Friday, November 13, 2009

Taipei’s Tien Hsiang Lo celebrates Hangzhou cuisine by bringing back chef Lee Ah-ping

By Nancy T. Lu
Tien Hsiang Lo as the first dining establishment to specialize in Hangzhou cuisine in Taipei has lived up to the restaurant’s reputation of offering “heavenly fragrance” in the Hangzhou tradition for 23 years. The Landis Taipei celebrating a 30-year milestone this year has even found a good excuse to bring back chef Lee Ah-ping, formerly of Tien Hsiang Lo in Hong Kong, to excite nostalgic palates.

Lunch with chef Lee in charge in the Landis Taipei’s kitchen featured stir-fried prawn with a springy bite and this had crisp and green bell pepper strips on the same plate for contrast. The dish came after a serving of good ham, something often mentioned as a Hangzhou specialty, wrapped around scallion.

The savory yellow fish soup indicated the freshness of the seafood. Mushroom and loofah enhanced the flavor and color of the dish. Minced meat resembling lion’s head turned up with crab roe. Again, the food taste and texture showed variety. Pan-seared wonton arrived next with a sauce. Penchant for light and natural taste in the day’s menu was pleasantly consistent that Wednesday.

“There was not a single Taipei restaurant specializing in Hangzhou cuisine in those days,” recalled by Stanley Yen, president of the Landis Group, over lunch. “Hunan-style cooking was what most restaurants offered.”

For somebody whose ancestral roots were in Hangzhou, famous for refinement in cuisine, Yen knew that Taipei gourmets would warmly welcome the serving of unique Hangzhou cooking. Hence, he embarked on an extensive research, consulting lengthily an expert like chef Han Tung-chuan of Tien Hsiang Lo in Hong Kong. Han was a protégé of Mung Yung-tai, master chef and owner of the original Tien Hsiang Lo in Hangzhou, China.

“The preparation for the introduction of Hangzhu cuisine in Taipei took all of three years,” said Yen. Yen personally took chefs Chiu Ping-shing and Tseng Hsiu-pao of Landis Taipei (formerly Ritz Landis) to Hong Kong to learn directly from already respected Hangzhou cuisine authority Han. He himself tried to master Hangzhou food preparation by watching and jotting down culinary notes.

Yen remembered vividly: “Chef Han simply threw away a dead eel. He settled only for a fresh one which was ready to bleed fresh blood on the spot. He also went to China to find the best ham, crabs and tea leaves needed for his recipes. Quality ham was particularly difficult to find.”

Chef Lee Ah-ping worked closely under Han. Upon Han’s retirement, Lee took over the Tien Hsiang Lo in Hong Kong. He is now at Tien Hsiang Lo in Taipei to revive some well-loved old recipes.

Both Chiu and Tseng also recently returned to participate in the culinary activities in celebration of the Landis Taipei’s 30th anniversary.

Hangzhou cuisine requiring low fire and slow cooking has come a long way in history. In keeping with the times, however, modern Hangzhou cooking just like Taiwanese food preparing has become innovative. Ingredients used and food presentations nowadays vary. According to chef Lee, one rule-of-thumb in cuisine preparation remains unchanged and unchallenged: Go always for best-quality ingredients.

A la carte dishes start at NT$280 per order and the set menu begins at NT$1,280 in price. The Taiwan Tobacco & Wine Monopoly Bureau is proposing to match dishes with good local wines like Shao Xing. Four glasses of different alcoholic drinks come with a total starting price of NT$220. Chef Lee Ah-ping will be around until November 30. To make reservations, call tel. (02)2597-1234 and ask for Tien Hsiang Lo.

Photo shows (from left) Chiu Ping-shing, Stanley Yen, Lee Ah-ping and Tseng Hsiu-pao.

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