over a Hibachi grill, and towards the end the spring onion was slightly burnt and caramelized and tasted really great with the beef. This was one of the best dishes we had. 

Sour fish soup - this is a bit like a fish head beehoon soup in Malaysia. The soup is slightly sweet, sour, spicy and thickened with milk. Goes very well with the fish.

Ma Po Tofu - a common dish done very well here. It is a testament to the skill of the chef that such a simple dish can be made so delicious.

Salt baked prawns - the prawns were wrapped in foil and baked in a pot filled with salt. The prawns were fresh and crunchy and just had a subtle hit of saltiness and smokiness from the cooking process.

Sliced pork with soy sauce ans sesame oil. Another simple yet tasty dish - the accompanying cabbage leaves help to balance out the saltiness of the pork slices.

The food at Yun Shui Yao is interesting and delicious. It was easily one of the top restaurants we tried during our visit to Hangzhou.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hangzhou 2016 - Jinhua Ham

In Italy you have Parma Ham, in Spain you have Jamon Iberico, and in China you have Jinhua Ham. Like the Parma Ham and Jamon, Jinhua Ham is dry cured.  It is made using the whole hind leg of a special breed of black pig. Some say Jinhua is the best ham in the World, but the Italians and the Spaniards may beg to defer. The earliest record of Jinhua Ham date back to the Tang Dynasty in the 6th Century AD, and some believe that it was Marco Polo who brought this technique of dry curing back to Italy. So when we eat Parma or Jamon we may be eating Chinese ham anyway !

While walking down Chungshan Road, I came across this specialty shop selling the premium Jinhua Ham. The Chinese are pretty deft marketers, and big legs or ham were hanging outside the shop attracting lots of curious passerby.

The Chinese normally use Jinhua Ham as a flavour enhancing ingredient - either in sauce or stock. In fact the Superior Stock owes its special flavour to this important and expensive ingredient. Sliced thinly like Jamon - Jinhua Ham is also delicious on its own.

Instead of cheesy souvenirs, Jinhua Ham would make very nice gifts and probably better appreciated.