Day 3 in Hangzhou

We completed the first day of classes, pouring wines from France, Germany, Australia and Italy – a good indication of the growing range of wines currently available in China.  

Dr. Lim (the Director), Ms. Soon (the GM of the School) and I went out last night to another restaurant specializing in Hangzhou cuisine – this time spicy cuisine. Also, the restaurant served a unique wine, also developed in Hangzhou.

The wine was slightly effervescent and made from coconut milk – a style of wine that has been produced in both China and India for over 2000 years.  It was slightly sweet and bubbly, was quite popular – judging by the number of patrons drinking it, and made the spicy food even more spicy.

Other Chinese wines, made from European grapes – such as Cabernet Sauvignon, were available but not being ordered.  They are still too new to most diners in a traditional restaurant like this one.  Also, the Chinese tradition of serving all dishes at once, not in any order, makes the European concept of wine and food pairing very difficult.  

This may change over time or new concepts of wine and food pairing will be developed.

They took our order as soon as we arrived, even before we had a table.  By the time we sat down at a table our food was already being placed on the table.  Of course, following the Chinese tradition the food arrived as the Chef produced the dishes and since there is no first or last course, like European or American dining, we began eating as it arrived and was still hot – thermally as well as being spicy. The dinner was as good as the previous night and quite different.  Most of the dishes served were fairly spicy, but not to a point that the spices masked the flavors of the food.

Since it was quite warm outside (37C – 99F) and 100% relative humidity, the spicy food helped keep us cool.

The dishes included pickled jellyfish, freshwater prawns in a spicy tomato paste.  Crayfish and peanuts in a sauce made from five spices, a mixed dish of mushrooms, pork, chicken and beef.  Also, pickled cucumbers in garlic and vinegar, rice starch and vegetable soup, eggplant and pork in a spice and green onion sauce.  The last dish served was peanuts roasted in spices.

The crayfish dish and the prawn dish were specialties of the restaurant and very good.  The crayfish dish is shown in the picture. You eat them using your fingers, not chopsticks.  It is the only dish which you completely consume before going on to another dish because you need to wash your hands before continuing.  

Of course the normal way to eat a Chinese meal is to take small bites from each dish, not eat them one at a time. You do this with your chopsticks, portions are not ‘plated’ for each guest.  So you take a bite from a bowl, rest it on top of your bowl of rice and then eat that bite. Take another bite from another platter or serving dish and repeat the process. It is actually a very efficient way to eat.

Did I mention that the prawns were still alive when they were brought to the table.  The color of the spicy tomato paste sauce was exactly the same color as their shells and you had to hunt for them with your chopsticks as they swam (literally) around in the sauce.  Learning how to eat them reminded me of visiting New Orleans – “bite the head off, and suck out what’s inside” with the added skill of using your chopsticks to pinch the meat out of the shell.

The Jellyfish was amazingly crunchy – not gelatinous as you might expect.  

Also, the trick to eating a smoked duck tongue – it seems that a duck’s tongue has a bone running through the middle, and you scrape the meat off the bone kind of like how you eat artichoke leaves, by scraping the artichoke off the leaf with your teeth.  Only in this case you are holding the back of the tongue with your chopsticks while scraping the meat off with your teeth.  Tastes a lot like slightly salty, smoked ham.

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