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Qingdao and Its Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan

Spring Volume: 2010 Issue: 17(1) page(s): 30 and 31

You probably know the beer, Tsingdao, but do you know it is pronounced the same as the city called Qingdao? Tsingdao beer is made in the Shandong provincial city of Qingdao, a place I visited years ago. Tasted freshly made and scooped out of a huge copper brewing kettle and again after they put caps on bottles right off their up-to-date bottling line, it was fantastic. Actually, it was better there than any bought anywhere else in the world. It was so good that I brought half dozen bottles back to New York.

Security was different then, but it did exist. The guards checking me in did ask what was in the bottles I was carrying. Beer, I told them, and they followed up with: Why are you carrying it home? They then ask to taste it to be sure it really was beer. I told them they can pick any bottle, but only one as I am bringing it home to a son-in-law who adores beer. The do take one, open and share it. Before letting me through, they ask if they can be adopted sons-in-law. They also advised they never before met a mother-in-law who carries beer for twenty-four hours to a son-in-law in America or anywhere else.

They knew lots about this city but many know little about it including who stared the brewery, that its water comes down the mountain, and that it is considered very special. Folks do not know this city has a mild climate and that it was popular years ago. They do not know that many foreigners once lived here.

Not so most Chinese who know lots about Qingdao including that Germans began brewing beer here in the 1930s. They love coming here to vacation and they go to Lu Xun and Huiquan Park and the latter's many gardens. They like to climb Laoshan, that is its Lao Mountain. They also know they like the round flat millet and corn cakes made and served with shrimp sauce here. They like the special scallion cakes called xinya, and the pie-like dish with porridge inside that is slippery and soothing. They know the bean curd served with shrimp paste, the noodles made of corn, dumplings big and small and their many different filings are divine. Some say there are more than forty fillings to choose from.

Once, I taught a course in Jinan and when it was finished my hosts took me to Qingdao, o the brewery, and to the top of the Lao mountain. I did see the four natural springs that come together with water used not only for the beer but also for the popular bottled Laoshan Mineral Water. Both beverages are loved throughout China, and seeing them made in exceptionally modern facilities was exciting.

Shandong, Qingdao's provincial home, is known as one of China's eight great cuisines. I learned a lot about many of them when teaching that fifteen-hour course to chef-instructors and chef-directors of culinary schools in Jinan, the provincial capital city. That was many years ago, 1986 to be exact. In addition, I was lucky enough to visit a top culinary school and see how they train their students in both culinary and garnishing. Another lucky item was to taste and enjoy special meals made for me in well-known restaurants in Jinan. Then and since, I have been able to interact with some of the chef-instructors taking that course.

Qingdao is a picturesque seaside city on the south coast of the Shandong Peninsula and on the Huanghai or Yellow Sea. The city's reasonable-size foreign population then helped build many western-looking buildings with red-tile roofs; they remain today. They also built a Catholic Church that looks like many in European towns. This city has a beautiful bathing beach and that twin-towered western-looking Catholic Church.

Now, Qingdao is a holiday resort known for its long wooden pier built in 1890. The one used today is a redo and made of concrete. It is the symbol of this industrial city and people know its two-story octagonal building at the end jutting some four hundred feet into the sea. Young lovers like to walk it and even hang out there at night. On their way to or fro, they often stop at one of the restaurants on Double Star Eating Street, or one of the snack shops on Picai Yard or Pichaiyan, a famous snack street. They may also go to Barbecue Street, Yunxiaolu, another food street, or any of the many other fine food places.

Some twenty miles East is the Lao Mountain I was taken to. Mount Taishan or Tai Mountain is taller, more majestic, and further away, and it attracts a different clientele. Both are visited often, and both are revered.

The bullet train, which did not exist when I was there, takes about six and a half hours from Shanghai; that has increased visitors to the region. When I went to Jinan by train and car on that first visit, it was on an overnight trip that was anything but fast. After teaching and visiting Qingdao, I was taken to Qufu, home of Confucius. There I had a wonderful Confucian banquet, but that was after sitting some hours in a massive traffic jam. That is another story, perhaps for another article.

The Chinese know Laoshan as a beautiful mountain and a Taoist shine. I learned that before visiting the brewery; and also learned that this mountain is regarded as a residence for immortals and had been since early in the Song Dynasty (900 - 1279 CE). My notes, taken earlier in my career are sketchy, but they do note early pears that were special but not completely ripe and boneless Braised Chicken as one of the best ways to eat chicken anywhere in China with meat that falls off the bone with a light touch of a chopstick. It tastes special because it is cooked with many herbs, some say as many as sixteen of them.

On that early trip, also ate a stewed chicken made with lots of cinnamon, star anise–-but maybe it was anise seed, and it had a large Chinese nut, a nutmeg called tsao kuo. That herbal item is written about in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 8(2) on page 7.

Best known about Qingdao, are foods of the sea eaten with beer and mineral water. These beverages are loved throughout China. Lots are consumed; is it because the food here is a mite salty? Did learn that it is cooked in peanut oil because peanuts are abundant and produced here.

The ten most representative dishes in Qingdao were listed in a local paper, the Bandao City Times on April 17, 2006. A colleague and author, Huang Heyu, who wrote a 2009 article in Flavor and Fortune about Ao Yao people in Volume 16(3) told me about it. She translated them as: Minced Pork Sea Cucumber, Crispy Chicken, Family-style Flounder, Stewed Chicken with Laoshan Mushrooms, Boiled Fresh Abalone, Hot and Sour Fish Ball Soup, Crispy Lightly-breaded Oysters, Sauteed Conch Slices, Prawns and Chinese Cabbage, and Stewed Yellow Croaker and Tofu.

That same article gives ten representative snacks as: Roast Squid, Braised Pigs Feet, Three-delicious Potsticker, Pork and Chinese Cabbage Bun, Sauteed Clams with Chili, Seafood noodles, Spare Ribs on Rice, Chinese Mackerel Dumplings, Agar jelly, and Wonton in Chicken Broth.

Huang Heyu also interviewed a friend born in Qingdao who grew up there and told her about foods in his home town. She sent some pictures from a local Qingdao website and an interview she had with him (but not the map). My own slides are old and not as vibrant nor as recent as hers. She asked Wang Chenglong some questions about his hometown foods. Also in this issue is a review done by the editor of a restaurant in Flushing, New York. It may be a first in the United States serving Qingdao foods with chef, staff, and ownership of folks from Qingdao.

Her interview follows:
Q: What are some features of Qingdao food?
A: The most clear one is that they use a lot of seafood such as sea cucumber, crabs, shrimp, yellow croaker, etc. And, that the food is more salted than Zhejiang food.

Q: How do they cook their seafood?
A: In many different ways, they deep-fry some, braise, steam, and boil others.

Q: Are there any other features of Qingdao food you would like to share?
A: Yes, they eat a lot of wheaten food as a main course, and they eat a lot less rice. Among their wheaten foods are fried dumplings, buns steamed and stuffed, fried bread sticks, and noodles. People in Qingdao seldom eat pancakes but those living in Western Shandong do eat a lot of them.

Q: What relationships do you see between the foods of Qingdao and Shandong cuisine?
A: Qingdao food is a branch of Shandong cuisine, so there are many similarities.

Q: Do you know and like a restaurant featuring the foods of Qingdao?
A: Yes, there is one called Qiao Family Little Courtyard, there is a picture of it in this article.

Q: What is your favorite Qingdao dish?
A: Fried Potato Shreds.

Q: What foods do you and others prepare for the Chinese New Year festivities?
A: Every family should prepare dumplings, braised carp, and a whole rooster–boiled or braised, and other seafood like deep-fried hairtail (a fish), prawns and Chinese cabbage, stewed yellow croaker, etc.

Note: The editor thanks Huang Heyu for information forwarded and the pictures for this article. She previously wrote about her minority heritage, that of the Yao, in Volume 16(3) in that 2009 issue. Thanks also go to Wang Chenglong, the chap who was born and grew up in Qingdao, for his responding to her queries.

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