Suzhou is a paradise for gourmets, and has hundreds of years of culinary experimentation. Suzhou cuisine is light in taste and sweeter than Yangzhou’s Huaiyang Cuisine. Each course is individually prepared and the emphasis is on high-quality ingredients. The dishes are all unique in color, aroma, shape and taste. There are many signature dishes in Suzhou that make up a formal banquet Suzhou style. Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish is the most famous, legendary both at home and abroad. The Mandarin Fish is characterized by its lack of bones and the softness of its meat. The head of the fish, its mouth positioned wide open, and the upwards-bent tail give the overall look of a squirrel. The fish is also cut into spikes to resemble the fur. Shrimp, dried bamboo shoots and a sweet-and-sour sauce are added to complete the Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish’s color, shape, and flavor.
The second dish of a typical Suzhou banquet is Whitebait Soup. Whitebait, noted for its soft texture, appears on the Suzhou fish market every fall. This light, delicious soup is seasoned with ham, bamboo slices, green vegetable leaves, and includes the whitebait’s liver.
Biluo Shelled Shrimps are named after Biluochun tea, one of the finest green teas in China, which comes from Suzhou. This dish uses the tea to flavor the shrimp, creating a unique taste.
The fourth dish on any menu is Cracking Eel Paste, where rice field eels are broiled, stir-fried or quick-boiled. The cracking refers to the sound of the oil when the dish is served immediately after cooking.
Watermelon Chicken is braised and then marinated with watermelon. This allows a combination of sweet and savory flavors.
In addition to these formal banquet dishes, Suzhou also boasts some other foods from Taihu Lake. With Taihu Lake as a backdrop, you can experience what has come to be known as Taihu Boat Dishes. They first appeared in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), over 1,000 years ago, when rich officials and merchants held banquets on boats so they could enjoy the beautiful scenery while dining. Since 1994, Boat Dishes have become a well-established tradition in Guangfu town on the eastern bank of Taihu Lake. There are now 13 magnificent boat restaurants along the fishing harbor offering wide varieties of fresh water food. Steamed white fish and water shield soup with egg flakes are some of the best known dishes. White fish is a specialty of Taihu Lake. Steamed with shredded ginger and red and green peppers, it is a wonderful dish in texture, look, aroma and taste. Water shield soup with egg flakes is nutritious while still being extremely appetizing.
Furthermore, Suzhou has various snacks, ideal for a tea or coffee break. They may not appear in large restaurants but you can still find them in many shops. Dragon head sweet potatoes with sugar juice, gorgon fruit with osmanthus, plum blossom cakes, and boiled lotus roots with osmanthus are the best of these unique treats.