Banishing the blues with a taste of home-town nostalgia

Hometown food often helps out-of-town people ease homesickness, because it carries the tastes of childhood and nostalgia.

As a provincial capital city, Hangzhou gathers most of its delicacies from Zhejiang Province, ranging from seasonal fruits and handmade snacks to centuries-old wine and home cuisine.

Hometown food often helps people ease homesickness, because it carries the tastes of childhood and nostalgia. And now, thanks to the city’s booming catering industry and e-commerce business, foodies can sample authentic specialties from their hometown and eradicate homesickness for good.

Shanghai Daily examines popular treats from Zhejiang Province and picks out a couple that are loved by gastronomes in Hangzhou. 

Three heads and one feet 

Three heads and one feet from Quzhou  衢州三头一掌

Three heads and one foot are namely fish, rabbit, duck heads plus duck feet. They are signature dishes from Quzhou City. Present-day people might think the food ingredients are the leftover parts of animals, but they actually livened up bland diets in former times.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a Quzhou family suffered from starvation and had to pick animals’ heads and feet to fill stomachs. These ingredients were braised with brine and its mouthwatering smell lured a passer-by who asked for a bowl and left money.

Inspired by the incognito diner, this family opened a pot-stewed meat food stall, selling red-braised fish, duck and rabbit heads and duck feet, which allured a cavalcade of foodies across the city.

Years later, the incognito passer-by showed up again. It just so happened that the traveler was the writer, Xu Xiake. Thanks to Xu’s endorsement, the dish evolved into home cuisine in Quzhou, and then found fame all over Zhejiang.

The signature meal is widely known. Heads and feet are marinated with seasonings and then stewed with spices and herbs. Natives prefer using a crockery caldron, than a steel pot, because the former is better at remaining the original flavor of food. After being cooled down, they are very gelatinous and tasty. At food stalls, vendors usually sell the ingredients separately.

Shaoxing fermented bean curd 

Shaoxing fermented bean curd 绍兴腐乳

Fermented bean curd, or furu, is a condiment made of preserved tofu, soybeans, rice wine and sesame oil or vinegar. It has a texture similar to soft cheese with a strong, some say “unpleasant” odor. Lovers of this local side dish insist it tastes much better than it smells.

In Zhejiang Province, furu is divided into two types, eating as a side dish, which goes well with bland congee, and cooking with pork ribs, which helps balance the pork fat and add aroma to the dish.

The yummiest furu is produced in Shaoxing City. The commercially packaged versions are often sold in jars, containing blocks, in 2 to 4 square centimeters, by 1 centimeter, thick soaked in brine with select flavorings.

Natives take it as an indispensable part of their diet. Its brine is used to steam with tofu and then sprinkled with a handful of minced shallot, which is also a common home dish favored by locals.

Shaoxing furu varies according to different preparation techniques. The most popular kind is zuifang, which is often used to glaze food ingredients and endow them with mellow flavoring.

According to historical archives, Shaoxing furu dates back over 1,500 years when people discovered the bean curd tasted fragrant when fermented with rice wine. In the Ming Dynasty, this specialty has already enjoyed fame across East Asia.

In Shaoxing, many say the best local furu can be found at the Xianheng Restaurant. 

This establishment is mentioned in the writings of Lu Xun, a Shaoxing native, who became a leading figure in modern Chinese literature. Today, the restaurant’s time-honored aroma continues to draw diners in droves.

Jiashan yellow wine

Jiashan yellow wine 嘉善黄酒

Yellow wine, or huangjiu, is considered one of the oldest wine varieties in the world, with a history of more than five millennia. It is a calling card of Jiashan County, where locals have started to brew the wine during Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), according to historical documents.

For centuries, Jiashan was dubbed “a land for rice and fish” because of its abundance of crops and fish. The glutinous rice provided ample resources to make huangjiu. Under the function of microbes and enzymes, rice starch converted to sugars and a fragrant liquor.

In ancient times, every Jiashan vintner had a courtyard that stored sealed jars of huangjiu. The levels usually vary according to the colors and preservation time. Before being bottled and sold, huangjiu is stored in earthenware jars for several months to several decades. Some are aged for 20 years and sold as premium products.

The various styles of huangjiu also differentiate in a color from clear to beige, yellowish or reddish brown, which depends on the brewing process and ingredient.

In Jiashan, the most popular products are brewed from a factory in Xitang Town. It was built in the Ming Dynasty when the town was dotted with family-run workshops selling homemade huangjiu

Throughout centuries, the factory merged local vintners and workshops, and then became a pillar of the wine industry.

Zhejiang locals prefer huangjiu than beer and traditional baijiu. The clear, dry liqueur is used in gastronomy at formal dinners and banquets and in cooking, and also used to worship gods and ancestors in rituals.

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