SUZHOU - When I first saw the deep-fried mandarin fish, a local specialty in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, its appearance startled me.
The dish, songshu guiyu, is shaped like a squirrel. Song He Lou, a restaurant of long standing, that has branch restaurants across the city, is famous for inventing it.
In preparing the dish, the freshwater fish - a species of perch living in eastern China - is first filleted and then lattice-like cuts are made on the surface of its flesh.
It is then batter-fried, and served with sugared vinegar sauce. As the side with lattice-like cuts is placed upward with the fish skin face down on a plate, the deep-fried fish looks like a squirrel with its hair standing up.
When fried, the bland flesh goes well with the sweet sour sauce. "Crispy outside, and tender inside," Wang Bo, 25, of the restaurant, said proudly.
About 90 per cent of the restaurant's customers order the dish, which is priced at 188 yuan (S$40). The taste is so mouth-watering it will make you want to come back to eat it again.
Suzuki is a correspondent in Shanghai.