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China's Influential Cuisines--Part II
Summer Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(2) page(s): 14 - 15 and 37
Part I of this title was about five of the eight best-known cuisines in China: Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, and those of the Jiangsu Province. It appeared in Volume 17(4) on pages 31 - 34 and page 37. That issue had a map of all the provinces in China. Part II continues with the three other influential cuisines completing this group of eight. Thus, what follows are the cuisines of Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang. Some say these eight are China's best tasting cuisines. What do you think?
Future articles will explore other provincial cuisines and look at foods from some cities, foods consumed by religious, minority, and other populations, and the foods eaten by the legions of overseas Chinese and the Chinese food they now eat and what they crave.
Readers can seek out the foods of these eight provinces, those of their cities and their autonomous places, and those of other places and populations. Do so when trying new eateries, when traveling, when talking to restaurant staff, and Chinese friends and neighbors. Try their many delicious dishes and read about them in this and in other magazines. Prepare the recipes you find in this magazine, in others, and elsewhere; make as many as you can from a variety of sources including Chinese cookbooks, and after you have tried and tasted many of them, you can even design your own.
This region and its cuisine was once home to many ancient Neolithic cultures. It is now known for Mount Tai which is a major religious site, for Jinan which is its provincial capital, and for Qingdao which is a city where an internationally famous beer is made, and where a large portion of the Huang or Yellow River can be found.
Tsingtao beer was started in the city of the same name, but now spelled Qingdao, by German immigrants. It is made using the water of four springs that come together in the mountains. The province of Jinan and the region are known for their wheat and sorghum. In their earlier history, this region was the territory of Qi and Lu, and known as home to the philosophers Confucius and Mencius. A good portion of the Grand Canal traverses this region. Jinan is the place where Shandong cuisine became highly developed during the Yuan Dynasty (1280 - 1368 CE).
Foods in this cuisine can be crisp or soft, grilled or quick-fried, and many are somewhat spicy probably due to Korean influences. Local folk say: Sweet--South, Salt--North, Spicy--East, and Sour--West. They consider their cuisine Eastern, their foods proper when made with lots of scallions with or in scallion wine. For this, they have another saying: No pleasure like having a cup or two of scallion wine.
In addition, they adore onions and want them deep-fried before cooking another way or in another dish. Braised Sea Cucumber with Onion, Roast Meat Stewed with Onion, even Cucumber with Onions, always the onions fried first, are popular in this cuisine. Locals like their food stewed, braised, and steamed for a long time, and they like them cooked at low temperatures. Some foods here are made Yangzhou style, others Huaiyang style, matters not. What does matter is that they be made carefully. Other foods in this cuisine include Stewed Red Snapper, Chicken Breast Milk Soup, Scallion-braising Sea Cucumber, Fried Dough Twists, Roasted Squid, and many stuffed dishes.
Chengdu, the provincial capital, is home to about twelve million people. Its province borders on Qinghai, Shaanxi, Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, Xizang (Tibet), and Yunnan. Chuan cuisine has been influenced by these neighbors and by Zigong city, China's 'salt city.' Therefore, flavors here are both salty and spicy.
Sichuan means four rivers, so named during the Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368 CE). It is the province where river fish were enormous and plentiful. Before being called Sichuan, parts of the region were the Kingdoms of Ba and Shu. Some five percent of the people are ethnic minority populations that include Tibetans, Yi, Qiang, Moso, and other groups. They influenced local Chuan foods, though less than in the neighboring Yunnan Province where about one-third of the people are minorities.
Dishes adored here are Ma Po Doufu, Diced Pork with Peanuts, Camphor Roast Tea Duck, Ban Ban Chicken which is sometimes found on restaurant menus as Pom Pom Chicken, many fish-flavored dishes, and those called strange-taste this or strange-taste that. Some say beside the tastes mentioned, Chuan foods are hot, sour, sweet, and with fish sauce. Not all of these are old tastes, but the hot, as in piquant, are dishes some three hundred years old. Sichuan is called the 'Land of Plentyˇ' and famous dishes here include Braised Bear Paw, originally made with the real thing and now made looking like one and using bean curd.
Chuan cuisine was popular starting in the Southern Song Dynasty, circa 420 CE, but made more sour or vinegary. It was and is well-seasoned with ginger, pickled mustard greens, fermented broad beans, lots of chives and onions, and Sichuan peppercorns. Known in this province, it is now known and popular worldwide.
Sichuan pickled vegetables are so loved that when locals travel, they are known to bring foil-packets of them with them to be able to taste their foods where ever they go. People from this region like a special soy sauce from Zhongba, vinegars from Baoning or Sanhui, chili sauce from Chongqing, and fermented broad beans from Pixian. They use them making their foods oily and hot; and they adore snacks made with sesame paste, noodles, dumplings, and all of the above.
Hangzhou, now the capital city of the province, was described by Marco Polo as 'the finest' and the 'most splendid city in the world.' The Grand Canal was extended to Hangzhou in the seventh century CE enabling teas and staple grains to mix from north to south and visa versa.
This cuisine sired two important leaders, Chiang Kaishek and Zhou Enlai, and both spread knowledge of its great food to the entire world. They taught Chinese and Westerners to cook their fish using water to make it tender, and they popularized West Lake Fish.
Cooking with tea leaves is popular in this cuisine which includes foods from Hangzhou, Ningpo, and Wenzhou. As it is south of Shanghai, many foreign and fine folk travel here to enjoy noodles, small steamed buns, Dong Po Pork, Sister-in-law Fish Soup, Beggar's Chicken, Dragon Well Shrimp made with Long Jing tea leaves, Water Shield Soup, Chestnut Cake, Immortal Huozhong Duck, and many Yangzhou dishes, some made without soy sauce.
Hangzhou has attracted many people and helped them appreciate their own and foreign foods. A nearby city, Ningpo, is known for dumplings made with rice flour, a Fish Head Casserole, Ningpo Chicken, and Shan Meat-ball Soup. Wenzhou is known for its Soft-shelled Turtle made with crushed bricks of sugar, and for its Deep-fried Spicy Twisted Dough Sticks. Throughout the Zhejiang Province, they make many crystallized dishes, and many vegetarian treats. People here adore them.
Zhe Cuisine specializes in quick-frying, stir-frying, and deep-frying; and is known for dishes not fried at all. One that comes to mind is their baked Beggar's Chicken. Others include many steamed sea foods, lake fishes prepared in vinegar sauces, and foods made famous at the Louwailou and Zizhongxi restaurants, to name but two of them.
As indicated at the beginning of this article, future articles will feature Chinese cuisines from cities including from Shanghai and Wenzhou, from other provinces including Henan, and foods popular among the larger ethnic minority populations and their neighbors, as well as others eaten by major religious groups in China, and those developed in places such as Taiwan and Singapore.
These and other places have great Chinese food worth knowing about as well as when, why, and how they became popular. They are also worth preparing, eating, and enjoying.
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