Hangzhou: The little-known Chinese cuisine everyone should try

Hangzhou, China CNN  — 

“When the mail from San Pellegrino arrived for the first time, we ignored it,” says Colin Cheng, one of the chefs behind 28 HuBin Road.

Cheng and his team thought the organization’s invitation to attend its Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants award ceremony in 2013 was a hoax.

Happily, it wasn’t, and the restaurant has been a feature of the 50 best list for four years in a row.

Its success and global recognition is an indication of just how far the traditional cuisine of Hangzhou – a major city in eastern China – has come since receiving official recognition in the 1980s.

Specializing in local dishes, 28 HuBin Road, located in the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, is the only restaurant in the city that made the list.

Nevertheless there’s a thriving local food scene with many restaurants serving up great versions of recipes that remain some of China’s best kept culinary secrets.

With Hangzhou now hosting the G20 Summit, the city’s cuisine is under a brighter global spotlight than ever before.

Fortunately, visitors won’t be disappointed.

The city’s abundance of mountain-fed freshwater – the same source that fills Hangzhou’s famous West Lake – is a key influence, providing plenty of fresh seasonal products.

“The biggest trait of Hangzhou cuisine (Hangbang cai) is the originality in flavor, which highlights the original taste of the ingredients self,” says Cheng. “It requires delicate knife-work.”

It’s often mistaken for food cooked up in Shanghai, just a two-hour drive away, but Cheng insists there are essential differences.

“Hangbang cai is unique in a way that it combines influences from the north, like crab meat tofu, and the south, like dongpo pork,” says Cheng.

“Hangbang cai is also milder in taste than Shanghai cuisine, which is often richer in seasoning and sweeter.”

Check out the above gallery for a selection of essential Hangzhou dishes everyone should try.

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Restaurants specializing in Hangzhou cuisine

– 28 HuBin Road (Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, 28 Hu Bin Road; +86 571 8779 1234-ext. 2828) is considered the best Hangzhou restaurant in the city. Its signature Dongpo pork pyramid requires ordering in advance.

Weizhuang Zhiweiguan (10-12 Yanggongti, Xihu District; +86 571 8797 0568) is a Hangzhou chain. The Yanggongti branch is the favored choice for many. It has an al fresco dining area in a garden setting. It’s connected to six elegant ancient-style buildings (private dining rooms), linked to West Lake by meandering footbridges.

– Hangzhou Restaurant (268 Yan’an Road, Xiacheng District; +86 571 8509 1717) is a century old. Popular among local foodies, it’s earned a score of five stars (out of five stars) on China’s crowd-sourced food review forum Dianping.

Lou Wai Lou (30 Gushan Road, Xihu District) is another old name in the city, with signature dishes like grass carp in vinegar (see gallery). The restaurant has lost some glamor in recent years with many diners finding the food hit-and-miss. But it has a prime location and the floating restaurant is good for diners wanting to view or tour West Lake.