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Hunan Province: A Land of Plenty

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Summer Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(2) pages: 27 to 29

Located in South-Central China, this province has many lakes, its name actually translating to ‘land of males’ with some know as the ‘land of lakes, and in the Northeast of the country south of where Wuhan, the Yangzi River descends into a flood plain and there are many lakes including a huge one, Dongting Hu. Hunan is in a region known for the lakes and its culinary magic. It is rich in marine life, agricultural and gastronomic wealth, and people who made the most of their mountainous land and forested features.

This is China’s third largest rice-growing region; here they produce two crops of it annually, and eat lots of spicy foods similar to but not the same as those from the Sichuan Province. They consume lots of chili peppers, many with their seeds still in them. We read these peppers originally came form the United States, though some say they came from South America.

The Han residents here love and also use many Sichuan peppercorns. Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi were born here, Mao often carrying his own big bag of chili peppers not wanting to run out of them. He said he could not do without these foods he loved.

The Chinese know almost all Hunanese folk like their foods hot and spicy; sweet and sour, too. They love clear soups even for breakfast, and want them thickened with a choice of one of various starches such as water chestnut flour, pea shoot flour, lotus flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, even corn flour which westerners call cornstarch. They also want their dishes enhanced with local fresh or dried cloud ear fungi, and with many other fresh and dried ingredients including black peppercorns.

Changsha, the provincial capital, boasts folk eating lots of fresh water fish, shellfish, and other fresh and salt- water foods, unknown to them until after 1880. Was this because foreigners were not permitted entrance Hunan Province: A Land of Plenty to this exciting city and did not know what they really ate? Did they miss out on their exotic and ordinary foods? Hunan has a long growing season, and as it was sealed off from much of China, so many are not sure what was really known. Only locals really knew how good all local foods were, how fresh and exotic they could be, and that they grew in their unusually fertile fields.

Rice, fish and other foods of the sea were served alone or with chicken and pork. Many with fruits and vegetables from their well-watered alluvial plains. They not only grew several varieties of rice, they raised black chickens with black feathers and black bones. These are known to the Chinese as being great for curing high blood pressure. They love pigs fattened on sweet potatoes for their fat ribs and their fat bacon. They produced five-flower meat, and likened it to rows of the blooming colors in their fields. They ate them with young leaves of cedar parboiled briefly, tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce, and vinegar, and shredded with eggs, young duck meat, and tea leaves.

Hunan produces bamboo, and highlights their dishes with ground dried pork, tender bamboo shoots, tea not marketed outside of their province, and foods from their lakes. Called ‘the land of fish and rice’, the waters of their largest lake, seventy five miles long, sixty-five miles wide, and their ducks raised on its shores are best eaten dipped in soy sauce with minced fresh ginger and tossed tea leaves. This cold dish is adored with peaches and quince, red-cooked boiled pork butts, and golden rock candy, along with tiger- bone wine, lean turtle, bean relish, and meat from a locally fatted calf. Though these ingredients are from Hunan, their general tastes can not be replicated, so one needs to go there to experience them.

Hunan Fish Soup

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ Chinese cruller, fried until crisp
½ pound white-fleshed fish, sliced paper thin
1 Tablespoon water-chestnut flour
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 ounce fresh green vegetable, cut in half-inch pieces
1 scallion, minced
1 small chili pepper, seeds removed and minced
6 cups chicken broth
I thin slice of belly pork, minced
1 dash ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon Chinese white vinegar


1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, then fry cruller slices until crisp, and drain on paper towels.
2. Mix fish slices with flour, then add the wine and add scallion and chili pepper pieces and put these and the pork belly and broth in a large soup pot and bring it to the boil. Add the hot broth, peppercorns, and the vinegar, and stir. Then serve in pre-heated soup bowls or a tureen.

Chicken Ginger Soup

1 chicken breast, cut in very thin strips
1 egg white, beaten
1 Tablespoon water chestnut flour
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, slivered
6 cups chicken broth
3 Tablespoons pickled vegetables, slivered
1 Tablespoons wood ear fungi, soaked, drained, then slivered
½ cup snow peas, ends and strings discarded, then thinly slivered
3 scallions, slivered on a sharp angle
1 Tablespoon sesame oil


1. Mix chicken breast slivers, beaten egg white, rice wine, rice vinegar, ground pepper, and sugar and marinate this mixture for half an hour.
2. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat, add the ginger, pickled vegetables, snow peas, scallions, and the egg mixture and stir. Then add the sesame oil and, return everything to the boil, and serve.

Black-Bone Chicken Soup

½ black-bone cooked chicken, chopped in two-inch cubes
2 Tablespoons cloud ear fungi, soaked until soft, then coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ cup Chinese rice wine
5 slices fresh ginger, minced


1. In a five quart pot, add the chicken, soaked fungi, sugar, salt, wine, ginger, and six cups of boiled water, and simmer for twenty minutes, skim if/as needed,.
2. Pour into pre-heated soup bowls or a large tureen; and serve.

Twice-Cooked Pork, Hunan Style

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pond pork belly, cut in thin strips
½ pound pressed doufu, cut in thin strips
1 sweet red pepper, seeded. cut in thin strips
3 slices fresh ginger, cut in thin strips
3 cloves fresh peeled garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon black bean sauce, mashed
1 Tablespoon brown bean sauce
1 Tablespoon hot bean sauce


Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and stir-fry the pork belly, doufu, red pepper, ginger, and garlic strips until almost crisp, then remove to paper towels and set these aside.
2. Heat sesame oil and the three bean sauces, and stir well, then return the set aside ingredients and stir until all is well-mixed. Then serve in a pre-heated bowl.

Vegetable Stems in Chicken Fat

1 to two pounds thick vegetable stems, cut into thin slices, leaves discarded
1/4 cup rendered chicken fat
3 Tablespoons slivered fresh ginger
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
½ cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice vinegar


1. Rinse stems and shake off excess water.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the chicken fat, and then the vegetable stems, and stir-fry for two minutes, then add the rice wine, broth, sugar, and the vinegar, and stir-fry for one more minute before putting this into a pre-heated bowl, and serve.

Frozen Winter Congee

2 cups total (1//4 cup each, of the following eight ingredients: raw peanuts, dried red beans, chopped nuts, rock sugar, slivered almonds, dried longans, small raisons, and gogi berries)
1 cup sticky rice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar


1. Soak each of the eight items in separate bowls overnight, then drain each and simmer each separately for twenty minutes, then drain each one and allow them to cool before mixing them together.
2. Cook half the rice about half an hour or until thick, then add the other half and cook ten minutes. 3. Then add the eight cooked ingredients, and serve hot or warm, or freeze this mixture in a flat pan until needed. Note: After defrosting, cut this into two-inch squares, put a stick into each square, and serve the squares at room temperature, or reheat it to serve.

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