Longjing Xiaren (Longjing Shrimps 龙井虾仁)
What is it?
Longjing xiaren, which is shrimp stir-fried with longjing tea, a famed type of green tea, is arguably the best known dish from Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. The shrimp is first coated in egg white and cornstarch before being tossed over a very high heat to cook briefly. Tea is then brewed in boiling water and added to the shrimp, along with some few teaspoons of tea leaf, cooking wine and salt.
Why is it famous?
The history of teamaking in Hangzhou’s West Lake area dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). But it wasn’t until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that longjing, which means ‘Dragon’s Well’ in English, became a status symbol. It was believed that Emperor Qianlong was such a fan of longjing tea he visited the West Lake six times during his reign and wrote countless poems about tea making and tea drinking. Mao Zedong also famously offered the tea to foreign leaders as a diplomatic gift.
According to local folklore, longjing shrimp was created by accident. One day, Emperor Qianlong stopped by a local eatery in Hangzhou and asked for his favourite longjing tea and some river shrimp. But instead of serving up the crustacean with a beverage on the side, the confused chef instead added tea leaves to the prawns. Qianlong, however, was a fan of the dish and it soon became a local staple.
While Westerners generally think of tea as a beverage, chefs in China have used it as a seasoning for centuries. One of the most traditional uses of tea in Chinese cooking is for tea-leaf eggs. After eggs are hard-boiled, their shells are gently cracked all over but not removed, whereon they are put in a pot with a mixture of water, soy sauce, star anise and tea leaves to simmer for about an hour.
Where to eat it?
Some might call it a tourist trap, but Louwailou, Hangzhou’s oldest restaurant, has been around for over 170 years. It also offers a great view of the West Lake. Address: No. 30, Gushan Road, Xihu District, Hangzhou; Tel: 86-571-8796-9682
Hong Kong’s Tien Heung Lau Restaurant, one of the oldest Hangzhou restaurants in the city, offers some of the most exquisite and authentic Hangzhou cuisine. In addition to longjing shrimp, be sure to try the Dongbo Rou and Fried Eel. Address: 18C Austin Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui; Tel: 852-2366-2414.
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