Perhaps the most famous dish to come out of Hangzhou? If you like belly pork, this has got to be the definitive pork belly dish in the Jiangnan region. (I qualify since Southern Chinese love their roast belly pork!) As natives in Hangzhou say: this dish is absolutely healthy as the cooking process squeezes out whatever bad oils that are latent in the layers of pork fat so that what remains is pure and unadulterated, soft and wonderful goodness.
I like that a lot of the dishes in Hangzhou have folklore behind them. This dish is named after the famous poet Su Dong Po (苏东坡) from the Song Dynasty. There appears to be a few stories as to how this dish came about but whichever story you believe, they all point towards the desire to dedicate the dish to him to commemorate his good work as an officer of the court. In response, Su even composed a poem about how best to eat pork. Word has it that he was a great chef himself.
During our visit, we had our taste at the Hangzhou institution of Lou Wai Lou (楼外楼) and although the presentation was a little rough around the edges, it is probably close to what Su had in his time? The pork lived up to its reputation of soft layers of fat interspersed with meat that is tender from the baking and steaming process, to the point that both require no chewing at all. Of course, topped off with a gelatinous skin that is rich in collagen and taste. The lone vegetable garnish was probably just for colour and did nothing to alleviate our guilt in tucking into this sinful dish (irrespective of what the locals say). Just open up and say mmmm.....
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