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Wenzhou Revisited

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Spring Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(1) pages: 20 to 21

In the 2nd century BCE, this region belonged to the Kingdom of Dongou. Even earlier it was called Yongjia, and seen spelled Yungchia or Yingkia. Known for its pottery, this region had a reputation that went back at least to 2000 BCE. The city known today was named Wenzhou in 675 CE, during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE). Its name means ‘milk and pleasant land,’ and why it was given this name, we know not.

Written about in the Spring Issue of 2012, revisiting it we know it is a city of more than three million people as per the 2010 Chinese census. However, that number only counts its central area. If including all land under its jurisdiction, there are close to ten million people living there now including two county level and three local districts that are all considered part of Wenzhou.

In the past, this city was a prosperous foreign treaty port, and foreigners loved it. It is a mountainous region isolated for most of its history, thus enabled its local culture and local language to remain distinct from the rest of China. Known as Wenzhounee or Wenzhouese, the local language here is still one of the most difficult Chinese dialects to learn.

People here are known to have considerable entrepreneurial spirit attested to by the many who leave home and start restaurants or wholesale or retail businesses wherever they go to. One region many go to is to Europe where the people of Wenzhou make up a large number of the Chinese population living in France, Italy, and Spain. They have restaurants or other businesses there. Fewer can be found elsewhere in Europe, fewer still in Canada and in the US.

In Europe, people seem to know very little about the people of Wenzhou. It is on the Ou River, correctly called the Oujiang River, a waterway that is the largest in the Wenzhou prefecture. The Nanxi River, a popular major tributary to it, has thirty-six bends, seventy-two beaches, twelve peaks, a waterfall, and so much more. There are many islands close to Wenzhou, the bigger ones can be seen from its more than two hundred-mile coastline. In its prefecture is the county of Dongtou, known as the county of one hundred islands. Close to the city itself is Jiangxin Island which is in the middle of the Ou River. It is popular for its large water park, a new big and beautiful pagoda, a large Ferris wheel, an exciting roller coaster, many scenic gardens, and other places with lots to see and do. There, and around all the islands one finds abundant marine life that keeps locals busy, happy, and far from hungry. No wonder foods of the sea are the favorite foods of Wenzhouites.

The weather here is known for its long, hot, and humid summers, more so at its end than at its beginning. Heavy rains do occur in spring and early summer, as does one or more typhoons that tend to come during the second half of the summer.

Winters here are short, mild, and dry. They are quite pleasant and make this a nice place to visit then or any other parts of the year. Therefore, many come in winter or at other times to see as many of the nine hundred plus covered bridges in nearby Taishun County that they can. That is often a visitor competition. While in Wenzhou, people also enjoy the large variety of teas, wines, and foods of the sea, things made of local jute, wood, and paper, and their Alunite, a mineral used to make fertilizer.

Entrepreneurs in this vibrant city have many businesses, large and small. They are known for making lots of eye glasses. About ninety percent of the world’s eye glasses are manufactured here. Also known is that locals manufacture huge numbers of shoes, also many small and large electrical machines, loads of other leather goods, a plethora of plastic things, lots of textiles sold by the yard or made into garments, chemicals, general equipment, and things large and small for the transportation industry.

In Wenzhou, hundreds of smaller businesses provide for needs of the food industry. They have no trouble shipping these wares anywhere in the world because this city’s transportation industry is outstanding. Some examples of transportation success are that in 1995, Wenzhou began the first private airline company in the country called 'Juneyao.' They also started the country’s first private railway company known as 'Jinwen Rail.' Seeing a need, in late 2009, China began two high-speed rail lines to and from Wenzhou; one going north to Hangzhou called the Wenzhou--Taizhou–Hangzhou line, the other going south called the Wenzhou--Xiamen line going to Xiamen once known as Amoy. The airport in Wenzhou is said to be international and can be found east of the city. It serves several out-of-country and most in-country destinations. In addition, there is a central bus station serving most of China’s cities, and three smaller ones meeting the needs of the hoards coming here by bus.

Many travel to this city for business, others to see the sights and enjoy the food known for the about two hundred fifty special Wenzhou dishes. Best known among them is Raw Swimming Crabs made with lots of vinegar, soy sauce, rice wine, and small amounts of many different seasonings. Others include Fish Boiled with Three Shreds, Garlic Seasoned Fish Skin using their exteriors, Double Taste Crabs, Tall-man Wonton stuffed with pork, and Short-man Sponge Cake made with pork, glutinous rice and sugar.

In addition, there is Lamp Cake fried with pork, shrimp, abalone, and beef; it looks like its namesake. And there is Dried Eel made with nothing but the eel, Braised Beef Tendon, and a bread that looks like and in some places is called 'pizza.' It is made with dried vegetables. In addition, Wenzhou is known for its many dumplings, other appetizers and snack foods including their famous Xianqian Tang Yuan which are round and white on the outside. They symbolize reunion and good luck. On the streets, vendors by the dozens sell a very popular snack called Fish Pellet; it is made with farina or another grain and many different seasonings. Many restaurants in this city serve it in soup. In a few places in Manhattan and Flushing, tastes of the many Wenzhou appetizers and dishes can be enjoyed. We frequented Gourmet Delicacies and Noodles on College Point Boulevard and adore its dishes. It started in a basement mall, moved to on College Point Boulevard, and now is no more. At this writing, Lucky Wenzhou and Huang Jin Lao are the only places left, and we hope they will still be there when you read this article or see ths web rendition. No Wenzhou eatery seems to stay for long, even if they feature a large or small set of cold appetizers, noodle soups, rice cake dishes, chicken, beef, seafood and vegetable ones, lots of duck tongue, and their very special Fish Pellet Soup. Some change locations while others simply disappear. Do check them out using a smart phone or GPS device when on your way. One is in discussed in the On The Menu article beginning on page 29 in this issue.

Better yet, go to Wenzhou where eating choices are endless; shopping ones are, too. Many Chinese vacation there and tell us it has hassle-free transportation, plenty of ways to get there, and so many places to shop. They love the foods found on carts and in restaurants.

Should you want to make your own, published recipes are limited. Check out those in the earlier Wenzhou article in this magazine and in other places. What follows are generalizations, not actual recipes, and readers are invited to send in their own.

Needed is a source of fresh white-flesh fish that needs to be ground or hand minced; half-cup or more per serving. Then add about ten percent of Cream of Wheat, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a slice or two of a fresh garlic, also minced, and a half sprig of finely minced fresh coriander. The stock should be made with the shells of crab, fish bones, and shrimp brought to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Next discard the shells and bones, and with a pastry bag with a medium nozzle, squeeze in small amounts of the fish paste, simmer for four or five minutes, and serve immediately.

Requires two or more live crabs. their claws removed and put in a bowl away from where you are working. Why? Because they can jump up and bite your hand or fingers. Chop their bodies into four to eight pieces, then add Chinese rice vinegar, light soy sauce, rice wine, and salt and pepper. Put the claws and the body pieces together and marinate them all for one hour on the counter or two or three, covered and in the refrigerator. The marinade needs to cover all parts of the crabs. Then serve.

Use one pound of duck tongues marinated in equal parts of thin soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine; cover them overnight in the refrigerator. After taking them out, drain and steam them for half an hour, then serve.

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