For those who’ve never heard of Hangzhou before (us, until 3 weeks ago), it’s Shanghai’s next door neighbor and the capital of Zhejiang province. Shanghai is so big and important that it basically makes up its own province, but they call it a municipality. Yikes, China is confusing! Despite its obscurity in the West, Hangzhou actually boasts 9 million residents and several tourist attractions. We spent two days there visiting Tommy’s old college roommate, Bin Yang. He was a great guide, showing us the highlights and introducing bizarre and delicious new food.
What We Ate
I’ll start with this, because to be completely honest it was my favorite part of Hangzhou. This was the most adventurous we’ve been food-wise, all thanks to Bin!
- McDonald’s and KFC – Yeah, I got you all hyped up about weird food and then led with this. We ate at these chains to get a quick start on the day, but they did have some strange quirks! At McDonald’s, fried dough sticks sans sugar are common. At KFC Tommy tried a rice roll! Kind of like breakfast sushi. We also thought it was super interesting that KFC was advertising their own branded moon cakes (a popular Harvest Festival treat). KFC might actually be a bigger deal here than it is in America. Chinese people love fried chicken – while we can’t find a decent burger in Sinan, there are several Chinese equivalents of KFC.
- Xiaolongbao (Soup dumplings) – These delicious little pockets of pork soup steamed inside a delicate dumpling skin are a Shanghai specialty, and one of my new favorite foods.
- Longjing/Dragon Well Tea Shrimp – Hangzhou’s top specialty, shrimp stir-fried in green tea. It is eaten dipped in vinegar. It was a really unique flavor, but we really enjoyed it! Longjing (Dragon Well) tea is produced nearby, and is apparently world-famous for its quality. We did also try this separately, but I’ll admit it didn’t impress me more than any other green tea.
- Dongpo Pork – A local dish of braised pork belly. The best I can describe it as is meat jello… we each took one bite and decided not to pursue it any further.
- Beggar’s Chicken – Another famous Hangzhou specialty, chicken cooked while wrapped in lotus leaves and covered in clay. So tender and juicy!
- Deep-fried bean curd – Thin, crispy layers form a light and airy pastry, served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce. A bit strange – the pastry itself doesn’t taste like much of anything – but not bad.
And the most bizarre meal… Dinner
For supper, we went to a seafood restaurant unlike anything I’ve ever been to. The waitress brought out these monstrously huge shrimps that were still moving! Their long, thin legs kept clawing at the air, trying to escape the skewers they were on to no avail. She placed them on a steamer in the center of the round table, and a glass dome descended from the ceiling to enclose them. We watched the steam fill the dome, and they began to change color before their legs finally stopped moving. There were tons more dishes that were cooked in the same fashion, minus the visible movement. We feasted on mussels, clams, snails, something that tasted like beef but might’ve been fish, two types of shrimp, egg buns, and (an exciting surprise) cheesy sweet potatoes. Absolutely the freshest meal I have ever eaten, and incredibly delicious. It was served with osmanthus tea, which I will now make my goal to find everywhere.
What We Did
West Lake – Ranked as the #1 thing to do in Hangzhou and famous throughout China, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a huge man-made lake with various islands, bridges, gardens, temples, and pagodas. We took a relaxing boat ride and wandered through a few of the buildings. It was a beautiful park, but unfortunately the air quality in Hangzhou was very bad and our views of the surrounding city and mountains were completely obscured by smog. Golden Week had also drawn out absolutely insane crowds, taking away any semblance of peacefulness or tranquility.
Hefang Street – An old street-turned-pedestrian shopping area with tons of street and storefront vendors selling every imaginable type of food, craft, and souvenir. We really liked the lively atmosphere and had fun marveling at the bizarre items for sale. The crowds only added to the exciting, upbeat nature of the market.
Shopping Mall – Tommy and Bin played a VR game at an arcade while I people-watched. Tommy was really impressed by the VR, and I had fun watching girls in high-heels playing the basketball games with their dates. We all went to the movie theater and watched The Foreigner in 3-D. There wasn’t much of a crowd, but it was funny to hear their reactions when Jackie Chan did something funny or was about to be killed. The mall was huge and luxurious, like almost all the malls we’ve seen in China!
We wrapped our visit up by stopping at Bin’s house to meet his 3-month-old daughter, Michole. It was a sweet end to our time in Hangzhou, and we headed off on our 50 minute bullet train into Shanghai. If you haven’t read our post already, you can check out what we did here.
City Family Metaphor Assessment – Hangzhou is the rich, modern aunt, probably Shanghai’s mother. She’s Chinese by blood and at heart, but she’s not afraid to advance with the times.
We’ve been back for a week and a half, and teaching is going great. This weekend we’ll be visiting the nearby Fanjing Mountain. Much love to everyone at home! 💕