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Chiu Chow Cuisine

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Fall Volume: 2015 Issue: 23(3) pages: 10 to 11

Near the Chaosan region and east of the Guandong Province is a popular cuisine now spelled and pronounced Teochow. When I grew up, foods from here were called Chiu Chow. They are somewhat similar to foods from the Fujian Province, most might agree they also seem influenced by Cantonese cuisine.

This cuisine is well-known for its seafood and its vegetarian dishes. There are some who call it 'delicate cuisine' but others strongly disagree. I remember it well because I did and still do love their eel dishes. Foods from this region are known for their many poached, steamed, and braised items. There are very few stir-fried ones, even fewer that are deep fried. I do not recall any Teochow/Chiu Chow cookbooks (though very recently one was just published and will soon be reviewed) or any others with chapters that include their dishes.

Oil is used sparingly, and when it is used in small amounts. When their dishes are served, it was common to serve them with their very strong tea, once know as ‘Tieguanyin.’ Years back, we said and spell it ‘Tit Kuan Yin” and did know to serve it before and after meals in very tiny handle-less cups. Years ago, this tea was also called ‘monkey plucked tea’ and some did believe monkeys actually picked these tea leaves, myself included.

Teochew foods use a lot of sa cha sauce in the few stir-fry dishes they make, and a lot in their so-called barbecued foods. They also use this fermented somewhat spicy sauce to rub on their meat and fish dishes before broiling or barbecue-ing them. In addition, they use this sauce, often thinned with cold tea, in dipping sauces before and after cooking them. This sauce s long-fermented, and made with soybean oil, garlic, shallots, a good number of chili peppers, and brill and krill; the latter are tiny shrimp and tiny fish.

Chinese who left their country for places in the Chinese diaspora such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia, regularly use this sauce or a fish sauce. They like it in their spring rolls and in some of their soups. Many Teochow folk now live in California, Paris, and places in southeast Asia. You may know some of them.

A special Teochow dish I remember lovingly from when I was young was kueh. Do recall it as pinkish, though some literature calls it peach-colored. It is made with rice flour and has a wrapper; and it is filled with minced pork, mushrooms, Chinese sausages, glutinous rice, and seasonings. My recollection it that it was steamed for some minutes after being covered and knocked out of a wooden mold. I do own such a mold, and I never had a kueh not shaped this way. Sometimes it was pan-fried, and it almost always was served as a snack. I did and still do love it.

Teochew people make oyster omelettes with added tapioca starch; they are rectangular and wrapped in bean curd skins. My memory tells me they are more yellow than the ones I see on refrigerator shelves these days. Truthfully, I do not know what makes them yellow, do you?

Chiu Chow Duck Soup is popular and is very thin, often used as a stock. One recently had salted preserved vegetables mixed in. Must confess I never saw a recipe for it; have you? Another special and loved Teochow dish is Popia. It looks like a spring roll but is steamed and not fried.

Another favorite is their hotpot made with many leafy vegetables, yams, and tapioca flour; the yams sliced very thin. One other dish they love that I do, too, but not from my childhood, is called yusheng. This is a fish salad made with fried or fresh fish and fried shrimp. It has a five-spice flavor and some from plum sauce; also preserved vegetables, radishes and carrots, and fish balls that they call dumplings. We had some in Singapore, but have not had any since.

Their noodle soup, and their Mee Pok are served filled with noodles, ground pork, braised mushrooms, fish balls, dumplings, and some sa cha sauce. Both of these dishes have fish balls, fish dumplings, and more in them, and both taste both sweet and piquant. My guess is they are made with a goodly amount of that sa chasauce and several sweet herbs.

One other thing, Teochow people make a banquet called jiat dor. I remember that because it had loads of different dishes that I still love including bird’s nest and shark’s fin soups, boiled lobster, one or more steamed fish dishes, some roast pig, braised goose, and several soupy sweet desserts. Once I was allowed to stay up for something they called mee siao. Recently, I heard it called da leng, and do assume they are one and the same because both have many sweet soups served during these banquet meals. I do not recall what these soups featured, nor can I find a resource that advises about them. Can you?

These meals do have some pork jelly which I also love. It is often made with blood, but from which animal I know not. My husband does not appreciate any blood food but will fish out any pig organs as he adores them. He likes all soups made with pork bones and many Chinese herbs including buckthorn fruit. That is the only item whose name I recall, perhaps because it is somewhat sweet.

Incidentally, we both like their spring rolls; they are made with lots of five-spice flavor and rolled in yellow bean curd skins. We had them for breakfast again in Singapore in a congee they called mue. It was very watery, prepared with sour plums, some youtaio and served with minced preserved salted vegetables.

Most of their cooked dishes use a broth found on their stoves every day all day long. It is something they add ingredients to when available, sort of a superior broth with water or liquid added from all bones cooked, and it always has many dumplings in it. These and all leftovers from any and every dish are added to this pot, too. There is no recipe, just keep in mind that it is a melange that improves with each added item.

In Singapore, we did have lots of Teochew foods, but that was some years ago. That memory is better than for foods had as a youngster. Recently, a friend told me she has a good recipe to making this kueh; it is a variation of one on a website. She gave me her variation, and I did make it when I was working. However, I do not know nor did I then record any amounts; my apologies to you and to her.
Betty's Kueh, as told to me
Take some flour, oil, pork Chinese black mushrooms, lop cheong sausage, soaked dried shrimp, a few scallions, salt, and ground black pepper. Then chop them all up. Add lots of previously soaked glutinous rice and mix all together. After dusting what they call a ‘peach mold, line it with bean curd dough or with a glutinous rice flour dough or wet skins, and seal them. Next bang this out of the mold and either steam or fry for some minutes. Most of my friends say they refer them steamed for about eight minutes.
Put the kueh on greased parchment paper or on a very lightly oiled metal steamer rack. Steam, bake, or dry-fry them for six to eight minutes. Serve with one or more dipping sauces such as sa cha sauce or a dark black sweet vinegar, or mix them both together. Eat them hot, warm, or cold.

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