Suzhou has a long tradition of very distinct local foods. Suzhou food is sweet. Even regular dishes like eggs and tomatoes and twice-cooked pork have a hint of sugar in them. 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. 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 (红烧排骨面) 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
2. Deyue Lou / Songhe Lou 得月楼/松鹤楼
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
Add: 72 Taijian Lane, Pingjiang District, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 67700688 / 67277006
Deyue Lou (Old Branch)
Add: 43 Taijian Lane, Guanqian Walking Street, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 65238940
3. Luzhenxing Noodle Shop
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)
Opening hours: 5:30-19:00
4. Hao Fu Ji 好福记土菜馆
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. 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 (干烧鱼头皇), and the Stone-cooked Cowboy Ribs (石烹牛仔骨) are tender and flavorful. Fans of Chinglish will also love their menu.
Add: 121 Shiquan Street, Canglang District, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 65110677
Opening hours: 10:40-13:30; 17:00-21:00
5. YaBa ShengJian 哑巴生煎
This is indeed an authentic, appealing, no-nonsense dumpling restaurant. Apart from their famous 8pcs Shen Jian bao, chicken shredded noodle soup and soup dumpling also worth a try. Both the Shen Jian bao and dumpling were very juicy. The noodle was very tasty as well.
Add: No.12 Wenjiaan, Lindun Road, Suzhou
6. Xi Sheng Yuan Wonton
As a general rule in Asia, if there is a lineup, it’s probably good. This restaurant appears to be quite famous for dumplings that are filled with broth and meat, which are pretty delicious. The xiaolongbao is also very awesome.
Add: No.43 Fenghuang Street, Canglang District, Suzhou