Shaoxing is one of China’s serene river towns. Just a 1.5-hour train ride south of big-city Shanghai and 20 minutes east of Hangzhou by high-speed train, the city is a refreshing change of pace.
Steeped in history, Shaoxing is home to a network of canals, 4,000 ancient stone bridges, and traditional white houses with gray slate roofs. But there’s another reason to visit: The food. Herbaceous, fermented, funky and altogether delicious, you will eat very well in Shaoxing.
Here are a few of the must-try staples (tofu included!), all of which you can find along the main pedestrian strip, Lu Xun Middle Road, in the centre of the heritage zone.
Braised Pork Belly and Fermented Greens (mei cai kou rou)
Take streaky, layered pork belly and shower it in Shaoxing wine, onion and ginger then surround it with deliciously fermented veggies and you’ve got this beloved local dish.
Rice Wine (Shaoxing jiu)
You’ve probably seen Shaoxing rice wine on dinner menus – as it’s commonly used as a cooking wine – but you can drink it, too. Usually, the fermented rice wine is poured into stone containers and buried underground.
The longer it ages, the better the quality: among the best varieties is Huadiao, so ask for that. In many restaurants in the city, this brown, nutty wine is served in adorable metal pewters.
Aniseed-flavoured Broad Beans (huixiang dou)
Nothing goes better with Shaoxing rice wine than a handful of salty broad beans. The variety you’ll find around town have a strong aniseed flavor as well as an overall umami effect.
Their lasting popularity is thanks in part to 19th-century Chinese writer Lu Xun, who writes about a humble scholar who dines on Shaoxing wine and broad beans in his story ”Kong Yiji.”
Drunken Chicken (zui ji)
Though widely eaten across China and Hong Kong, drunken chicken originates in Shaoxing. The chicken, served cold, is extra tender thanks to its long bath in fermented Huadiao wine, which also creates an ultra-quaffable broth.
Stinky Tofu (chou doufu)
Yep, you will smell it before you see it. One of the city’s best dishes is its fried fermented tofu that’s served crispy on the outside, silky on the inside.
Cut into bite-sized cubes, the tofu here is usually served alongside a bright sauce that’s a little bit spicy, a little sweet. And it is indeed delicious.
Where to Stay
In terms of heritage and location, the Old Xianheng Hotel is the place to rest your head. Set in the heart of the cultural district (along Lu Xun Middle Road), the hotel has a beautiful courtyard-style layout with grand, imperial-inspired rooms.
It can be tricky to communicate if you don’t speak Chinese, but staff members are friendly and the location is impossible to beat, just outside of the cobbled pedestrian streets.
It’s also home to the famous Xianheng Restaurant, which aforementioned writer Lu Xun chose as the setting for his ”Kong Yiji” story. Be careful when booking though: there’s lesser Xianheng Hotel not too far away.