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Xihu Cuyu (West Lake Vinegar Fish 西湖醋鱼)

What is it?
Xihu cuyu (West Lake vinegar fish) is a popular dish from Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. Preparation is simple: fresh carp is first poached and then simmered in a mixture of Shaoxing wine, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, ginger and onion. The light seasoning accentuates the sweetness of the fish.

Why is it famous?
According to folklore, two fisherman brothers were living near West Lake in Hangzhou. A despotic official, surnamed Zhao, coveted the older brother’s wife and plotted his death. Zhao then framed the younger brother for the murder.

On learning the truth, the wife of the dead brother urged the younger sibling to flee. Before he left, she cooked him a fish caught from the lake, seasoning it with sugar and vinegar to symbolise the sweetness and bitterness (or rather, sourness) of life. Years passed and the young man became an official. He had the opportunity for a fitting revenge on Zhao. But he still couldn’t find his sister-in-law. Then one day, he was served West Lake Fish at dinner and it tasted exactly like the dish his sister-in-law had once prepared for him. He asked to meet the chef and it turned out to be her. The two quickly reunited.

Where to eat it?
Hangzhou is famous for its local waters, which are a source of not just its famous hairy crabs, but also for eel and different types of fish.

For West Lake fish dining: try Louwailou in Hangzhou, 30 Gushan Road, Solitary Island; Tel: 86-571-8796-9682); or Hong Zhou Restaurant in Hong Kong, 1/F, Chinachem Johnston Plaza, 178-188 Johnston Road , Wan Chai; Tel 852-2591-1898.


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