Huang Fan er (皇饭儿) literally means “emperor’s meal” in Chinese and it is an alternative name for Wang Run Xing Restaurant (王润兴). Hangzhou is a favorite place for emperors throughout different dynasties. It is far away from the emperor’s palace; it is full of picturesque sceneries and it was fun for the emperors to disguise as a commoner to visit Hangzhou. Naturally, there would be a lot of stories related to the emperor in Hangzhou, including food!
Wang Run Xing Restaurant’s signature dish is the braised fish in black bean sauce with tofu. During the Qing Dynasty some 300 years ago, Emperor Qianlong came by to visit Hangzhou disguised as a commoner. He was caught in the rain and was wet and hungry. Without anywhere to go, he went to a nearby farmhouse and asked for a meal. The owner Ah Xing was not very well to do and was only able to make a dish with some leftovers using pieces of fish, black bean sauce and tofu. The emperor fell in love with the dish and fast forward four years, the emperor came back again to eat the same dish. He also supported Ah Xing financially with the opening of the restaurant and named it “Wang Run Xing”. Five years later, the emperor came back again to the established restaurant, and gave it an alternative name of “Huang Fan Er” or emperor’s meal, literally meaning that the meal is fit for a king!
So we ordered this legendary dish that came in an intimidating portion with a huge grass carp of West Lake. The dish is cooked in a curious manner by braising. The fish came beautifully coated with a lightly browned skin. It tastes surprisingly tender and succulent, despite the fish had been braised long enough for the black bean sauce to infuse into the flesh. The fish eaten alone is slightly too salty but it is a perfect dish to go with rice. The grass carp doesn’t have that muddy flavor inherent to all fresh water fish, presumably covered up by the heavy black bean sauce. The grass carp has some nasty bones though, plenty of them and some are even bifurcating so eat the fish with care.
Our vegetable stir fry is a simple yet pleasing dish with the ham giving the key flavor to the overall smokey taste. The white yam and snow peas are both al dente and lightly crispy.
We saw this dish “parsley with fish skin” and thought it sounds exotic so we gave it a try. It is indeed unusual because the parsley this time is presented as the main ingredient instead of its usual role in garnishing. The salad is light, flavored with chopped garlic while the fish skin tastes similar to the sea cucumber’s gelatinous texture.
Nice dinning-ware are used but a few of them have chipped bits here and there.
The dining atmosphere is elegant with carved wooden tables and lovely floral panels. The waiting area is comfortable too.
With the restaurant set in a late Qing Dynasty building from more than 100 years ago, it is a superb place to savor one of Emoeror Qianlong’s favorite dish!