Real Chinese Food: 6 must-eats in Hangzhou
Hardial is an English language teacher, currently living and working in Hangzhou, China. Stay tuned for all her latest tips and adventures!
I want to use today’s post to share with you the number one best thing about living in China: the FOOD!
Although many Western countries have a plethora of Chinese restaurants to choose from, most do not do justice to the variety and deliciousness of authentic Chinese food.
I have met many foreigners who almost exclusively stick to eating Western food while they’re in China, and it’s truly a shame.
In Hangzhou, there is no shortage of cheap, safe, and delicious Chinese food to eat, so there’s no excuse not to explore all the city has to offer. Here are the six best things to eat in Hangzhou:
1. Grandma’s Kitchen/Grandma’s Home (外婆家 wài pó jiā)
Grandma’s is a chain born right in Hangzhou that has grown immensely, with numerous locations in the city. Whether you live here or are just visiting, it is not to be missed!
The food options in their magazine-style menu might seem overwhelming at first, but have no fear: it’s all great, and you can be certain that it’s clean and safe.
They serve lots of Hangzhou specialties as well as more typical Chinese fare, and they use local flavours and ingredients like the city’s famous Longjing (“dragon well”) tea.
For such delicious and huge portions, it is amazingly cheap: a group can eat until they burst and top it off with a few bottles of beer, and each person will still only spend around 40 RMB (just over $6 US).
2. Luyu (炉鱼)
I like to tell people, “The Grandma’s guy can do no wrong!”. It seems to be the truth: another of my favourite Hangzhou restaurants was created by him, and it’s also a hit. This “fashionable” fish restaurant has proven to be just as reliable and delicious.
Designed to be more trendy than the comfortable, warm Grandma’s, Luyu’s décor has a bit of a nightclub feeling, with dark blue and red lighting and interesting hand-painted patterns on the windows and walls.
Here, you order a huge fish to share, which arrives at your table in a cast-iron pot, boiling in your choice of sauce and stuffed with vegetables and other selected toppings.
For the friend who refuses to eat fish, appease them with a whole chicken, brought to your table on a sheet of brown paper and hand-torn by a gloved server before your eyes (or, if they’re particularly busy, you’ll have to do the honours yourself). (Numerous locations, 60 RMB/person.)
3. Crayfish – any of the busy ones!
Crayfish restaurants seem to be all over the city, and throughout the summer it seems everyone is partaking in 小龙虾 (xiǎlóngxiā, literally “small lobster”).
It’s not hard to find a restaurant that serves it, and it’s similarly prepared everywhere: in a metal pot with spicy red broth. Not only is it delicious, but it’s a fun experience to eat. Get prepared to get messy, since you have to crack them open with your hands, and you’ll likely get sauce everywhere!
While some places give you plastic gloves and, if you’re lucky, a full-length plastic apron, the thin material is often no match for the hard shells of the crayfish you’re enthusiastically dismembering. (Prices vary.)
4. “Sticks” a.ka. street BBQ
Ah, Sticks. I have been eating Sticks since I first studied in Beijing in 2011, and I encountered it my very first night in China. Sticks is what my friends and I call the ubiquitous street barbecue that only seems to emerge after dark on street corners and in club parking lots.
Small grills are set up, often right off of vendors’ electric scooters, and every type of meat, starch, and vegetable you can imagine is loaded onto skewers and offered to adventurous eaters for a few RMB per stick. I say “adventurous” because here is where one must let go of cleanliness expectations and just dive in.
If you are in China for a while, you’ll find stick vendors you know you can rely on for your spicy squid tentacles, chicken hearts, and intestines (despite having asked quite a few people, my Mandarin is still not advanced enough to understand which animal those intestines belonged to).
For the faint of heart, there are chicken wings, cubes of lamb, entire eggplants, and more. Don’t forget the beer when your tongue goes numb from the spice! (Everywhere, 2-5 RMB/stick.)
5) Muslim Noodles
Here is another type of food that is available all over China, with restaurants not necessarily belonging to a single chain, yet sharing certain key elements: the owners are always Muslim (I find the restaurants by following signs which say “HALAL” and have Arabic writing), the noodles are always hand-pulled, and the dishes are always oily.
I rejoiced when I finally found my Muslim noodle place in Hangzhou after falling in love with them in Beijing, and I have been eating there once a week since.
Often they have photos of their dishes on the walls, which was immensely helpful when I first arrived, but now I know to request my favourite: 蕃茄鸡蛋拉面(fānqié jīdàn lāmiàn, noodles with egg and tomato). (15 RMB/person)
6. 牛馍王 (niú mó wáng, Wang’s Steamed Beef Buns)
I go to this restaurant for one dish, and one dish only: BiangBiang面 (biángbiángmiàn).
BiangBiang Mian is a dish from Shaanxi province in China, and it’s main feature is special handmade noodles which are long, flat, and very wide. It is topped with meat and vegetables and served in an oily sauce.
Restaurants will often advertise that they serve “biangbiang面” on their storefront, and that is how I encountered one of my favourite restaurants in Hangzhou. Here, they serve it with mutton (ask for “yángròu”), bean sprouts, and one of the dozens of mystery Chinese leafy greens.
One bowl is only 20 RMB ($3.15 US), but after going there a few times you’ll see that it’s better to share the huge dish with a friend if you don’t want your pant seams to burst. (Address: 杭州巿西湖区黄姑山横路60号， 60 Huánggūshān Steet, West Lake District)