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Xiamen

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 33 to 34


Once known as Amoy, this city is on an island at the mouth of the Jiulong River and connected to the mainland by road and rail over a dyke for automobiles and railroad cars carrying people and manufactured goods such as tanned leathers, machine tools, things for their large ship building industry, and a goodly number of items needed by food processing plants. Many folk here have close ties to Taiwan, others use the major harbor and the extensive ferry system to move them there or where needed.

East-northeast of Guangzhou, it is across the Straits from Taiwan, and was one of the earliest places for European commerce. In in 1387, the Ming Empire did use it as a base against many pirates, in 1650, it was renamed Siming Island, then renamed again in 1680 when the Manchu rulers called it a Xiamien and a sub-prefecture. Forever growing, in 1912 it was made a county, in 1949 a provincial city. In 1980, again there was a political change, then and now it is a Special Economic Zone.

This was a first port of trade in China, Europeans used its harbor in 1541. As China’s main port in the 1800s, it was used exporting tons of Chinese tea. Many words in English use the local Xiamen dialect including pekoe, satay, and ketchup, even the word tea has some local origin. The name of their local dialect is Minnanyu, and it is very close to the Taiwanese-controlled islands of Matsu and Quemoy.

Xiamen was established as a major seaport during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE). The Portuguese came here in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th. The British are remembered, though not too fondly, when a couple of centuries later in 1841, they captured this island during the Opium War. It was named a treaty port in 1842, one of five opened by the Treaty of Nanjing that was signed that year. Actually, a British naval fleet came ashore after their victory in the First Opium War, and in 1841, they opened Xiamen as a free port.

Now it is second largest city in the Fujian Province after the capital of Fuzhou, and it has a population of more than one and a half million. Known for its fantastic tourist season, April to November, many say it is still the main port of entry and exit for overseas Chinese. It is also the place where many Taiwanese hail from.

Xiamen does grant visas on arrival to those from Taiwan, and to foreign tourists seeking to stay in its Xiamen Special Administrative Region. Many do so and come to the Nanputuo Temple, others to eat lots of medicinal foods at the Lujiang Hotel. This place specializes in ancient healing recipes famous throughout Southeast Asia, as is their impressive medicinal banquet, renowned throughout Southeast Asia. Nanputo Temple is equally well-known for their vegetarian food; and Muslim foods are well-known here, too. Their kebabs and lamb dishes are popular from street vendors and in Muslim cafes all over the city.

In Xiamen, there is a large-scale soy sauce manufacturing plant. In 1991, the Amoy Company was one largest and most recognized brands in all of Southeast Asia. Now based in Hong Kong, they still make state of the art soy and other sauces and a huge variety of frozen foods. They have a world-wide staff of about 2,500, many in Xiamen, others in Hong Kong, and around the world; and they sell their extensive product list.

Some say, Xiamen foods are the most popular ones in Fujian. They are light, a little sweet, and popular among westerners. They include lots of oysters, crabs, shrimp; and peanuts, too. Local specialties include their fish ball and oyster soups, their shrimp noodles, and their fried noodles with pork, shrimp, and vegetables.

Food here is related to the foods of the entire Fujian Province and to Taiwan. Restaurants in Fuzhou show it off. This city, one of the largest on China’s coast, has many fine restaurants touting and preparing it.

However, when this city actually began seems unknown, but what is known is that when the Yue to its north was annexed by Chu in 306 BCE, a branch of royals of the defeated Yue people fled and became the Minyue tribe. That may be why their history, their food too, is called Min.

The founding empire of the Han Dynasty gave them permission to set up their capital in Fuzhou, and the city renamed Ye or Yu meaning ‘beautiful city’ as Fuzhou. Its name has changed numerous times, was annexed by the Han in 110 BCE when it became part of China, then became a county during the Jin Dynasty (265 - 439 CE); and when the Jin Dynasty collapsed, a large wave of immigrants came here circa 308 CE. It was not until the Tang Dynasty ( 618 - 907 CE), probably some time around 725 CE, that the capital city was renamed and has since kept its name of Fuzhou.

Many immigrants arrived from the north at the end of the 9th century, and a family named Min established their kingdom here until 947 CE. This province and its food are still called Min by many. The river that runs through the city also bears that name and called Min Jiang. Many people came from here and from the Fujian Province to the US and to parts of Southeast Asia in the 19th century. They also settled in the various islands, Xiamen included.

Their language is called Hokkien, their sailors, too. They ventured to other parts of South-east Asia including Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, and Siam. Many Hokkienese or Hokkiens people are considered frugal and thrifty. It may be why so many of them eat lots of salted vegetables that they call kiam cai, and salted fish called kiam hu.

These people and all from Fujian including those from Xiamen, eat lots of pork including hong bak which is pork braised in dark soy sauce, and BKT, their bak kut teh, or stewed pork in an herbal broth, almost always served with rice; and they love noodles, many simply called Hokkien Mee. These are considered required food at their Chinese New Year meals, also at birthdays. They like them on these occasions served with two hard-cooked eggs because they believe good things come in pairs.

Fujianese people love Popiah, which does translate to ‘thin biscuit.’ This is a rolled steamed crepe filled with stir-fried slivers of vegetables such as yam beans, bamboo shoots, cabbage, sometimes string beans, belly pork, shrimp, and garlic. These rolls are simple and light. They also like Fried Radish Cakes known as char kuey kak.

Many of their dishes have been parts of articles in this magazine. We recommend you check the recipe index for them, look at the article index, too for foods from this province and the countries just mentioned. We would be remiss not to mention Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. This dish they call fotiaoqiang, and also mention their fish balls with meat on the inside, fish on their outsides.

Visit www.muztagh.com/chinese-food/fuzhou.htm and other web sites for more of them. We offer a few below for your pleasure as additional introductions to foods from Xiamen, Fukien, Fuzhou, Singapore, and nearby places. They all serve foods from Xiamen, Fuzhou, the entire province, and from places where their foods have migrated.
Xiamen Fried Noodles
Ingredients
1 pound fresh thin wheat-flour noodles
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, separated into two parts
1/4 pound small shrimp, veins removed and discarded, shells reserved
1/8 pound belly pork or ground lean pork
˝ cup slivered bamboo shoots
1 baby carrot, slivered
2 large dried black mushrooms, soaked, their caps slivered
1 scallion, green part only, slivered
2 large garlic cloves, peel discarded, the cloves slivered
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Preparation:
1. Boil the noodles until barely tender, drain, and set them aside tossed with one tablespoon of the oil.
2. Simmer the shrimp shells in half cup of water for twenty minutes, then remove and discard the shells.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add the other half of the oil, and fry the pork, the slivered bamboo shoots, carrot, mushroom slivers, scallions, and garlic until almost but not quite crisp, then add the shrimp, pepper, salt, rice wine, soy sauce, and the remaining shrimp water. Stir-fry this for three minutes.
4. Mix the above mixture with the wheat-flour noodles tossing well, then serve.
Fujianese Red-cooked Chicken
Ingredients:
1 roasting chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into 10 to 12 pieces
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
5 scallions, minced, one minced one set aside
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
4 cloves garlic, peels discarded, and sliced thinly
3 whole star anise
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 cup cooked rice per person
Preparation:
1. Put chicken pieces, rice wine, soy sauce, scallions, sugar, garlic, star anise, and sesame oil into a large bowl and refrigerate over night. Turn once or twice.
2. Put these chicken pieces and all that were soaked in two cups of water into a wok or large pot, cover, and simmer for one hour.
3. Remove the chicken pieces to a large platter, remove any fat from the liquid remaining and reduce the liquid to about half a cup. Next, add the reserved cut up scallion and pour this over the chicken pieces, and serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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