Fine din­ing that’s fit for kings

World lead­ers were treated to the best of China’s haute cui­sine in Hangzhou, a one­time royal play­ground

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By PAULINE DLOH paulined@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

First on the ta­ble was a va­ri­ety of lit­tle bites meant to tan­ta­lize and build up the ap­petite. These in­cluded fla­vored pieces of braised bean­curd, freshly pick­led cu­cum­bers and smoked fish fil­lets.

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.

Next on the ta­ble was an­other sig­na­ture­dish, man­dar­in­fish 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.

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.

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.

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.

Of course, guests ended the meal with sea­sonal fruit, ice cream, and cof­fee and tea served with clas­sic Chi­nese pas­tries in­stead of pe­tits fours.

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.

JO­HANNES EISELE / AFP

Chil­dren wave flags of G20 mem­bers be­fore the ban­quet at the G20 Sum­mit in Hangzhou on Sun­day.

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