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Hangzhou, my father's hometown

Today, I received an email from my cousin who lives in Hangzhou, China with photographs of West Lake in spring with cherry trees and flowers in bloom. Surely a sight for sore eyes for those of us who endured a harsh winter. It brought back memories of my late father, his love for his hometown, and the natural beauty that surrounds the area. Chinese children, when asked from which town or city they come, always answer with the home city of their father, no matter where they were actually born. So, although I was born in Shanghai, I should really answer, "Hangzhou." The American sister city to Hangzhou is Boston -- where I now live. Maybe meant to be?

Hangzhou is an ancient city that is the capital of Zhejiang province and lies about 112 miles southwest of Shanghai. The main attraction of Hangzhou is West Lake ( Xi Hu in pinyin). The lake was originally a shallow bay, formed into a wide lake through years of dredging and damming . Every ancient civilization and culture have legends that try to explain where things came from. The West Lake myth is that a dragon and phoenix in the Milky Way formed a pearl that fell to earth and thus created West Lake.

Besides the cultural relics and scenic beauty of the area, Hangzhou is famous for scissors manufacturing, high quality silk and a variety of green tea, called longjing, or "Dragon Well."

And, of course, how can we refer to any city in China without talking about its culinary specialties? There are many delicacies for which Hangzhou is renowned, but some of the most popular are West Lake Fish ( poached carp from West Lake served whole with a light sweet and sour sauce); shrimp stir-fried with fresh, tender Dragon Well tea leaves; Dongpo Pork which has a history of almost 1000 years( braised pork belly slow-cooked in wine, soy sauce and rock sugar. It's named after the poet-governor Su Dongpo); stewed duck tongues ( did you know a duck even had a tongue?).

The 100 year-old Lou Wai Lou restaurant located on the edge of West Lake is famous for these and other local specialties. If you go there, be sure to make dinner reservations. It's very popular and always crowded.

Tea houses dot the perimeter of the lake and it costs only a few cents to spend a lazy afternoon sitting by West Lake sipping Dragon Well tea while munching on a dish of seasoned melon seeds, or enjoying a bowl of lotus starch thickened soup, sweetened and garnished with crushed, roasted chestnuts and sweet olive flowers, another specialty of the region. Here I am at a West Lake teahouse with my cousin's wife and my husband relaxing with a dish of lotus root starch soup. Perhaps it doesn't sound all that appealing to everyone (it didn't to my husband), but to me it speaks of family, memories and comfort.

1 comment:

  1. hi helen, i thought you might like this:


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Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.