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Chinese Food in Asia (but not China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan)
Fall Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(3) page(s): 13, 14, 15, and 23
Yanbian Chaoxianzu Autonomous Prefecture, seen here in Chinese, is also known as the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. It is home to several million Chinese, forty percent of whom are of Korean heritage. Fifty-seven percent are Han Chinese, the other three percent are Manchu or Mongol minority peoples.
This Autonomous Prefecture is the only minority prefecture in Jilin, one of the three northeastern Dongbei Provinces (Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang). It was founded in 1952, though Koreans came and settled here hundreds of years earlier. This forty-two thousand square mile prefecture is rich in natural and forest resources including many Chinese herbs such as ginseng and pilose antlers. About the size of North Dakota, it has a population more than forty times that northwestern state.
Korean ex-pats in this Jilin prefecture like many but not all their foods piquant and sour. Kimchi is a fine example of this taste combination which is most often but not always piquant. Actually, it did not get hot until the 18th century; before that kimchi was mostly sour.
Korean dishes and teas are popular in this Prefecture as are Chinese foods made with Korean tastes. People here like dried fish as a snack and grilled meats and tofu prepared over high flames at their main meals. They eat many hot pots, consume lots of noodles, and in summer drink chilled green teas, fruit teas, and root teas. Served warm or hot in winter and often with persimmon, they like their teas to include arrowroot and/or roasted barley juice.
The staples of Chinese-Korean meals include kimchirice, pickled fish, pickled vegetables, dried fish, and many grain foods. One dish they adore is made with five grains including regular and glutinous rice, sorghum, millet, and black beans.
This Yanbian prefecture, the place where so very many Chinese-Koreans, or if yu prefer, Krean-Chinese live, is about one-quarter of the Jilin Province and is at its southern tip. Yanji is the name of its capital city, other large ones in the prefecture include Dunhua, Longjing, Hunchun, Tumen, and Helong. Korean-Chinese live throughout Jilin and many others live in the Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces.
Not new to this area, Koreans actually began settling here as early as the 17th century. Large numbers came two centuries later because of famine in their homeland and many more came in the 20th century due to continued food shortages, occupation by the Japanese, and wanting to leave North Korea. They liked the fertile land, lovely hills, gorgeous landscapes, and the foods they could plant or raise here. They moved on one side of the Yalu and Tumen Rivers to separate themselves from North Korea and Russia. Here they could enjoy many frog dishes and other beloved dishes, even those flavored with or wrapped in lotus leaf.
A good number of Korean-Chinese living in Yanbian have built wooden homes with rice-straw roofs. They are proud to hold Chinese passports and consider themselves Korean-Chinese not simply Korean. Actually, they are the largest group of Koreans living outside of Korea and are proud of this fact.
Chinese and westerners come to this region to see them, visit the Chang Bai Shan National Nature Preserve, ancient tombs at Longtou Mountain, the Korean Folk Village in the capital city’s suburbs, and the street markets featuring Korean and local fruits, nuts, and other foods. They come to eat special Chinese-Korean food and purchase beautiful Korean clothing, particularly for their children.
While in this prefecture, people view and try things not only Korean, but also Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. These are available in several Yanbian touristic locations, especially the Celestial Scenic Area south of the capital city. Other favorite purchases include ginseng, pilose antler, and marten, the three ‘treasures of China’s northeast.’
Korean-Chinese living here speak Mandarin Chinese and the Hamgyuan dialect of Korea and delight in many local noodle dishes, hot pots, and dumplings. Many of the latter are stuffed with mashed potatoes and spices then wrapped in a potato-flour dough. The exteriors of these dumplings are easily recognizable because they become transparent when boiled.
Visitors quickly learn to dip dumplings in local salty chili oil. With them they delight and devour many pickled foods, especially kimchi and suan cai. The latter is their local pickled cabbage. Both are served at virtually every meal in every restaurant and every home in Yanbian. In fact, almost every Korean-Chinese meal at home has these and more than one other pickled food set out and ready to eat. In restaurants, these dishes are set n the table only after patrons order a dish or a meal. If they do arrive on their table, they only need request them.. At breakfast, lunch, or dinner, hot and cold dishes, spicy or mild, hot or cold soups or all of the above can compliment their rice--the main meal staple, or the noodle dishes always served alongside the rice. Beverages are not served during most Korean-Chinese meals, though in very hot weather, a light and watery barley-tea is commonly served over ice.
Meals for guests at homes or in restaurants usually come with banchan or small plates that might include pickled vegetables, seasonal non-pickled ones, a pickled seafood or three, etc. It is interesting to note that these small plates are served in odd numbers.
Korean-Chinese eating means being polite and not lifting chopsticks or soup spoon until the eldest takes his or her first taste. When eating rice or a rice dish or a soup, a metal spoon is the utensil of choice; it always has a flat bowl. Here and in Korea, chopsticks are metal, too. Another item of politeness is never to lift the rice bowl off the surface of the table. These rules, though broken at breakfast, are always observed during dinner. Also, blowing one’s nose at any meal is a no-no even if the kimchi or another hot food tickles it.
Chinese-Korean meals have no courses. All dishes are placed on the table at the same time and eaten in any order desired. There are a few other rules. Two worth noting are never to talk with food in the mouth, and always to keep one’s lips together when chewing.
There is a lot of chewing needed as grilled beef and grilled sea foods are served at many meals. So are cold buckwheat noodles with or without beef, cucumber, and hard-cooked egg. Sometimes this dish is topped with kimchi.
Dongbei-Yanbian sausage is popular at main meals. It comes tightly banded with an animal-casing exterior and three different kinds of rice within. Thickened with beef blood and/or ground black beans, this and other dishes are served with a piquant seasoning for dipping. Another favorite, translated as bracken, is commonly recognized as pickled, plain, or stir-fried fiddlehead ferns.
Korean-Chinese celebrate all Chinese holidays and several Korean ones. They celebrate Lunar New Year at the same time as Chinese Spring Festival and at its New Year’s Eve meal, they eat many vegetable and seafood dishes. Not called ‘reunion dinner,’ it is the Korean Seol holiday dinner. They also celebrate a thanksgiving/harvest festival called Chusok or Seollal; it is on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar month. On that holiday, they eat rice cakes made with sesame seeds and chestnuts and a five-grain dish.
Liutou, another holiday, is enjoyed on June 15th. This day it is common to carry food to the water’s edge, eat there, and wish to rid themselves of evil spirits by tossing them into the nearby water. On this and all holidays, a favorite snack is dried squid, a favorite rice dish made with meat and vegetables their pibimpap. It is always served with a spicy sauce as are lengmian, their cold wheat noodles. The latter has lots of spice in its beef broth. Another beloved soup is doufutang, also piquant and loaded with very thin slivers of dou fu. Any Korean-Chinese will suggest having grilled fish or grilled beef with this dish and an accompanying spicy sauce, too.
Many Korean-Chinese families make their own kimchi in earthenware vats. They store them on balconies or next to their kitchen door, and they make their own chili paste and store it there, too. Often family heirloom recipes, they are mighty proud of these recipes even though elders complain that younger folk simply purchase theirs. Maybe so, but everyone eats and enjoys theirs.
In Korea, Chinese food is thought fatty and oily. Those visiting this prefecture learn foods here are not all spicy, and certainly not fatty nor oily. They learn that locals adore zhajangmyon, a dish of wheat noodles and bean paste, that they love tangsuyuk, a sweet and sour beef made with a slice of apple-pear on top that is mixed with chili paste. Korean-Chinese love game, many raise these animals because hunting was frowned upon when they arrived and now is illegal.
The word for cooked rice is synonymous with the word for meal, and Korean-Chinese meals almost always have some even if they have a noodle dish or two. Most are proud they moved north, live well in China, and love to tell strangers they have many foods here to flavor their rice. With their lunar New Year holiday shared with the Chinese, Korean-Chinese enjoy many Korean and Chinese celebrations, eat a lot of rice cakes and much kimchi.
Taste some Chinese-Korean foods at restaurants reviewed in this issue, in previous and in future ones. Foods throughout the Yanbian Prefecture might be written in Hangeul–their Korean characters, in Chinese ideographs, or in English. One can sample some at the growing number of Korean-Chinese restaurants including Rifu reviewed by Michael Gray and Duck Hyang reviewed by the editor, both in the previous issue. Others will appear in future issues. For your pleasure, try the following Korean-Chinese recipes at home, too.
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