Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hangzhou Dinner at Man Wah

A group of us converged upon Man Wah recently to preview their upcoming menu featuring signature dishes from the legendary Zhiweiguan Weichuang Restaurant (知味觀味庄) from Hangzhou.

Cuisines from the agriculture rich area of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces - in which the city of Hangzhou is located - are known for the clever use of many fresh ingredients grown and found in the region, combining with wide variety of cooking techniques - including sauteing, braising and double-boiling - which result in dishes with rich and seasoned flavors.

知味素三碟 The Vegetarian Trio
I was most impressed with the several vegetarian dishes on offer this evening, surprisingly. The appetizer of the vegetarian trio consists of 3 nicely presented cold dishes served as a platter - finely julienned vegetables in deep-fried tofu skin (traditionally known as vegetarian goose), green vegetables rolled in fresh tofu-skin, and candied pecans. The cooking just brought out the best of various seasonal ingredients commonly used in Hangzhou cuisine.

八寶糯米藕 Lotus Root with "Eight Treasures" Glutinous Rice
Another cold dish of stuffed lotus root with "eight treasures" glutinous rice was easily my favorite. This classic Hangzhou dish with Lotus Root cooked in slightly sweeten liquid (with sugar syrup and osmanthus) then stuffed with sticky rices and other sweet ingredients such as red beans, was presented as a pagoda - with auspicious meaning of stepping higher. I love the refreshing flavors from that of the floral osmanthus sipped through the sweetness from that of the lotus root and sticky rice.

油淋四素 Four Vegetarian Selections with Soya
Later on we also had a vegetarian quartet which consists of 4 kinds of vegetables flash-poached in warm oil  so as to keep their crunchy texture and fresh, green taste, and seasoned with soy sauce.

蟲草山家清供 Mountain Home Vegetarian Clear Soup with Cordyceps
The soup course - while not a vegetarian dish in the strictest sense - was remarkable as well. The mixed mushroom consomme with cordyceps. Ingredients such as morels, matsuzake and cordyceps (a Chinese medicinal herb) was slowly boiled in spring water (brought in from the source in Hangzhou), and turned into a clear, refreshing but rich consomme thanks to the infusion of morels and matsuzake mushroom flavors. We hardly noticed the absence of meat in the soup base.

金牌蟹汁鳜魚 Pan-fried Mandarin Fish with Crab Sauce
The other dishes of the evening highlighted the many facets of the cooking style in the region as well. Duck was braised in deep soy sauce - with thick and rich flavor typically found in local Shanghainese cuisine known as "Ben Beng Cai" (which literally meant Original Style Cuisine 本幫菜). Mandarin fish - a common freshwater fish species found in the region, was usually deep-fried and served with sweet and sour sauce. But I love this version of steamed, then poached with oil, and served with a sauce made from hairy crab roes and meat, which brought out the best from the silky texture of the fish, combined with the unique, almost creamy flavors from that of the hairy crab roes.

叫化雞 Hangzhou Beggar's Chicken
Beggar's Chicken needs no further introduction and is probably the most well-known Hanzhou dish. The chicken - after wrapped in lotus meat and mud and baked - was juicy and flavorful, and the mushroom stuffing served as a perfect compliment. The aroma immediately filled the room as the chicken was carefully unwrapped at the table with much fanfare (with the hammer and stuff)

龍井問茶 Dragonwell Tea Noodles
The Dragonwell Tea Noodles was an interesting dish - as you couldn't really tell what it is by its name. Noodles made in the shape of dragonwell tea leaves - a Hangzhou tea specialty - were presented in a tea glass with poached river prawns and Jinhua ham and served with soup made of chicken and dry scallops poured into the glass at the table. It's delicious and not filling - just what I needed as the dinner was drawing to the end.

南宋定勝糕 Song Dynasty Victory Cake with Osmanthus
Our dessert of the night was the sweet "victory cake" - buns made with brown glutinous rice infused with Osmanthus, stuffed with red beans and steamed in bamboo basket. This common Hangzhou snack was originated back in Song Dynasty, when a patriotic general successfully defended the city under siege after he was tipped off of the enemy's formation by a spy loyal to the emperor with a basket of red steamed cakes passed on as a gift.

It's definitely a fun night before Chinese New Year, with great company and yummy food to celebrate. Thank you Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong for hosting the event.

And more pictures on my flickr page - http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157632649573943/

When? January 30 2013
Where? Man Wah, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Menu highlight: Lotus Root with "Eight Treasures" Glutinous Chicken, Pan-fried Mandarin Fish with Crab Sauce

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