Traditional Cuisine and Food in Suzhou

Chinese Fengzhen Noodles
Fengzhen Noodles

Occasionally, Suzhou cuisine is more broadly referred to with reference to Shanghai cuisine, since the world’s largest city is less than 60 miles away. However, local chefs are proud to say the flavors of “su bang cai” (Suzhou cuisine) are far more delicate.

Most famous for its vegetable and fish dishes, Suzhou cuisine emphasizes fresh, subtly sweet flavors and exquisite presentation. It commonly features freshwater fish, especially eel and carp, which are usually steamed. Traditional dishes include Mandarin Fish, Steamed White Fish, Water Shield with Egg Flakes, Moon Cakes, Fengzhen noodles, Aozao noodles, Semen euryales, Fish Flavor Spring Rolls, Youtunjinjiao (Fried Steamed Bun), Sugar Porridge, Jiuniang Cake, and more.

Yangtze River Delta

South of the Yangtze River, this is the important Golden Triangle of the river delta, where fertile soil yields rice, wheat, maize and other agricultural bounties, such as soybeans, peanuts, tea, peppermint, spearmint, apples, pears, peaches, loquat, gingko and herbs. Suzhou, found in the Jiangsu Province has a 620-mile coastline on the Yellow Sea and a supply of freshwater fish from Lake Tiahu.

Imperial Pedigree

The sweet and sour fried squirrel Mandarin fish dish known throughout Suzhou and Jiang Province is named for its unusual shape. Regarded as the traditional dish to celebrate family occasions, holidays and banquets, the festive presentation of this main course with its reddish-orange sweet and sour sauce sets just the right tone for celebratory gatherings.

Like many foods in China, this regional dish called “song shu gui yu” has an anecdotal history to share. During the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, Manchurian Emperor Qianlong visited Song Helou Restaurant near the Yangtze River, where the chef served him a delicious boneless carp. Some say its shape on the plate resembles a squirrel, others say the name takes after the sizzling sound of the hot sauce poured over the fish.

Local Authenticity

Visitors and residents alike frequent the city’s oldest and best-known restaurants specializing in the regional Jiangsu cuisine, which is sometimes described as just a little on the sweet side. Song Helou Restaurant is in two locations on historic Shanlang Street and just off busy GuanQian Jie Street where Mandarin squirrel fish and braised bean curd with crabmeat and shelled fresh shrimps are two of the popular choices. At De Yue Lou Restaurant, also on GuanQian Jie Street, dishes made uniquely with ingredients from nearby Taihu Lake are a feature on the menu, as well as spring chicken, de-shelled shrimps fried with green tea leaves and steamed pork slices with glutinous rice flour.

Wumen Renjia Restaurant also specializes in traditional local cuisine; find it in the courtyard of the admission-free Suzhou Folk Custom Museum. Dishes have been carefully researched for authenticity and follow traditional cooking methods focused on quality produce, meticulous techniques, elegant presentation and natural fragrant flavors from nearby gardens. Try the cherry pork, slowed cooked for several hours, perhaps accompanied by spiced peanuts and bean curd, Suzhou noodles, lotus, water chestnuts, broad beans stir-fried with spring onions, preserved mustard greens.

Be assured that a smile and a ‘thank-you’ is appreciated at the end of an enjoyable meal, as tipping in restaurants is not part of the culture in mainland China.

Featured Tour Packages

13-Days : Gardens, Culture, History, People, and Nature

13-Days : Gardens, Culture, History, People, and Nature

Day 11 - 13 : You will visit the Urban Planning Exhibition and Shanghai Museum, a world-class museum with a collection of bronze, jade, pottery, ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, old coins, and furniture. Tour the Lingering Garden (Liuyuan) and Tiger Hill Pagoda (Huqiu Shan) including the Bonsai (Panji) Nursery on the grounds of Wanjing Villa. After lunch visit the Master of the Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan) and Blue Wave Pavilion (Canlang Ting).

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10-Days : Idyllic Water Towns

10-Days : Idyllic Water Towns

Day 7 - 8 : Garden art is one of the region’s most famous cultural expressions, and Suzhou is home to its greatest gardens. Here the Chinese literatis have integrated architecture, water and rock, and painting into a unified spiritual expression.

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11-Days : Enchanting China

11-Days : Enchanting China

Day 9 - 10: Suzhou, which dates back to 514 BC, is sometimes called the "Venice of the East". And visit Shan Tang Street, which has always been regarded as the first name of Suzhou ancient streets. It has a long history of about 1,100 years, its layout and architecture are the best to represent the characteristics of Suzhou's old alleys, and it has connections to many ancient Chinese celebrities and anecdotes.

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Expert Tips:

Humble Administrator’s Garden is one of China’s finest, the centerpiece of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that comprises nine classical Suzhou gardens. Visitors during spring and summer may attend the azalea or lotus festival. Adjacent, the Suzhou Museum is the latest masterpiece of China’s most famous architect, I.M. Pei. For transportation, take tourist buses No.1, 2 or 5.

Traveling with children? Don't miss the Suzhou Amusement Park at Junji Lake with zipline ride, a dancing water fountain show on weekends and one of the world's tallest Ferris Wheels. The 60 cabins carrying a total of 300 passengers take 20 minutes per rotation, providing great views of the lake and the Suzhou skyline.

Currency in Suzhou, and throughout China, is abbreviated as CNY for Chinese Yen or as RMB for Renminbi. Along with 13 other major currencies, US dollars can be exchanged at all the outlets of the state banks of China at the same rate. Bring a passport to make any transaction.

Known as the "Silk Capital of the World", those keen to see silkworms in action can be guided through the process from mulberry leaves to finished product at Suzhou No. 1 Silk Mill. The region's temperate, subtropical zone that's ideal for deciduous mulberry trees has supported 5,000 years of silk cultivation.

Picturesque canals, stone bridges, temples, gardens and pagodas make the ancient city of Suzhou one of China's top tourism destinations. Calligraphy carved onto Tiger Hill rocks indicate that it has attracted visitors for thousands of years. A Song Dynasty poet, Su Shi, said, "It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill."

In Suzhou, the regional Chinese language is called Wu, the subgroup is called Taihu, and the local dialect, one of nine, is known as Suzhounese, considered one of the most elegant, flowing in all of China. Most people are bilingual in Mandarin used in schools, because Suzhounese is not mutually intelligible with either Mandarin or Cantonese.

Atop Tiger Hill, the Yunyan Pagoda, nicknamed the Leaning Tower of China, stands as a symbol of Suzhou. Completed during the Song Dynasty in the year 961, the 1,000-year-old pagoda is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and has become a symbol of Suzhou. The 3-degree tilt means that since 2010, visitors are no longer permitted entry.

Visit an authentic Buddhist monastery and temple just 3 miles west Suzhou old town. The temple has been well-known since the Tang Dynasty of the 7th and 8th centuries. Take bus No. 3, 6, 9, 17, 21, 31, 301 or Y3 and get off at Fengqaio Station.

Suzhou Railway Station, one of China's busiest, dates back to 1906. Now throughly modernized, the fast train connection with a design speed of 217 miles per hour covers the 52 miles to Shanghai in a journey of only a 24 minutes.

One of the best ways to tour the "Venice of the East" is from a front row seat on a hand-steered canal boat. Afterwards, stop into 130-year-old Pin Von Teahouse for exotic teas served in private booths on the second floor. It overlooks Pingjiang Lu, an 800-year-old lively pedestrian street, one of China's "National Historic and Cultural Streets."