Hangzhou has always been the playground for Chinese princes and poets through the centuries. We can now add global politicians to that august list.
On Sunday night, at the G20 Summit welcoming banquet, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted world leaders to dinner at the Xizi Hotel, where Chairman Mao Zedong had once stayed and dined.
It is a mammoth task catering to such illustrious guests, especially when the chefs have to consider various dietary restrictions but still display the best of Hangzhou haute cuisine.
The result is an inventive menu that shows off the ingenuity and elegance of Chinese kitchen craft. The menu was completely pork-free but still managed to showcase the fish and river produce Hangzhou is known for.
❶ 冷盘 Hors d'Oeuvres
First on the table was a variety of little bites meant to tantalize and build up the appetite. These included flavored pieces of braised bean curd, freshly pickled cucumbers and smoked fish fillets.
❷ 清汤松茸 Pine Mushroom Soup
The soup was the first indication of what Hangzhou food represents. Seasonal Matsutake or pine mushrooms were floated in a crystal clear consomme, showcasing the clean flavors that most characterize Hangzhou cooking.
❸ 松子鳜鱼 Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish with Pine Nuts
Next on the table was another signature dish, mandarin fish with pine nuts. The fish is an exhibition of the delicate knife skills of Hangzhou chefs, and the sauce indicative of the sweet and sour flavors that are also characteristic of the region. Lightly toasted pine nuts, with their slightly resinous flavor, are the perfect garnish.
❹ 龙井虾仁 Stir-Fried Shrimps with Longjing Tea Leaves
No banquet here would be complete if Hangzhou's famous tea-infused prawns were not included. Longjing or dragon's well is the green tea that grows exclusively in the Hangzhou hills. The tea grows best with water from a well which the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperor Qianlong had once drunk from, hence its name.
For the Longjing prawns dish, its tender young shoots are stir-fried with crisply textured river shrimp in a marriage of subtle sweetness. The seemingly simple dish is a test for the most accomplished chefs because of its delicate balance of aroma and flavor.
❺ 膏蟹酿香橙 Orange-Flavored Crab Meat
Another West Lake specialty took center stage next when the guests were served roe crab meat stuffed in orange. This features the famous mitten or hairy crab from the lake. To allow guests to fully enjoy the meat and roe, the crabs were shelled and stuffed into an orange.
This is a dish with much history, having originated in the Song era when oranges were still a rare treat and Hangzhou had just become the capital of the Song emperors.
❻ 东坡牛扒 Hangzhou-Style Fillet Steak
Dongpo Rou is a dish named after Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet Su Dongpo, who was also a governor in Hangzhou and had built the causeway across the lake.
This dish is usually made from pork belly, but last night the guests had a beefsteak instead. The meat is braised in the best soy sauce, and slow cooked to tender perfection.
❼ 四季蔬果 Braised Vegetables, 点心 Pastries, 水果冰淇淋 Fruits and Ice Cream, 咖啡和茶Coffee and Tea
Of course, guests ended the meal with seasonal fruit, ice cream, and coffee and tea served with classic Chinese pastries instead of petits fours.
❽ 张裕干红 Red Wine Changyu 2012, Beijing China
张裕干白 White Wine Changyu 2011, Beijing China
Accompanying the meal were two special wines, a Beijing Changyu Dry Red 2012, and a Beijing Changyu Dry White 2011.
Food has always been a universal language cutting across boundaries and barriers. This is a meal worthy of the best international diplomacy and in choosing Hangzhou cuisine, the organizers have shown off the best of China's fine dining.
Chinese food is well loved all over the world and Brazilian President Michel Temer, for example, has admitted to being an ardent fan. This time, however, the participants at the G20 Summit have sampled the cooking of great master chefs of historical Hangzhou cuisine, in one of China's most scenic cities.
Source: China Daily