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Dongbei Delicacies: The Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning Provinces

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Summer Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(2) page(s): 5 - 8, 11 and 17


The above three provinces are collectively known as Dongbei, and are in the northeast corner of China. The make different dishes and use different foods using different natural resources. Not always known as Dongbei, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) this region was called Liaodong, in the late Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE) more commonly known as Guandong meaning 'East of the Gate' and the gate in question at Shanhaiguan.

Many Chinese did not like using the name Guandong because it was used by the Japanese who had set up the puppet state of Manchukokou there. During the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese government divided this region into the three above-named provinces. They share long cold winters and often have roaring winds day and night. By the way, the word 'Dongbei' means 'East North' as dong means 'east' and bei means 'north.'

Long before any name change, China's northeast was home to many nomadic tribes including the Manchu, Jurchen, Ulch, Hezhen, and others' and the Jurchens overthrew the Liao and formed the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420 CE) who then conquered most of Northern China. During the Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368 CE), they were overthrown by the Ming who ruled until 1644. Then the Qing, also known as the Mongols came into power and ruled until the Chinese communists overthrew them in 1911 CE. Since then, this country's full name has been The People's Republic of China.

The world did not and still does not know much about this northeastern corner of China; but that is changing. It is north and east of Korea, south of Russia, and north and east of the Hebei Province and the city of Beijing. More recently, many people have been leaving their primeval forested region and proximity to the Huanghai and the Bohai Sea to come to places in the western world including some in the United States. Some of them have told us they are from "the land of white mountains and black waters." Others said they are from "Changbai and the Ever White Mountains and the Black Dragon River region." Heilongjiang is the name of one province, but not many outside of China know that, no matter its name. They probably had no opportunity to get to know these people or their foods. Therefore, this article is about them and others in the two remaining Dongbei provincest. This one is a forty-six thousand square mile region.

Many Dongbei people come west come to America's coastal cities from an area not much larger than the state of Pennsylvania. Those that come to the east coast of the US, come to a region a mite more than forty-nine thousand square miles. They seem pleased to leave their provinces in Inner Mongolia even though it makes up some thirty percent of China's land mass and only about eight percent of China's total population.

Some come from Liaoning, Dongbei's most populated province. There, some forty-four million people live. Others come from the easternmost province known as Heilongjiang where about forty million people live. Fewer come from the Jilin Province where thirty million people live. Some do not stay because they tell us it is strange to move to places with so many people.

Some of these new immigrants open restaurants in areas with many Chinese who do not know their culinary delights and delicacies including their seafood and marvelous meats. Those from the city of Harbin, the capital of the Heilongjiang Province, like it here. Fewer come from Shenyang, the capital of the Liaoning Province or from Changchun, the capital of the Jilin Province.

About eight percent of the people in Dongbei are Chinese minorities including Manchu, Ewenki, Oroqen, Mongol, Hui, Korean, Russians, and Japanese. We have met few minorities from Dongbei and many Han people from there. Their region produces coal, iron, steel, cars, oil, petrochemicals, and many consumer products, and they raise lots of wheat, maize, millet, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, sorghum, and rice, and many kinds of cabbages and mustard greens. In addition, they raise lots of sheep and pigs, catch many fish and other sea creatures, and produce many pickled vegetables, particularly cabbages called suan cai. Some of these pickled vegetables were discussed in this magazine's Volume 20 (4) on pages 25 - 29 and 34, others in Volume 20(3) on pages 21 - 24 and page 36.

The city of Harbin was under heavy Russian influence in the 19th and early 20th centuries because many Russians helped build the China Eastern Railroad from Harbin to Vladivostok. After the Japanese won the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), others built the South Manchurian Railway to Port Arthur.

In American schools, I learned about Manchuria where the last Qing Dynasty Emperor, Puyi, was put on the throne as a young child. He was to rule the Japanese puppet government of Manchukokuo. Before and after he did, I never learned their customs, holidays, or anything about their foods. I am now beginning to understand their culture and their food, province by province. I hope you will, too, as I detail them one by one.

HEILONGJIANG is the most north-eastern province in China's Dongbei region. It is the one numbered '1' on the map on the first page of this article. Though it does touch the sea, its capital city of Harbin does not. This inland capital is known for its winter ice festival. They enjoy a large variety of food, many influenced by the Russian immigrants, Mongolians, and by others from Shandong and Hebei and elsewhere. Many did settle here permanently years ago as did a large number of Jews from Russia, and more recently Jews from Eastern Europe. Its capital city of Harbin has more than six million inhabitants and is China's tenth most populated urban area. Its name in Manchu means 'place for drying fishing nets.' We never did learn why it was so named. Perhaps a reader can educate us.

Visitors and locals here eat lots of da lie ba which is a five pound round soft bread with a crisp exterior. Folks like to tear it apart and eat it with almost any other food from this province. Lao ding feng, is a cake and it and local moon cakes are loved here, as well. It stays fresh for weeks; why we know not, and folks can use education about that, too. Su he li is another local food that keeps a long time. Tinged with red that some say reflects the region's many maple trees, locals love it. They say it looks and taste like the slopes of both nearby hillsides and deep seas. We know from many of them that these foods are loved by the Chinese, Koreans Japanese, Russians, and Mongolians who live here.

Foods in Harbin are a mite saltier and made larger than elsewhere in China. Hot dishes are often served with cucumber slices, corn kernels, pieces of cabbage, and thin pastry dumplings. Shredded Chicken is made with Tofu and Mushrooms, and pork is served with noodles made of bean or sweet potato flour. Pork Khleb are their local sausages, long-cooked with soy sauce. They put these red sausages in bread-pastry and make them bigger and better than anywhere else in China, or so locals will tell you. If you are lucky enough to visit, do not miss tasting these local foods.

In winter, people love to eat locally-made shredded chicken with mushrooms and beans; and they like them with sweet potato noodles. Famous, they claim to warm ones insides. Folks eat them with that in mind when shopping with snow on their coats, chills throughout their bodies, and shivers from head to toe. We did sample some in a Shanghai restaurant that touts Harbin food; there they called them King's Dumplings or dongfang jaozi wang, and they were fantastic.

Harbin is in the central part of the Songhua River, and Chinese come here in summer to bathe, boat, and camp. One northern section called Taiyang is where they go to Zhaolin Park. Many wish it had another name because it is named for a Japanese general. They return here for winter holiday to see the ice festival. Its sculptures, crystal palaces, and other popular New Year decorations are always beautiful. They also come in summer to enjoy any or many of the almost two thousand rivers in this province.

Winter or summer, they come to eat Harbin's four treasures, those of elk nose, grouse, monkey-head mushroom, and bear paw. That latter is now are made of doufu because killing bear for its paw or for any other reason is outlawed. The tofu-look-alikes mimic the left front-foot-delicacy, said to be the most tender of its paws.

Harbin began as a Russian settlement in about 1898 CE, much of it as living quarters for those building the trans-Manchurian railway from Vladivostok to Port Arthor. This Chinese city grew more cosmopolitan before and when more and more Jews moved here, and now it is the largest city in this province, still with much Russian influence. The eight hundred square miles of downtown and the nearby urban areas of this municipality are popular and an important part of Sino-Russian trade.

Local monsoon-influenced humidity has twenty inches of annual precipitation so people come not for the weather, but to purchase things. The Russian furs, ginseng, Chinese herbs, and nesting dolls called in Russian, babushniks are popular. They also come to enjoy Russian breads, European-style pastries, many stewed meats and mushrooms, and the seafood served here. Harbin is now a large industrial city and a key political, economic, scientific, communication, and cultural hub of this entire region.

No longer a fisherman paradise, this city is proud of its big chicken dishes, san xian, a local specialty made with potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. They are cooked in soy sauce and salt, and called 'three delicacies on earth.' Most adore this dish and eat it often.

In the 1920s, Harbin was China's most fashionable city. New Parisian-designed clothes arrived at the same time they did in Moscow and long before they made it to Shanghai. In the 1920s, this city was declared a 'UNESCO City of Music,' another area of its sophistication. It had the Harbin Symphony Orchestra, China's oldest, and a music school that was the first and best in China. In 2006, a one-thousand-piano concert was held on its Central Street enhancing its musical position.

At the end of the 19th century there were about thirty thousand people living here, but lest you think it always rural and sleepy, the Jin Dynasty did establish its capital here calling it Shangjing, or 'Upper Capital.' That helped make it an international city where three dozen consular offices were established and manned. Then, several thousand nationals moved here from three dozen countries including the United States, Poland, France, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, and many of Russia's provinces.

Now, many technical schools and colleges make this city home. In one there is a famous culinary department second to none boasting a professor who wrote a cookbook with more than five hundred recipes, perhaps the only cookbook of foods from this city and province. Its front and rear covers are illustrated with this article. It also has as do other academic institutions, departments of aerospace, defense, medicine, other science and technology departments, those of agriculture, even a Jewish research Center that explores its early inhabitants.

Harbin is known for its black soil, the most nutrient-rich in China, and its top-notch educational institutions. They attract people from all over China and all over the world. One example, from 2000 to 2010, is its population grew by thirteen percent, some 90 percent were Han Chinese, four and a half percent were Manchu, one and a half percent were Koreans. The rest came from other countries worldwide.

Sausages here are popular, often smoked, deep red, made with lots of lean meat, and many made from animal flesh found in local mountains. Fried potatoes are loved with them, as are cabbages and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, corn, and cucumbers. Also popular are hot pots, barbecued meats, stews, pickled dishes, and those made with doufu, mushrooms, and black vinegar.

Many remote areas are home to Sika deer whose tails are adored, and to lots of other animals. So are the many herbs used to flavor them. In Changchun, stores are said to sell twenty-five thousand wild plants, ten thousand medicinal ones, lots of sheep, rice, corn, and sorghum, and many small animals fresh or frozen found in the nearby mountains. One chap told us he had leopard tongue and deer tail at his wedding, and that both are often served at such celebrations.

Dishes here can be smoked and they call them 'fumigated.' They eat them with lots of heavy breads. Shredded Chicken Stew with Mushrooms and a dozen or other chicken dishes are also popular; and several people told us they like theirs with sweet potato noodles because they believe they warm them in winter.

Some other known dishes from this province and its capital city include Lao Ding Feng Cake, Red Intestines, Su he Li bread, Sweet and Sour Pork which is known here as Guo Bao Rou, Liang Ban La Pi or Powder Skin with Sauce, Stewed Bear Paw, Frog Broth, Stewed Ginseng with Chicken in Casserole, and Jellied Feilong. There are others, too, from what is now a modern industrial city.

Harbin was a settlement from about 2200 BCE. It remained sleepy and rural until the 1800s. One early dish served to royalty then was Feilong, a wild poultry served often. It was a jellied dish that after steaming it was then roasted over charcoal, and finally cooled to set. Feilong means 'flying dragon,' and this poultry dish was often served with 'handahan' moose nose that had been buried in snow for weeks to months before preparing it. A member of the deer family that seems not to exist anymore, and we assume it either extinct or just not popular, or too expensive to serve.

One last bit of local information, Harbin is the city with the longest winter of any Chinese city, and one with the largest Jewish community in the Far East. The parents of the former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, lived and were buried here, but when he came to visit their graves, he had them moved to a more southern city where they now are entombed in a Jewish cemetery ith a new larger headstone.

JILIN, is another province and in the middle of the three in Dongbei. Its capital is a bit to the west of center and called Changchun. It shares a border with the Liaoning Province to its south, the Heilongjiang Province to its north, and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous region to its west.

Many visitors come here and eat Steamed Whitefish, perhaps because of its early Jewish influence. We were told that a fish about five pounds from the Songhua Lake is best when making it. Cooked in chicken soup and in an earthenware casserole, one gal told us to make ours in a metal pan and on a fire on our table. We have yet to do so as we have no recipe to guide us.

Jilin has many Koreans living here. Some came in the last century or two, but before they did, early Korean kingdoms had outposts here. The Koreans have a distinct culture, particularly in the large Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in this province. Some five percent of the thirty million living here have Korean heritage, many others are Manchu, a smaller number Mongol, and fewer still are Hui.

This province was expanded during the Cultural Revolution circa 1949, to include a part of Inner Mongolia. Than can explain the Manchu and Mongol folk in Jilin, the Koreans and their descendants came years and years before. As to the Hui, we could not learn when they came or why, but do know they adore steamed dumplings, call them ma jia dumplings and pleat the tops of theirs making them lovely and looking like peonies.

Agriculture in Jilin centers on rice, maize, and sorghum, sheep are the main meat, pork a close second, and medicinal herbs a large part of China's pharmaceutical industry. So are products made from oil, car manufacture and car parts, electronics, chemicals, and foods. All of these form this province's industrial base.

Feilong Banquets were popular here, less so now, also popular in the Heilongjiang Province. This rare bird used was cooked with wine, Imperial Style, and served with many wild greens. One friend does prepare it with ordinary chicken and pine nuts. She puts the minced chicken put back into its skin along with the nuts and minced monkey head mushrooms. She tells us it is a historical dish and she wants her children to know about it. Years earlier, she said that this bird was stuffed and cooked in a hot charcoal fire; it was a tribute food for the emperor. Later, it was cooked in an oven, sometimes steamed first and later roasted, and that is how she makes hers. We found no recipe or any current record of it, but did see one picture of it jellied; it is shown on this page.

We did read about it and other Dongbei food nut never found it served in restaurants in Shanghai, in New York's Flushing area where many Dongbei residents exist now, or elsewhere. The picture we show on this page is from an old magazine. If you know of or have another, please help educate us; we will share it with our readers.

Other Jilin dishes we have read about include Deer in Earthen Pot and the Steamed Whitefish already mentioned, also Meat on Sticks, and a few different hot pots that include cabbage, pork, deer, sesame sauce, preserved bean curd, and mustard greens.

As already mentioned, we do own that fantastic book of recipes from Dongbei with more than five hundred dishes. It was edited by Chef Zheng Chang Jiang of the Harbin Shangye University Tourism and Cooking College, and we have shared its cover with this article. We were told it has several recipes from Jilin, but unfortunately we do not read Chinese nor has anyone shown us which ones are from there. We did have some of them translated but none for this bird nor any telling us they are from this province.

LIAONING borders on North Korea to the east, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the Northwest, Jilin Province to the north, and the Hebei Province to the southwest. It is the most western of the three Dongbei Provinces, the one with the darkest shading on the picture on the first page of this article. Its capital city, Shenyang, is about in its center. Under Japanese rule, it did revert to an earlier name, the Fengtian Province, and it is the largest one, and was commonly called Liao.

It has the longest coastline and its people do eat lots of scallops, squid, shrimp, abalone, and other sea creatures. The people in its capital city of Shenyang tell us they like Manchu food; and speak of the original 'Qing and Han Royal Delicacies Feasts' as very popular. However, no one could advise about a single dish served at any one of these banquets.

Here, they like to eat lots of game including deer and hedgehog. They prepare both with lots of ginseng and dried mushrooms, like barbecued meats, grouse, shark wing, and shellfish, and they use fish skin to wrap many meats and vegetables before stewing them. This province also eats lots of spicy Korean-tasting foods, as do the folk in Jilin.

The name Liaoning was restored to the province in 1945, its territory earlier established in 1907. It was named after the Liao River. Until after the founding of modern China, Liaoning did not exist, its land then called Lioadong and Liaoxi. With a handful of municipalities, it became Liaoning in 1954.

The current population of this province is about eighty-five percent Han Chinese, thirteen percent Manchu, with quite a few Mongols and Koreans that live here. We did meet some in Flushing who told us they like Hui dishes, particularly those made with wheat and intestines, they eat many harvest cakes and dumplings. They call them ma jia and like them steamed, stuffed with beef, and cooked in rice dough or wheat wrappers before boiling them. They also call them bao as do other Chinese, but theirs are gorgeous.

Bear's paw used to be popular here and was made with the paw of a real bear. But, as already said, eating real bear paw is illegal as is killing a bear, so they make a look-alike with lots of lard, doufu, shrimp, and condiments, and surround it with many vegetables, usually rape. Vegetarians make theirs with vegetable fat and also use rape around it.

Dalian is the second largest city in Liaoning and in the eastern part of the province. It has an ice-free port whose beaches rank high as does its long winding coastline where bathing is popular in summer. People from Dalian tell us their coastal areas are not as hot as are others in the rest of the region, but are more beautiful; and they adore them for their abundance of sea foods. The largest city in the province is Shenyang where twenty-five percent more people live than in Dalian; the province is a major producer of pig iron and machine tools, one of the top three in China. The region in and around this city grows three-quarters of China's apples and peaches; and they export most of them. it also has lots of pears, apricots, and plums, though fewer apples.

There are three other things to mention about this province, one are the extraordinary fossils found here from the Lower Cretaceous period including a famous feathered dinosaur and an intact embryo of a cat-sized mammal said to have eaten dinosaurs. The second is the Mukden Palace where Qing Dynasty emperors lived before the country's capital moved to Beijing. The third is that the city of Anshan has the largest Jade Buddha statue in the world. These have made this province famous.

Steamed Scallops are popular in this province as are Stir-fried big shrimp. Local snacks are eaten often, men zi is one of them and made with special mushrooms chopped and formed into a loaf, then sliced and fried. Another is yan xu bing zi, a salt-baked fish wrapped in a corn pancake. Local fishermen like to take a few with them to have food at sea.

This industrial province, home to the city of Anshan, has one of the largest Chinese iron and steel mills. Its monsoon climate brings rainy summers, the rest of the year quite dry with comfortable temperatures that can sometimes be high. Locals tell us they miss its many rivers and all the boating they did when they lived here. They also miss the hills in the east and the highlands in the west. They do not miss the warlords who ruled their lives before the country was taken over becoming the People's Republic of China; that was in 1949. One said they did not notice this difference until the mid 1950s.

Here are a few recipes from this region. We hope you will try them and enjoy them; also visit Dongbei restaurants reviewed in previous issues.
Harbin Di San Xian Vegetable Melange
Ingredients:
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into one- and one half-inch cubes
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggplants, diced in two-inch cubes
1 large green pepper, seeded and cut into one-incg cubes
3 large peeled cloves garlic, coarsely minced
4 scallions, white part only, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with twice that of cold water
Preparation:
1. Mix potato chunks and the oil and heat and fry stirring until potaot pieces are light brown, then remove them from the oil and drain them on paper towels.
2. Add eggplant to the oil and fry them until light brown, drain and remove them to other paper towels.
3. Add green pepper pieces, garlic, and scallion pieces and drain them similarly.
4. Pour out the oil and reserve for another use, then add the stock and bouillon powder, both soy sauces, and the sugar and mix well.
5. Return all the vegetables to the wok, add the Sichuan peppercorns and stir for one minute, then add and thicken this sauce with the cornstarch mixture stirring until it clears and is reduced by half, then serve.
Liaoning Rice, Eggs, and Sausages
Ingredients:
3 cups cooked and cooled long-grain rice
2 sweet Chinese sausages, cut lengthwise and into half-inch cubes, fried for three minutes, then cooled
3 scallions, minced
4 or 5 eggs, beaten until light in color
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
dash of coarse salt
3 cups cubed coarse bread
Preparation:
1. Prepare rice and allow to cool overnight is best, then mix with the sausage and scallion pieces.
2. Mix beaten eggs with the scallions, sugar, salt, and sausage pieces.
3 Heat wok or fry pan, add the egg mixture and the rice. When the eggs are set, turn them over. When the second side is set, remove to a flat plate and cut the egg mixture into half-inch pieces, then toss lightly, and serve on warmed plates over some coarse bread cubes.
Jilin Guo Bao
Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 pound lean cooked pork or lamb, sliced then cut into two-inch cubes
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick chunks
1/2 lemon, sliced than cubed coarsely
1 tomato, juiced
1 Tablespoon white rock sugar cubes
1 Tablespoon brown rock sugar cubes
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon bouillon powder
2 Tablespoons Maotai
1 cup mixed dry the soaked and fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Preparation:
1. Heat the oil in a wok or fry pan, then add the meat and stir-fry for two minutes until crisp, then remove it from the oil, setting the oil aside for another use.
2. Add the carrots, lemon pieces, juiced tomato, both kinds of rock sugar, stock and the bouillon powder to the wok and the meat and simmer for five minutes, then add the Maotai, and both kinds of mushrooms. Cook everything at a high temperature until the liquid is almost evaporated, then serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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