Join Culinary Backstreets

Sign up with email

or


Already a member? Log in.

Log in to Culinary Backstreets

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Legend has it that huangjiu, or yellow wine, was invented by Du Kang, the god of Chinese alcohol. Annual production starts in eastern China’s Shaoxing region in the tenth lunar month – the temperature and humidity at that time of year create the best environment for making the wine – with sacrifices to Du Kang.

The wine is made from fermenting glutinous rice with wheat or rice qu, a cake of mashed grains that cultivate yeast; both convert the starch to sugar then to alcohol. The product of all that fermentation is a sherry-like amber liquid that is used in Chinese cooking or served as a drink paired with Chinese foods.

The most famous variety hails from Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, originally due to the pure water of Mirror Lake that was used to make the huangjiu. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) benefits of the drink are legion, and include “invigorating the blood.” TCM practitioners recommend pairing Shaoxing huangjiu, considered a “warming” drink, with “cooling” foods like hairy crab or cold chicken to keep your qi in balance.

Selecting huangjiu means picking your desired level of sweetness. The drink tops out at around 20 percent alcohol, since it is fermented, not distilled, and the most common varieties are yuanhong, jiafan and shanniang, ordered from least amount of sugar to most.

Yuanhong – or “Champion’s Red” – is named for the earthenware jars that the wine is aged in. Traditionally in Shaoxing, new parents will buy a jar of this huangjiu and bury it when their child is born, to be dug up to celebrate achievements in the child’s life, like getting married or graduating from school.

With only 15 grams of sugar or less per liter, yuanhong is the basic block upon which all the other varieties of huangjiu are built. Jiafan translates as “add rice,” and that’s exactly what happens when brewers add more glutinous grains in the secondary fermentation to encourage more sugar in this slightly sweeter version. Semi-sweet shanniang uses already-fermented yuanhong in place of water to start its brewing process.

The longer huangjiu ages, the better.

Huadiao is another famous type of huangjiu from Shaoxing, named not for the medium-sweet wine inside, but for the elaborate patterns carved into the jars in which it is aged. When huangjiu is young, the flavor is strong and sweet, so most bottles designed for drinking are aged for at least a year before heading to market – the longer it ages, the better.

Dishes that contain Shaoxing huangjiu are easy to find in the Shanghai region, thanks to its proximity to the city (it’s less than an hour and a half away by bullet train). Plus Shanghainese food shares many characteristics with Zhe cuisine. Check out some of our favorite places to drink huangjiu and eat dishes made with it.

Kong Yi Ji

This Shaoxing restaurant near Confucius Temple specializes in its home city’s huangjiu. The décor is made up of old huangjiu jars and every month, they host a kaitan or “jar opening” where they crack into a giant jug of vintage huangjiu and give patrons a sip on the house. If you’re not in town for the monthly event, you can still order a huangjiu tasting of five different varieties, ranging from 5 to 30 years and varying in degrees of sweetness. Since the menu is from Shaoxing, every dish featuring hairy crab roe (蟹粉xièfěn) is cooked with Shaoxing wine.

Dian Shi Zhai

This classic Shanghinese restaurant serves up drunken chicken (醉鸡 zuì jī) made only with Shaoxing huangjiu. A cold appetizer, drunken chicken is poached with ginger and green onions, then marinated overnight in a bath of huangjiu. The chicken is cut on the bone and served swimming in a light broth of the liquor and it’s cooking liquid. Dongpo pork (东坡肉 Dōng Pō ròu), a dish made famous by Chairman Mao who called it “brain food” and credited it with helping him outsmart his enemies, stews thick squares of fatty pork belly in Shaoxing wine.

Old Jesse

This locally famous Shanghainese restaurant serves up several “drunken” dishes, all of which feature huangjiu as a main ingredient. Drunken crab (醉蟹 zuì xiè) is marinated overnight in the liquor. Since the crab needs to be very fresh for this to be safe – it’s like eating sushi – you need to get it at the best possible place, and Old Jesse is that spot. If you’re not into eating raw, try their oil-exploded shrimp (油爆虾 yóu bào xiā) or an appetizer of wheat gluten (四喜烤麸 sì xǐ kǎo fū), both of which feature huangjiu in their sauces.

Editor’s note: Our recurring Building Blocks feature focuses on foods and ingredients that are fundamental to the cuisines we write about.

Export as KML for Google Earth/Google MapsOpen standalone map in fullscreen modeCreate QR code image for standalone map in fullscreen modeExport as GeoJSONExport as GeoRSSExport as ARML for Wikitude Augmented-Reality browser
Huangjiu in Shanghai

loading map - please wait...

Old Jesse: 31.202847, 121.437847
Kong Yi Ji: 31.218197, 121.488326
Dian Shi Zhai: 31.208938, 121.457262
 
Kong Yi Ji
Address: 36 Xuegong Jie, near Confucius Temple
学宫街36号近上海文庙
Telephone: +86 21 6376 7979
Hours: 10:30am-2pm & 4:30pm-10pm (last order at 8:30pm)
Menu: Chinese & Pictures
 
Dian Shi Zhai
Address: 320 Yongjia Lu, near Xiangyang Nan Lu
永嘉路320号近襄阳南路
Telephone: +86 21 5465 0270
Hours: 11-2pm & 5:30-9:30pm
Menu: Chinese & English
 
Old Jesse
Address: 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Lu;
天平路41号近淮海中路
Telephone: +86 21 6282 9260
Hours: 11am-2:30am
Menu: Chinese & English

Related stories

May 4, 2017

Fly By Jing: Sichuan Supper Club

By Jamie Barys
Shanghai -- Whether we’re heading to Sichuan province for a little culinary vacation or just looking for the best bowl of dan dan mian in the city, there’s one person we call for dining recommendations: Jenny Gao. Born in Chengdu and raised in Canada, Gao’s family still lives in Sichuan, and since moving to Shanghai…
yunnan restaurants shanghai
June 12, 2017

Goat Cheese and Fried Honeybees: Shanghai's Top 5 Yunnan Restaurants

By Jamie Barys
Shanghai -- Because of its location, topography and climate, Yunnan province resembles little of what many Westerners think of as “China.” The north is home to mountainous forests full of wild mushrooms and tribes tending goats, while down south tropical flowers and fruits grow in the hot, humid lowlands. More than 25 of China’s 55…
May 24, 2017

Tonkatsu Hamachan: Filet-o-Pork

By Jamie Barys
Shanghai -- When Tonkatsu Hamachan first opened in 2001, it became an industry favorite – one of those places chefs, foodies and lifestyle journalists kept to themselves. Perhaps they closely guarded this spot because the dining room barely fit six tables, most of which were usually occupied by Japanese businessmen. The restaurant itself refrained from…