Ningbo cuisine is part of the Zhejiang style of preparing dishes. It deals primarily with seafood, skilled manipulation of rice and achieving a fresh, salty flavour while avoiding too much oil or grease. As with many coastal cuisines, including Cantonese, Ningbo dishes are praised for being healthy and complex, even when using simple ingredients and age-old methods.
One of the most famous dishes is rock sugar turtle, an elegant dish that combines traditional Chinese medicine, complex flavours and simple presentation. Ningbo chefs are adept at this mixture, due mostly to the closely guarded methods and a reverence for traditional dishes.
For much of the east coast, the mantra 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' applies to many dishes passed down over the centuries. Some exemplary dishes to stand the test of time are dry-fried river eel, fried lichen cubes and yellow croaker with pickled vegetables.
Ningbo is also famous for tangyuan, sweet balls of glutinous rice stuffed with nuts and served with sesame seeds in a soup. Tangyuan are traditionally enjoyed during the Lunar New Year, but it is possible to grab a bowl at street stalls and markets anywhere.
One of the best places to grab sweet tangyuan is the Gang Ya Gou Sweets Buffet. The restaurant has been in business since 1926 and has become synonymous with Ningbo's signature rice balls.
Another great place for Ningbo snacks and rice balls is the Zhao Dayou restaurant, another long-standing local spot that specialises in various types of tangyuan and braised and steamed snacks.
Besides these two established restaurants, stalls around Tianyi Plaza, the Drum Tower and in small side alleys throughout the city, including the Old Bund, all offer delicious tangyuan, fresh seafood and braised pork and duck dishes. Be sure to try fresh yellow croaker, hairy crabs and the oysters.
Barbecue stalls along the waterfront away from the city centre serve fresh seafood from the day's catch every evening.