'Time-honored' delights to make your mouth water

Shanghai Daily take readers to three officially designated  time-honored restaurants  in Hangzhou that are a treat for visitors and locals alike.

On October 13, a fair gathering 350 well-known Chinese brands attracted over 10,000 visitors at Baima Lake International Expo Center, where they had the chance to try everything from Tianjin fried dough twist to dairy products from Inner Mongolia.

Most of the firms that took part were “time-honored brands” — a title granted by the Ministry of Commerce to outfits established before 1956 and offering products or services passed on over generations.

In Hangzhou, there are more than 150 “time-honored brands,” from catering to food and wine to medication, handicrafts and other daily products that bear distinct Chinese cultural characteristics.

These companies face stiff competition from the Internet and some have already developed their own e-commerce sections to appeal to more young people.

In a Top 100 Time-honored Brands E-commerce List released by Alibaba this year, Zhang Xiaoquan — a local scissors brand that has a history of over 300 years — ranked 18 nationally in online sales on Taobao. But regardless of new technology, what sets these brands apart is the quality and the history of their products or services — a dish, a taste, a technique, a feeling that is so unique that customers immediately identify with that brand.

For your next time in Hangzhou, Shanghai Daily takes you to three must-try time-honored restaurants.

'Time-honored' delights to make your mouth water

West Lake vinegar fish

Louwailou Restaurant 楼外楼

At the foot of Gushan Hill, it is said to have been established in 1848 by a Confucian scholar who failed the imperial exams and came to Hangzhou to make a living.

He and his wife named the restaurant “Louwailou,” taken from a line of a verse made by a Southern Song Dynasty poet about the beauty of West Lake.

The restaurant gradually gained a reputation for its aquatic dishes among the local gentry and literati. The restaurant is opposite a wharf and locals often take guests for a meal after a cruise on the lake.

If you try only one dish here, make it the West Lake vinegar fish, with fish directly from the lake. 

A small area of the lake is allocated to the restaurant exclusively to supply it with fresh grass carp.

The fish is starved for two days to ensure it is clean. For the dish, it is quickly boiled in water, with cooking wine, soy sauce, and grated ginger. It is set aside while the broth is mixed with sugar, vinegar and starch. This sauce is then poured over the fish.

On a peak day during this year’s Spring Festival, Louwailou served 1,600 pieces of vinegar fish to visitors from all over the world.

Address: 20 Gushan Rd

'Time-honored' delights to make your mouth water

Dongpo pork

Tianxianglou Restaurant 天香楼

It is another long established restaurant with a reputation up there with Louwailou. If the latter is known for its aquatic dishes, Tianxianglou makes its name from its meat dishes which combine a salty taste with umami.

The restaurant was founded in 1927 and specializes in Hangzhou cuisine. 

The first West Lake Expo in 1929 brought many tourists to the city and the restaurant’s fame spread.

Even now some restaurants in Hong Kong, Taipei and Southeast Asia take the brand name as a synonym for authentic Hangzhou cuisine.

Dongpo pork is the must-try here. Locals believe the dish was created by Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet Su Dongpo (1037-1101) when he was Hangzhou mayor.

A slab of pork belly is sliced into several small cubes before cooking. Scallion stalks and sliced ginger are placed on the bottom of a steamer, and the pork belly set on top. The pork is steeped in a mixture of cooking wine, sugar and soy sauce. It is then simmered over a small heat for almost four hours to absorb the pork.

One chef at Tianxianglou has said the secret of the dish lies in its final minutes. Oil is skimmed off and the heat is turned to high to reduce the sauce.

Address: 447 Yan’an Rd

'Time-honored' delights to make your mouth water

Crab meat brewed in orange

Zhiweiguan Restaurant 知味观

It is a place for locals and ordinary folk. Back in the early 1900s, the restaurant established a name with its unique pastries and noodle dishes, such as the “cat’s ear” — a noodle soup made with small wheat flour dough pieces.

It is also one of the first restaurants in town to open a chain and now has more than 30 outlets. It has also developed sub-brands such as Wei Zhuang for high-end banquets.

In 2011, its crab meat brewed in orange was voted one of the top 10 Hangzhou dishes in an online contest, with more than 100,000 votes worldwide. The dish is based on a recipe in a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) cookbook.

To make this specialty, the top of an orange is cut off and the flesh scooped out. The crab meat is panfried, together with grated ginger, the orange flesh, sesame oil and salt. The mixture is then poured back into the orange, which is lightly steamed for about 10 minutes.

The dish was served to world leaders as a main course at the G20 Summit banquet.

Address: 10-12 Yanggong Causeway

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