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Cooking up a Storm with '8 Aquatic Immortals' 2018-10-30
A group of freshwater vegetables known as the “eight aquatic immortals” can be used to make a variety of nutritious dishes. Water chestnut, lotus root, water celery, Manchurian wild rice, water shield, water caltrop, fox nut and Sagittaria sagittifolia are common in dishes south of the Yangtze River. In traditional Chinese medicine, the vegetables are known for nourishing organs, removing inner heat and improving digestion. These eight vegetables pervade Yangtze Delta across fields, riverbanks, ponds and lakes every summer. They can be simmered, stewed, fried and steamed with other ingredients. Hangzhou’s history of cultivating the “eight aquatic immortals” dates back thousands of years, during which multiple home dishes have been created.

Shanghai Daily gives you the low-down on all eight “immortals,” recommends a few popular dishes for each and lists some up-scale restaurants and roadside eateries where you can sample them.

The water chestnut is poorly named as it isn’t even a nut, but a vegetable that grows underwater in the mud. It has tube-shaped, leafless green stems that grow to about 1.5 meters. But what people eat are the small, rounded corms, which have a crisp white flesh.

Water chestnut are cooked in two common ways. The first is to preserve with sugar. The raw water chestnuts are slightly sweet and very crunchy. They have a nutty and mellow taste when mixed with sugar. The preserved dish is always served as an appetizer.
The second way is to grind the dried water chestnut into powder. Blend it with water, milk and sugar, and then steam for a while. It eventually turns into a cake with an al dente texture. Usually, the cakes are sliced and served as a dessert.

Where to eat:

Yuerongzhuang Baiyun Chinese Restaurant
Address: 21 Zijingang Road
Tel: (0571) 8586-0000

Water caltrop is often confused with water chestnut, but they are totally different. Water caltrop is a floating aquatic plant with finely divided feather-like submerged leaves and bull head-like fruits, which contains starch, protein and trace minerals.
There are many ways to cook them although the most common is to boil with pork chops with soy sauce. Another popular dish is to coat water caltrop with a layer of starch and fry for a minute, which seals in its original flavor.

Where to eat:

Jing Village Restaurant
Address: Hezhu Street, Xixi Wetland
Tel: (0571) 8896-5703

Both the grain and stem of Manchurian wild rice was eaten by ancient Chinese. But over time dietary habits changed and people eat only the stem part nowadays. It is popular due to its crisp texture. Since its flavor is mild, people always pan-stir it with soy sauce to enhance the flavor and highlight its crunchiness. Common dishes include sliced Manchurian wild rice stem stirred with shredded pork, and chopped Manchurian wild rice stems stirred with sliced bean curd.

Where to eat:

Shoujian Teahouse
Address: 122 Meijiawu
Tel: (0571) 8709-5364

This plant features bright green leaves and small purple flowers that blossom from June through September. The leaves are edible.
In ancient China, water shield was used in poems as a metaphor for nostalgia. West Lake water shield soup is one of Hangzhou’s signature dishes. It is said that Hangzhou locals savor a bowl of this soup when returning home after traveling.

Where to eat:

Lou Wai Lou Restaurant
Address: 30 Gushan Road
Tel: (0571) 8796-9682
Euryale ferox, or fox nut, resembles water lily. It produces starchy white seeds that may be eaten raw or cooked. China has cultivated the plant for more than 3,000 years. Formerly, they were used in TCM to nourish the spleen and kidneys. It is often cooked in soup with meat, or simmered with red dates and white fungus. The latter is popular with women since it is believed to have anti-aging effects.

Where to eat:

Baijiale Restaurant
Address: 866 Dongxin Road
Tel: (0571) 8535-8088

Sagittaria sagittifolia is also called arrowhead due to the shape of its leaves. Its round tuber is edible. It has a bland and starchy texture similar to potatoes. It is often boiled with meat to balance the greasiness of the meat.

Where to eat:

Hongmei Teahouse
Address: 213 Meijiawu
Tel: 139-6819-7956

The lotus is one of Hangzhou’s symbols as West Lake comes to life with pink lotus flowers every summer. Lotus root powder is the most common Hangzhou specialty that tourists like to snatch up when visiting. The translucent sweet, sticky starch is ground from lotus root.

Common dishes include steamed rice and pork wrapped in lotus leaves, lotus leaf porridge, and candied lotus root. The last dish is often considered the most popular lotus root delicacy and is frequently served as an appetizer in Hangzhou cuisine restaurants.

Candied lotus root is also easy to make. First, glutinous rice is soaked in water for around an hour. The lotus root should be peeled and the ends sliced off, completely exposing the air holes. Next, stuff glutinous rice into the holes and steam. Finally, slice the lotus root and sprinkle with a pinch of dried osmanthus.

Where to eat:

Zhi Wei Guan Restaurant
Address: 278 Hefang Street
Tel: (0571) 8715-4580

Celery is highly valued in TCM because it boosts appetite, soothes headaches and coughs, as well as reduces blood pressure. Dumplings stuffed with minced celery and pork is the most traditional way to sample this vegetable. Another common home recipe is to fry celery with sliced pork.

Where to eat:

Didao Traditional Handmade Dumpling Store
Address: 456 Wulin Road
Tel: (0571) 8539-2071

Source: Hangzhou English Portal
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