Sweet, Subtle and Simply Delicious: Great Local Restaurants in Suzhou

Sweet, Subtle and Simply Delicious: Great Local Restaurants in Suzhou
By Steve Allison , eChinacities.com

Suzhou has a long tradition of very distinct local foods, and the city is flush with restaurants reflecting the tastes of people both rich and poor. Suzhou food is of course pretty traditional, and the most famous dishes have remained unchanged for decades if not centuries, but there are a few modern interpretations that provide a refreshing change that's still representative of the local flavor. The vast majority of traditional restaurants are in the Guanqian Walking Street area, since the temple was the city's main draw in ancient times.

Photo: cultural-china.com

Suzhou food is sweet. Even regular dishes like eggs and tomatoes and twice-cooked pork have a hint of sugar in them. The more refined dishes are respected for their subtle flavor, which can come off as bland to the uninitiated. Black chicken soup with goji berries seems indistinguishable from much less expensive regular chicken soup, but connoisseurs detect a slight difference in flavor that, to them, justifies the cost. The combination of sweetness or blandness can lead some people to conclude that the cuisine is not very sophisticated, but a well-rounded sampling of a few different restaurants can give great insight into the centuries-old tradition of Suzhou cuisine.

1) Deyue Lou / Songhe Lou
Two of Suzhou's oldest restaurants are really close to each other in the Guanqian walking street area and either of these 200 something year old restaurants should be the first stop in any tour of the local cuisine. Songhe Lou, the more famous of the two, is reputed to have the best Mandarin Squirrel Fish in the world. The marble and wood-paneled walls, flanked by crane statues greeting you at the door, are a good indication of the kind of meal that you're in for. It's pricey, opulent, and sure to make you feel like a real high ranking government cadre being treated during an official visit. Most of the other special dishes have enough shrimp and crab to satisfy any seafood lover.

Deyue Lou is just around the block and, unless you're well schooled in the intricacies of Chinese cuisine, virtually identical. The Mandarin Squirrel Fish is good here too, and may have a better Braised Tofu with Crab. They do have a seasonal menu that's worth asking about.

Both restaurants are only open for lunch and dinner and close in the afternoon. Reservations are a must for their Guanqian Street locations, so it might be worth trying their other locations around town if you want to avoid a crowd.

Songhe Lou Restaurant-Guanqian Branch View In Map
Add:  72 Taijian Lane, Pingjiang District, Suzhou 
地址:苏州平江区太监弄72号, 松鹤楼(观前店) 
Tel: 0512 67700688 / 67277006 
For more branches click here.

Deyue Lou (Old Branch) View In Map
Add: 43 Taijian Lane, Guanqian Walking Street, Suzhou
地址:苏州观前街, 太监弄43号, 得月楼(老楼店)
Tel: 0512 65238940
For more branches click here.

2) Zhuhongxing Noodle Shop
Just down the block from Songhe Lou is another ancient restaurant, this one catering more to the working class temple visitors of yesteryear. A simple noodle soup or a steamer full of dumplings should be ordered (and eaten) in about 15 minutes, for about 15 RMB each. Suzhounese prefer a thin, long noodle made of wheat in a pork broth, usually boiled in a massive pot. If you want to try something a little more substantial than just noodles and chives, give the Braised Rib Noodles a shot. It's a nice way to fill up quickly during a day of touring but still experience something uniquely local.

Add: 108 Gong Xiang, Pingjiang District, Suzhou (one block from the Guanqian Temple)
Tel: 0512 6770 4247
Opening hours: 6:00-22:00

3) Luzhenxing Noodle Shop View In Map
This tiny dumpling, wonton, and noodle shop is just at the corner of Shiquan St. not far from the famous Drunken Clam (look for the fake stone and wooden façade). It's right in front of a huge wet market and the meat and vegetables are as fresh as can be. The Wonton Soup is the best in town and the Xiaolongbao are one of their best sellers. The walls are adorned with black and white photos of old Suzhou and the tables are filled with the old Suzhounese who probably remember when they were taken. It's a little out of the way, but absolutely worth it.

Add: 484 Moye Lu, Canglang District, Suzhou (on the corner of Shiquan Street)
地址:苏州市沧浪区莫邪路484号(近葑门), 陆振兴
Opening hours: 5:30-19:00

4) Hao Fu Ji View In Map
Finally, if you're looking for Suzhou food but not so interested in what was good 100 years ago, try Hao Fu Ji's Shiquan Street location. This is the most accessible and reasonably priced of the "modern" Suzhou restaurants (Fusion, the swanky Suzhou/French crossover on Pingjiang road is very expensive and not recommended by locals). According to the manager, the food uses local ingredients but brings together preparation techniques from around China as well as a few foreign seasonings, like mint and truffles. They have an interesting take on Imperial Stewed Fish Head, and the Stone-cooked Cowboy Ribs are tender and flavorful. Fans of Chinglish will also love their menu.

Add: 121 Shiquan Street, Canglang District, Suzhou
地址:苏州沧浪区十全街121号, 好福记土菜馆
Tel: 0512 65110677
Opening hours: 10:40-13:30; 17:00-21:00

Dish Name in English

Pinyin

Chinese

Mandarin Squirrel Fish

Songshu Guiyu

松鼠鳜鱼

Braised Tofu with Crab

Xiefen Doufu

蟹粉豆腐

Noodle Soup

Tang Mian

汤面

Dumplings

Jiaozi

饺子

Braised Rib Noodles

Hongshao Paigu Mian

红烧排骨面

The Wonton Soup

Hundun Tang

混沌汤

Xiaolongbao

Xiolongbao

小笼包

Imperial Stewed Fish Head

Ganshao Yutou Huang

干烧鱼头皇

Stone-cooked Cowboy Ribs

Shipeng Niuzaigu

石烹牛仔骨

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Keywords: Suzhou local food Suzhou cuisine local Suzhou dishes best traditional food in Suzhou best restaurants in Suzhou

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