Autumn in Suzhou offers the best spectacle not only because of the fragrance of Osmanthus, tinted leaves covering the ground and the aggregable climate, but also a huge wave of seasonal dishes.

“Suzhou Red” in Late Summer – Trapa Natans

As the autumn comes, the so-called “Eight Fairy Food” will be served in Suzhou. They are in fact eight kinds of freshly harvested vegetables, including edible parts of Jiaobai (Zizania latifolia), lotus, watercress, Qianshi (Gorgon fruit) and Ling (Trapa natans). There are many breeds of Ling, and Suzhou Red (Red Trapa natans) is the most loved one. Fresh Suzhou Red has soft, thin, and juicy crust and it tastes sweet, tender, refreshing and crisp. The sweet-flavored Ling is juicy. Many people take Suzhou Red for snacks, and when eaten raw, they’re palatable and nourishing. There are numerous ways to cook a dish with it. The easiest one is to boil it. Boiled Ling looks purple bronze, and it tastes glutinous and sweet. That’s a different experience for tasting. Fresh Ling is also good for stir-fry. When the water content is thus reduced and starch gets thick, it can be used for cooking braised meat or broiled meat as it adds to the mouthfeel for dishes.

Photo credit to: Liu Siyu

Special Supply Only in Early Autumn – Jitoumi (Gorgon fruit)

Jitoumi, or Qianshi, was harvested from an aquatic plant that grows in the shallow water of ponds, marshes, and pools. The fruit of such plant is basically a round one with a pointed end. It looks like the head of chicken (pronounced in Chinese as “Ji Tou”). It is good for spleen and the whole body. It is beneficial for the organ of kidney and sexual function. This dish is subject to its due season. Since it is sold for two months each year, if you miss it, you see it only in the coming year. People would see many peddlers lowering their heads while they are carefully stripping off crusts of Jitoumi on both sides of Fengmenheng Street in early autumn.

Many cooking methods mean various mouthfeel for Jitoumi. You can boil it, cook it in a porridge or you stir it in a pot. But it is believed that the easiest and the authentic dish is sugar water boiled Jitoumi with Osmanthus. The long-cooked Jitoumi over slow fire tastes sweet, glutinous, and chewy with a handful of tiny flowers and rock sugar. Or you can ignore all those added materials and get the sweet, chewy, and glutinous Jitoumi directly.

Photo credit to: ID(aiyiyouweiwei)

Taste of Mid-Autumn Festival – Suzhou Savory Pork Mooncakes

For natives in Suzhou, savory pork mooncakes are much adored, and it is perceived as the taste of Mid-Autumn Festival. The round shape symbolizes reunion and harmony. When the Festival is close every year, long queues can be seen from traditional pastry shops such as Huangtianyuan and Changfa Bakery. And that is a unique impression of the city. Newly baked savory mooncakes are sizzling with bulging, lustrous and crispy crust. Blow away the heat and take a bite, and the warm gravy with aroma of pork will fill your mouth. The fillings are just so chewy for the teeth. Some people may get their tongue burnt and they would ignore that minor problem anyway.

 

Just in Season – Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crabs

Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crabs is gorgeous when they are served on an autumn dinner table. When it is well into October, female crabs (branded as Yangcheng Lake) are offered on the market. Then the male crabs with creams of white jade color are launched too. The symmetrically tied crabs are favored by many in Suzhou and in China. And when it comes to the cooking method, steaming is deemed the best. This is agreed by all since ancient times. A bit of smashed ginger, sugar and garlic are soaked into vinegar for dipping the meat. This can eliminate certain earthy smell and “warm” the “cold” meat in TCM context. Steaming crabs requires no skills. Even new hands can serve a presentable dish. This is the second reason why crabs are so widely appreciated in addition to its natural relish.

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