ALMOST every Suzhou person agrees on one thing — locals are fastidious about food. Sitting on the east bank of Taihu Lake, Suzhou boasts abundant produce and a good supply of aquatic delights that nurture a rich gastronomic culture.
The well-known braised streaky pork is much preferred in autumn and winter, though the dish can be found in most local restaurants year round. In summer, stewed meat with wine lees prevails as it is less greasy. Even soup noodle, the favorite of many locals, changes according to the season.
“We prefer white noodle soups in summer to wake up the appetite, and red soups in winter to warm up the body,” said Yang Jianhua, a Suzhou native. Soups with a white broth are stewed with chicken, shrimp, eels or river snails while the red soups are seasoned with soy sauce.
Yang’s grandfather, like many seniors in the city, makes a habit of getting up early and having a bowl of toutang mian, the day’s first batch of noodle soup, which has the richest flavored broth. The daily routine has been practiced for decades regardless of the weather.
“Now it is time for fengzhen damian,” Yang said. Originally from the Fengqiao Town in Suzhou, fengzhen damian is known for its delicious toppings of stewed meat and savory white soup seasoned with wine lees.
The lunar month after the Dragon Boat Festival is also the time to savor zixia, or breeding shrimp, says Roger Xu, executive chef of Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou. Shrimp breed at this time of year, meaning they have plenty of roe, which is favored by locals.
“To keep the original taste, we prefer to boil or stew the shrimps with cucumber or other ‘cool’ ingredients that can ease internal heat,” Xu said.
Especially popular at this time of year is a noodle soup topped with stir-fired shrimp and shrimp roe. A limited supply means one bowl can cost up to 70 yuan (US$11.23)
Another seasonal delicacy, xiazi jiangyou, a local soy sauce cooked with shrimp roe, often sees demand outstrip supply. Cai Zhi Zhai, a renowned food store on Guanqian Street, hasn’t had xiazi jiangyou in stock for weeks. Demand is so strong that some locals are now making it themselves, according to a CSZTV report.
For Suzhou native Wu Ye, summer begins when vendors begin selling melons on Pingjiang Road and Suzhou Preserved Fruit Factory’s retail outlet starts selling concentrated plum juice.
“Back in the old days, we didn’t have many fancy beverages. Home-made sour plum soup in summer, what a life!” Wu says with nostalgia.
Shanghai Daily picks some summer specialties that may just tempt travelers to visit “Heaven on Earth.”
Fengzhen damian (Fengzhen noodle)
Thanks to ÒA Bite of China,Ó an acclaimed documentary that features various Chinese cuisines, locals, gourmets and tourists line up in front of Tong De Xing noodle house every day to have a taste of the legendary fengzhen damian (Fengzhen noodle). Soaked in white broth, the chewy noodles are topped with a slice of streaky pork, which is the highlight of this dish. The pork is marinated in rice wine and stewed for four hours. Each slice is 1cm thick and 6cm wide. When properly cooked, it feels like the meat is melting on your tongue. Yet it is far from greasy because of the rice wine. Distiller’s grains are also added to the soup to stimulate the palette in the summer heat. This dish is originally from a diner in Fengqiao Town. Now it’s a signature summer specialty in some century-old noodle houses around the city. Don’t forget to order a cup of plum juice, which complements the noodles. Tong De Xing opens daily from 6am to 12pm, and is said to serve only 400 bowls of Fengzhen noodles daily. This dish is only available until the end of September.
Tong De Xing (Shiquan St branch)
Address: 624 Shiquan St
Tong De Xing (Jiayufang branch)
Address: 6 Renmin Rd
The topping of sanxia mian, or three shrimp noodle, contains three parts of the shrimp — shrimp roe, shrimp ovaries and shrimp body. White shrimps from Taihu Lake are considered the best. Stir-fried with a bit of soy sauce and yellow rice wine, the topping is savory. Many diners get up early and fork out 70 yuan (US$11.2) for a bowl of sanxia mian. Dried noodle blended with the topping is much recommended. It’s very time consuming to prepare the ingredients so Yu Xing Ji noodle house only serves 10 bowls a day for only one month. Meanwhile, Xin Ju Feng’s signature dish is stir-fried shrimp, shrimp roe and shrimp ovaries.
Yu Xing Ji
Address: 11 Xibei St
Xin Ju Feng
Address: 9 Taijian Lane
Cold dumplings and noodles
Cold dishes with dressing are always popular in summer. Like Shanghai, cold huntun (dumplings) and cold noodles are also popular in Suzhou. For cold dishes, the dressing is rather essential. Suzhou cold dumplings are often dressed with spring onions and oil and appetizing red vinegar or a spicy soy sauce. While the peanut sauce is the widely recognized companion of Shanghai cold noodles, the Suzhou version is seasoned with broth and zaoyou, a blended oil made of rice wine lees. Toppings include green bean sprouts, water bamboo and green pepper.
Ai Jiao Lou (Baita Road W. branch)
Address: 1 Baita Rd W.
Ai Jiao Lou (Dongdajie branch)
Address: 100 Shuyuan Lane
Chao rouxian tuanzi and mint sticky rice cake
Dubbed “the queen of tuanzi (sticky rice dumpling)” by locals, chao rouxian tuanzi is a summer breakfast specialty. Rows of plump white sticky rice dumplings are stuffed with minced pork, shrimp, dried day lily, bamboo shoots and black fungus. The snack can be found at many breakfast stalls like Wan Fu Xing, but is only available in summer. They sell out fast. For those with a sweet tooth, mint sticky rice cakes make for a refreshing option. Made with green beans and mint, the cake is not as sweet or oily as most Suzhou desserts. It is quite popular in summer and is often sold out before noon.
Wan Fu Xing (Tongjing Road branch)
Address: 11 Tongjing Rd N.
Huang Tian Yuan (main store)
Address: 86 Guanqian St
Green bean soup
Green bean soup is a common dish across southern China in summer. Authentic Suzhou green bean soup, however is more of a dessert. While Shanghainese like their soup well-cooked until the beans are mushy, Suzhou people prefer a clear soup with the beans intact. Add a spoon or two of steamed sticky rice, raisins, dried orange peels and other preserved fruits to lend flavor and color, and a few drops of mint oil. Sweetened osmanthus and sugar can also be added according to taste.
Wu Fang Zhai (Shantang branch)
Address: 141 Shantang St
Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou
Address: 168 Tayuan Rd
Where to get food in Suzhou
Guanqian Street-Taijian Lane
This is where you can find many age-old restaurants and food stores serving authentic Suzhou cuisines. Among them are De Yue Lou, Song He Lou and Xin Ju Feng, all with a menu of local specialties such as sweet and sour mandarin fish and braised streaky pork. There are also household snack food and dessert stores like Cai Zhi Zhai and Huang Tian Yuan.
Shiquan Street-Fenghuang Street
This crossroad area, within walking distance of the Master-of-Nets Garden, offers not only local delicacies but myriad cuisines from outside the city. Follow the crowds and queues.
Jinji Lake (Ligong Causeway and Moon Harbor)
The newly developed area proves to be the latest recreational and dining destination. Moon Harbor on the right bank of the lake, and Ligong Causeway (south bank) accommodate a variety of Chinese and Western restaurants catering to different tastes and dining habits.
Where to stay
Crowne Plaza Suzhou
Jutting out into Jinji Lake, the dramatic cruise ship design of Crowne Plaza Suzhou impresses. This is the only hotel with an outdoor freeform pool, ideal for the long summer.
Address: 168 Xinggang St, Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou
InterContinental Suzhou is an architectural landmark on the landscaped waterfront promenade of Jinji Lake. The 27-storey crescent shaped hotel features 427 contemporary guestrooms, five eclectic restaurants and lounges, a luxury spa and an indoor Infinity pool.Ê
Address: 288 Wangdun Rd, Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou
Kempinski Hotel Suzhou
The Hotel has 458 guestrooms and suites,Êuniquely designedÊrestaurants and bars and an impressive selection of Meeting & Conference rooms.
Address: 1 Guobin Rd, Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou
Renaisance Suzhou Hotel
Overlooking the tranquil Jinji Lake, the hotel boosts 600 square meters of event areas, fully equipped audiovisual system, catering to your various needs of meetings and events.ÊÊ
Address: 229 Suzhou Ave W., Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou
Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou
Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou is the tallest five-star international luxury hotel in Suzhou, offering breathtaking views of the city. The hotel has 390 spacious and tastefully designed rooms and suites, six restaurants and bars, a spa with six private treatment rooms, and a fully equipped health club.
Address: 168 Tayuan Rd, Suzhou New Area, Suzhou
Suzhou Marriott Hotel
Nestled in the Coastal International Building from the 29th to 48th floors, the downtown hotel has 293 rooms and suites, a well-found fitness center, indoor swimming pool and Quan Spa to help refresh the weary.