Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hangzhou - Farmhouse cuisine (农家菜)

For better or worse, one of the things to try in Hangzhou is farmhouse cuisine.  It's pretty much hit and miss.  It's become more restaurant like in recent years, but I think the whole experience is dynamic.  Every part is moving so if all the parts come together, then it's a wow.  You never know whether grandma, mom, first or second aunty, or even uncle is going to be the one helming the wok on the day.  You never know if the lake is going to offer up a fresh catch or that the free-range chicken was an athlete before ending up at the slaughterhouse.

On our short trip, we had one hit and one miss.  However, our miss occurred after a 2.5 hour hike at Taihuyuan, so even cardboard would have been tasty.  But one thing's for sure, it's so home style that you will never get the same in a restaurant, even in these parts.

The use of vegetables that we've never seen - how can anything that looks so much like bean sprouts taste so different - full of fluids from a crunchier stem and with a taste almost pickled.  We longed for a better chef who used less MSG and who could bring out all the interesting flavors better.

But we were thankful for our "hit" in the Meijiawu district, after an educational morning learning about Long Jing tea nearby.  LiGengTang offered up the ambiance of a restaurant which could be a pictorial out of the days of dynasties gone by.  Old wooden doors that have weathered storms and seen better days add to the mystique of the place.  Wandering minstrels and fortune tellers ply the street - pay and you'll have an uninterrupted meal.  Don't and they will try to drop subtle hints about your destiny as you eat.  So we chose to listen to a tone-deaf minstrel belting out HanHong's 天路, while enjoying our tea and lightly roasted melon seeds before the food arrived.

Our food at Li Geng Tang was very decent.  Quick blanched lake shrimps in a superior stock, farm fresh vegetables, and my favorite, a quick-braised chicken with Long Jing tea.  Nothing beats a free-range lean chicken that's chock full of chicken flavor and goodness.  None of that bland overly meaty chickens we buy from our run-of-the-mill jaded supermarkets.  This was definitely a sprinter in its time.  Although the tea was too subtle, it was a still very tasty akin to Hakka-style salt baked chicken, and the cause for my eating one more bowl of rice than I should have..

礼耕堂中餐厅 (Li Geng Tang Chinese Restaurant)
西湖区梅家坞 203号(近梅灵南路)  No. 203 Meijiawu, Westlake District
Tel: +86-571-87094726

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