Release date :2017/05/24 16:50
Reimagining Jiangnan cuisine
SummaryThe cuisine of Jiangnan, the region of China comprising Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, is one of the greatest Chinese culinary traditions. It has a reputation for refinement exceeded perhaps by only Cantonese cuisine...
Reimagining Jiangnan cuisine
The cuisine of Jiangnan, the region of China comprising Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, is one of the greatest Chinese culinary traditions. It has a reputation for refinement exceeded perhaps by only Cantonese cuisine.
Largely located on China's southeast coast (Anhui is the only inland province in the region), Jiangnan has abundant seafood of every type. At the same time, it has an ideal climate for growing a wide variety of vegetables.
As noted by Chinese food guru Fuchsia Dunlop, Jiangnan food is known for its light, subtle flavors, what the Chinese describe as "qingdan." “It’s feel-good food, made in harmony with the seasons and the landscape," she was quoted as saying Britain's The Guardian newspaper last July.
In Taiwan, authentic food from southeastern China is limited. There are a number of restaurants serving Shanghai cuisine, but just a few specializing in Hangzhou cuisine, the most refined culinary tradition of the entire region.
At the San Shian restaurant on Shaoxing South Road in Taipei City, it is possible to enjoy outstanding versions of some of the best Hangzhou dishes. Chef Hsu Tang-ren has been cooking Chinese food for more than half a century, and opened San Shian in the year 2000 to introduce Taiwan to a nutritious variation on Jiangnan cuisine.
"We use less oil than many of the traditional recipes call for, and we control salt and sugar content too," he says. Indeed, not all food from the Jiangnan region is as delicate as that from Hangzhou. For instance, food from the Jiangsu city of Wuxi has a reputation for being extremely sweet, he notes.
"Taiwanese people are increasingly focused on their health, and we want to offer them the chance to enjoy delicious Jiangnan food without being concerned it's not good for them," he says.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting San Shian is that the restaurant menu is more a guide to what's available, as opposed to a definitive list. Some of the best Hangzhou dishes, for instance, are not on the menu. There is no Dongpo pork nor Longjing prawns.
In response to a question about that, Chef Hsu says that the restaurant is glad to make those dishes for guests, but they should call ahead several days in advance so that he has time to get the ingredients. "We try to appeal to a wide audience with our menu," he says, noting that it contains some classic Taiwanese dishes like Three Cups Chicken.
Enthusiasts of Hangzhou cuisine should take note: Chef Hsu's interpretation of Longjing prawns is exceptional. The prawns do not take long to prepare but require great finesse. The dish is made by coating the meat of live river prawns with egg white and moistened starch. The prawns are then fried in oil at a medium-low temperature for roughly 15 seconds, removed from the oil and drained. The chef then must next quickly stir-fry the prawns in boiling water infused with Hangzhou's famous Longjing tea, tea leaves and Shaoxing wine - another Zhejiang specialty. The result is a dish of succulent prawns awash in the aromatic flavors of Longjing tea.
Dongpo pork is another of Chef Hsu's specialties. Named for the Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo, who was a renowned gourmand, the dish features a savory slice of braised pork belly that is often served in a thick soy-based sauce. Chef Hsu's version is every bit as tasty, but the sauce is much closer to a broth in its consistency. By reducing the sauciness, Chef Hsu puts the emphasis on the delicate texture of the meat.
Sam Reynolds, a Taipei-based technology industry analyst, recently ate at San Shian, and was especially impressed by the Dongpo pork. "I have to admit, when I saw a slice of pork belly with the fat on top, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it," he says. "But it turned out that the fat wasn't greasy at all - it was the perfect balance to the firmer texture of the meat."
Reynolds says he was more familiar with the Shanghai variation of Jiangnan cuisine previously, but is now interested to try more dishes from Hangzhou. "I appreciate the delicate flavors in this type of cooking. It shows a whole different side of Chinese cuisine than what most Westerners experience," he says.