More refined than other Chinese cuisines, the Zhejiangese take pride in their more complex cooking style. Expect fresh food with a sweet touch. Fish are drawn from the lake too, but there are also shrimp and pork dishes worthy of attention. Noodle dishes are salty rather than spicy.
西湖醋鱼Xīhú cù yú : West Lake Fish with Vinegar Sauce is made using fish from the West Lake which is cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. A carp goes through a specific process before slaughter to condition the flavour. This involves keeping the fish in clean water and unfed for a few days. The fish is then slow-cooked whole in a vinegar sauce, creating the sweet and sour flavours typical of this region.
东坡肉 Dōng pō ròu: Slow cooked pork belly cubes are braised for hours on end to create this dish. The top half is pork fat, the bottom meat. At first it may appear slightly unappetising (because of the fat), but the cube is luxuriously tender and incredibly rich. A real treat.
叫花鸡 Jiào huā jī: The true Beggar’s Chicken is wrapped in lotus leaves, encased in mud and then roasted. It is typical of Hangzhou cookery, taking longer than five hours to cook. The serving of this dish is ritualistic, smashing the mud shell with a mallet to reveal the delicious meat. It is sometimes made more fragrant by cooking with tea.
龙井虾仁 Lóngjǐng xiārén: This dish is made using freshwater shrimp cooked with the tea from Dragon Well village. This is a sweet and delicate dish first flash-cooked in lard, and then fried with tea leaves.
Hangzhou’s Sweets: 幸福双Xìngfú shuāng (Double Happiness – sweetened bean paste) and 酥油饼Sūyóu bǐng (a butter pastry roll) are examples of Hangzhou’s sweets unlikely to be found in other parts of China.
There are plenty of laidback activities in Hangzhou centred on West Lake and the numerous parks. The clean and chilled environment makes cycling, hiking and jogging a pleasure, not always the case in cities with populations larger than 9 million. A glass-house coffee shop surrounded by bamboo is a welcome stop.
There are many bars and clubs at various locations around the lake. The nightlife is therefore more chilled, with a big reggae bar on the northwest side of the lake. Craft beer has also taking off in Hangzhou, with breweries to be found around the city. Midtown is a notable watering hole, found in the Shangri-La hotel just north of the lake.
Go shopping for fine silks, electronics, tea and night markets. This is found on the east side of the lake by the red, Line 1 Metro stations.