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China's Many Diverse Cuisines


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Do a loose search for ‘Chinese Cuisine’ and often you’ll be directed to books or websites telling you that China has eight distinct cuisines. Unfortunately, this is yet another myth. The repetition of this ‘fact’ comes from the Imperial court stating such hundreds of years ago and it becoming a cliché, both in and out of China. The eight are usually listed as:


鲁菜 (lǔ cài), Shandong cuisine

粤菜 (yuè cài) Cantonese cuisine

川菜 (chuān cài) Sichuan cuisine

苏菜 (sū cài) Jiangsu cuisine

湘菜 (xiāng cài) Hunan cuisine

浙菜 (zhè cài) Zhejiang cuisine

徽菜 (huī cài) Anhui cuisine

闽菜 (mǐn cài) Fujian cuisine


The list was compiled when China’s present day borders were somewhat different. In fact, not only are there many, many more; even within these categories there are distinctly different cuisines.


Hunan, for example has three distinguishably different cuisines, as does Guangxi where I live. Also, the list excludes many more. It only includes the majority Han Chinese cuisines and excludes the ethnic minority cuisines of which there are so many.


It also excludes significant cuisines such as Yunnan cuisine, Guizhou cuisine, Shaanxi cuisine, Xinjiang cuisine, Dongbei cuisine, Inner Mongolian cuisine, Tibetan cuisine and more. It doesn’t even include Beijing or Shanghai, both of which have their own distinct cuisines.


Over the next few posts I will attempt to herd cats and describe some of the eight, but more of the others as they tend to be less well known out of China.



Edited by liuzhou (log)
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鲁菜 (lǔ cài) – Shandong (山东) Cuisine


I’ll start with what is regarded as Chinese oldest recognisable cuisine and one of the mythical eight, but first a linguistic diversion. You may be wondering why it’s called 鲁菜 (lǔ cài) and not 山东菜 (shān dōng cài). Well, most of the provinces have alternative names and this is one of those.


(lǔ) means stupid, dull, rash, rough, rude, but is also another name for Shandong Province as well as a family name. The province lies on the east coast, north of Shanghai and south of Beijing. There is no implication that the people are stupid. In fact, Shandong is the birthplace of China’s most important philosopher, 孔子 (kǒng zǐ), anglicised as Confucius.





It also famous for its beer. Tsingtao is the old transliteration for what is now written in the Roman alphabet as Qingdao. This coastal Shandong city was occupied by Germany from 1898 to 1914 and still features a lot of German architecture. But more well-known is 青岛啤酒 (qīng dǎo pí jiǔ) or Tsingtao Beer. The brewery was founded in 1903 and produced its first brew the following year. In 1916, it was acquired by the Japanese company which owned Asahi beer. It changed hands a few more times during the first and second world wars, as Germany was booted out then the Japanese invaded and took over until 1945. In 1949, the Communists under Mao nationalized it.




Today it is China’s best known beer internationally and is available in over 100 countries with exports starting in 1954. This is why it was one of only handful of products allowed to retain the old transliteration in its name – they didn’t want to confuse and potentially lose the foreign market.


However the company make a better beer. I first tasted it on draught in Qingdao in 1997. Called Laoshan beer - 崂山啤酒 (láo shān pí jiǔ) after a famous ‘holy’ Taoist mountain just outside Qingdao city. When I had it, it was only available in Qingdao. The water used was said to come from the mountain. It is now available throughout China in cans and bottles. If you find yourself in Qingdao, I recommend a glass or four of the draught.




Then it will be dinner time!


Shandong is known for its judicious use of seasonings and spices. The main ‘spice’ is salt. This is for historic reasons and its being coastal with access to sea salt. It also uses soy sauce and vinegar but doesn’t have the robust flavours of some other cuisines like those of Sichuan or Hunan. They are fond of sweet-and sour dishes and do also use more onions than most provinces.


Its long shoreline and many rivers mean that both freshwater and seawater foods are a large part of the cuisine. On that same 1997 visit, I lived on Shandong’s clams 蛤蜊 (gé lí), famous throughout China. I now live hundreds of miles away but even here, most of our dried clams are sourced from Shandong.


The clams are sometimes breaded and fried, but my favourite was simply stir-fried with salt-fermented black soy beans.




Fried carp with sweet and sour sauce, 糖醋鲤鱼 (táng cù lǐ yú) is another favourite.


But Shandong is also famous as the prime source of one of the worst things I have ever eaten - Braised Sea Cucumber with Onion, 葱烧海参 (cōng shāo hǎi shēn). For those who are lucky enough not to have met them, sea cucumbers are echinoderms as are starfish and sea urchins. They look like turds and are like eating play-doh.





Non aquatic favourites are 德州扒鸡 (dézhōu pá jī) Dezhou Grilled Chicken which are lightly breaded and fried.



Dezhou Chicken


Shandong makes great use of the (bào) technique of cooking which is food cooked in boiling oil. This means the exterior crisps up rapidly while the interior remains moist.


Another breaks Chinese tradition: (sì) means ‘four’ which is China’s most unlucky number as it is a near homophone of (sǐ) meaning ‘to die’. Yet, the Shandong population happily eat 四喜丸子 (sì xǐ wán zi), Four Happy Meatballs. These are similar to the Lion’s head meatballs available elsewhere in China.



Three Happy Meatballs - I'm superstitious!


There are, of course, many other dishes, but I hope I have given a hint of the general style of the food and its flavours. Salt, vinegar, sugar, onions, seafood.



Edited by liuzhou (log)
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滇菜 (diān cài) - Yunnan (云南) Cuisine


Not on the list of eight is the important cuisine of Yunnan, also called (diān), after 滇池 (diān chí), Dian Chi Lake which is Yunnan’s largest and is located just outside the provincial capital, Kunming. Hence the name of the cuisine.


Yunnan means ‘south of the clouds’ and lies in the south of China, bordering Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar / Burma as well as the neighbouring Chinese provinces of Guizhou, Chongqing, Sichuan and autonomous regions of Guangxi and Tibet. It is home to 51 of China’s ethnic minorities who make up one-third of the population. Their food is notably different from that of the majority Han Chinese population and I’ll talk about that separately later.


It is a beautiful part of China and a popular tourist destination, featuring Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Stone Forest, the ancient cities of Dali and Lijiang and the capital Kunming among others.


Gastronomically, it is most well-known in China for its amazing supply of wild mushrooms. In all, it is said to have around 5,000 different species, 800 of which are edible. These include porcini, morels and matsutake , which can fetch $1,000 USD a pound. Kunming, in particular has numerous restaurants offering 野生菌火锅 (yě shēng jūn huǒ guō), mushroom hotpot feasts, as do other cities around China.



Yunnan Mushrooms



Morels and Matsutake


Also famous in Yunnan is 宣威火腿 (xuān wēi huǒ tuǐ), Xuanwei Ham, one of China’s most famous and described by the Wall St Journal as “The best piece of ham I’ve ever tasted” and rated alongside Spain’s jamón Iberico.



Xuanwei ham


A very popular dish is Yunnan’s 过桥米线 (guò qiáo mǐ xiàn), Crossing the Bridge Noodles. As always, there is an apocryphal (?) story behind the name. It is claimed that there was a minor civil servant who was studying for his imperial exams on a small island, accessible by a bridge, where he could concentrate without distractions. His wife would bring him noodles for lunch but found that by the time she had crossed the bridge to the island the soup would be cold and the noodles overcooked. She accidentally discovered that a layer of oil over the broth kept it warm, so she delivered lunch with the broth so covered, but kept the noodles separate until just before serving. My local deliver app noodles are still delivered in this way.



Crossing the Bridge Noodles


Alternative explanations are available.


Yunnan is also one of the few places making cheese in China. It is an ethnic minority speciality, but I will mention it now as it is an important and unusual part of Yunnan food culture. Known as 乳饼 (rǔ bǐng), literally ‘milk cake’, rubing is a hard, usually goat milk cheese. The cheese is usually fried and sugared to bring out the milky taste. Alternatively it can be stretched and dried to make 乳扇 (rǔ shān), literally ‘milk fans’. These are lighter and crisp.





Finally, for now and for tea drinkers, Yunnan is home to the famous Pu’er tea (普洱茶 - pǔ ěr chá). This black tea comes from 普洱市 (pǔ ěr shì), a city and prefecture some 570 km / 355 miles south-west of Kunming. Its elevation makes it ideal for tea cultivation. Pu’er comes in two types: raw and fermented, with the latter being best known. Prime grades can be very expensive.



Pu'er Tea


Finally, let me say that one of my favourite possessions is my marble mortar and pestle. It is from Dali in Yunnan. In Chinese, 'marble' is 大理石 (dà lǐ shí), literally Dali Stone, named after the ancient city.




This mushroom themed batik, I also bought in Dali after watching it neing made over several days.





Edited by liuzhou (log)
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粤菜 (Mand: yuè cài; Cant: jyut6 coi3) - Cantonese cuisine (Part One)


Note: As many people in this area speak Cantonese, I am giving the pronunciation in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I am also giving names in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters as the latter are still used in Hong Kong and Macao and sometimes in restaurants on the mainland, although that is discouraged. If only one set of characters are shown as in the title of this post, that means the simplified and traditional are the same. On with the show.


Named for the city of Guangdong, formerly called Canton by the British, this is the food of Guangzhou Province and southern Guangxi. It also includes Hong Kong and Macao and is the most common Chinese cuisine found abroad, simply because most emigrants were from the area and had access to trade with the colonial powers. The cuisine they  took with them has, however, been much altered away from its roots. This emigration  also explains Cantonese being the dominant Chinese language among the diaspora, although that is changing rapidly. Some American and Canadian cities now have more Mandarin than Cantonese speakers. Last time I was in London (2019) I heard more Mandarin than Cantonese in Chinatown.


Yet, this is another example of mythology. Cantonese food is not a unified cuisine. It falls into three distinct cuisines: Guangzhou cuisine, Chaozhou cuisine and Dongjiang cuisine, while Hong Kong and Macao can be also be considered sub-cuisines, both having been influenced to varying degrees by their colonisers, Britain and Portugal respectively.


In this post I will deal with the first - Guangzhou cuisine. I should declare a lack of interest. Cantonese is probably my least favourite Chinese cuisine (with a handful of important exceptions). I find it bland, over-expensive and boring, but I know I’m in an unrepentant minority. But I’ll try to be impartial.


The food in general is attractively presented and the freshness and quality considered paramount.6 Flavourings and seasonings are light, with sugar used as a ‘spice’ (but not as heavily as in western Chinese restaurants. Conserving the original flavours of the ingredients is a major goal.


Those ingredients are many and various. Most of the horror stories coming out of China (true or false) arise in Guangzhou. I mentioned somewhere above that Qingping market (青平市场 - qīng píng shì cháng; Cant: ceng1 ping4 si5 coeng4) in Guangzhou was like a supermarket resembling a zoo. Civet cats sold here were widely thought of as being the source of SARS in 2003. It also uses a lot of little known vegetables, especially in restaurants.


Most of these ‘exotic’ ingredients are only used in restaurants and seldom in domestic kitchens.


Some of the best known dishes in Guangzhou and throughout China include 白切鸡 / 白切雞 (Mand: bái qiē jī: Cant: baak6 cit3 gai1), White Cut Chicken. This is a whole (plucked and gutted but skin, head and feet kept intact) chicken slow poached in lightly salted water with chopped green onions, ginger, and Shaoxing wine or baijiu wine. The bird is usually poached for around 15 minutes then the heat turned off and the chicken left in the cooling water to finish in the residual heat. It is then placed in an ice bath to cool completely and served, usually with dips. This one I like, but you can keep the skin. I only like crisp skin.



White Cut Chicken


Another poultry dish is 广式烧鹅 / 廣式燒鵝 (Mand: guǎng shì shāo é; Cant: gwong2 sik1 siu1 ngo4*2), Guangzhou Roasted Goose. This reaches perfection in Hong Kong.


Roast Goose


烤乳猪 / 烤乳豬 Mand: kǎo rǔ zhū; Cant: haau1 jyu5 zyu1) or 烧乳猪 (Cant: siu1 jyu5 zyu1 in Hong Kong), Roasted Sucking Pig is a wonderful dish at more formal events or celebrations. Crisp skin and succulent meat. But I doubt many people are rustling that up at home.


Roast Sucking Pig


蜜汁叉烧 / 蜜汁叉燒 (Mand: mì zhī chā shāo; Cant: mat6 zap1 caa1 siu1), Honeyed Char Siu is well known. Often just abbreviated to the last two characters. Used as is, in fried rice, soups, buns etc. 


The crispest char siu is not made with honey, but maltose - less sweet but a better glaze.



Char Siu



Char siu bao bun.


My favourite breakfast is also Cantonese: 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (Mand: pí dàn shòu ròu zhōu; Cant: pei4 daan6*2 sau3 juk6 zuk1), Congee with lean pork and century egg. Simple: rice, water, century egg and ground pork. Often served with pickles.

PidanLeanPorkCongee.thumb.jpg.088bed8700f2dd06124ef6148992b063.jpgLean Pork and Century Egg Congee


Another well known Cantonese treat, imported from Europe in colonial times, is 蛋挞 / 蛋撻 (Mand: dàn tà; Cant: daan6 taat3*1) Egg Tarts. These come in two varieties: 香港蛋挞 / 香港蛋撻 (Mand: xiāng gǎng dàn tà; Cant: hoeng1 gong2 daan6 taat3*1), Hong Kong Egg Tarts; and 澳门蛋挞 / 澳門蛋撻 (Mand: ào mén dàn tà; Cant: ou3 mun4*2 daan6 taat3*1), both of which are available all over China and beyond.



Top: Macao Egg Tars; Bottom: Hong Kong Egg Tarts


Finally, for now, one for the vegans. They need all the help they can get. 罗汉斋 / 羅漢齋 (Mand: luó hàn zhāi; Cant: lo4 hon3 zaai1), supposedly so-named because vegetarian Buddhist monks couldn’t resist it. It is a mung bean noodle dish which, when properly and traditionally made has 18 ingredients, all vegan. Recipe and image here.


More later.



Edited by liuzhou
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粤菜 (Mand: yuè cài; Cant: jyut6 coi3) - Cantonese cuisine (Part Two) - 潮汕菜 (Mand: cháo shàn cài; Cant: ciu4 saan3 coi3) – Chaoshan Cuisine


Note: As many people in this area speak Cantonese, I am giving the pronunciation in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I am also giving names in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters as the latter are still used in Hong Kong and Macao and sometimes in restaurants on the mainland, although that is discouraged. If only one set of characters are shown as in the title of this post, that means the simplified and traditional are the same. On with the show.


Chaoshan cuisine, also called Teochew cuisine, is an important sub-genre of Cantonese cuisine, largely exclusive to the area known as 潮汕 (Mand: cháo shàn; Cant: ciu4 saan3) and including the city of  汕头 (Mand: shàn tóu; Cant: saan3 tau4) in south-eastern Guangdong Province. Dating back to the Han Dynasty (Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), the area is famous for its skilled chefs. Attention to details of cutting and presentation are renowned as is their love of mild, lightly seasoned preparations which highlight the natural flavours of the dishes.


They are also known for their delicate vegetable dishes, some vegetarian but not all.


This is a prosperous maritime region so much of the cuisine centres on seafood, for which it’s most famous. One unusual feature of their cuisine is the technique of marinating seafood while it’s still alive. The marinade consists of vinegar, green onion, ginger, soy sauce and baijiu (a Chinese grain liquor). Small amounts of chillies are sometimes added, but generally Cantonese food is not spicy.


Meats, both natural or cured, are often brined using water, salt, bean paste, ginger and many other spices. Brined goose or duck is a favourite. 潮汕卤味 / 潮汕鹵味 (Mand: cháo shàn lǔ wèi; Cant: ciu4 saan3 lou5 mei6*2), brined meats are often served as a charcuterie plate.


芥兰炒牛肉 / 芥蘭炒牛肉 (Mand: jè lán chǎo niú ròu ; Cant: gaai3 laan4*2 caau2 ngau4 juk6), gailan with beef stir-fry is the likely origin on that American classic beef with broccoli, imported and altered by immigrants who couldn’t then find gailan so substituted broccoli.


潮汕砂锅粥 / 潮汕砂鍋粥 (Mand: cháo shàn shā guō zhōu; Cant: ciu4 saan3 saa1 wo1 zuk1 ) Chaoshan rice porridge is a personal favourite, packed with fresh seafood – shrimp, crab, squid, scallops etc.



Chaoshan rice porridge


苦瓜排骨汤 / 苦瓜純排骨湯 (Mand: kǔ guā pái gǔ tāng; Cant: fu2 gwaa1 paai4 gwat1 tong1), bitter melon and pork rib soup is a popular dish with supposed medical benefits, but also just as a delicious soup for those who don’t mind bitter tastes.



Chaoshan bitter melon and pork rib soup (with yellow soy beans)


Chaoshan is also the origin of the highly formal Chinese tea drinking ceremony.


Many of the Chaoshan dishes are only available in the area as they demand absolute freshness.


Steamed crab in Chaoshan restaurant in 2001. Pretty but bland to my tastes.


more Cantonese still to come.



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粤菜 (Mand: yuè cài; Cant: jyut6 coi3) - Cantonese cuisine (Part Three) - 客家菜 (Mand: kè jiā cài; Cant: haak3 gaa1 coi3) Hakka Cuisine


Note: As many people in this area speak Cantonese, I am giving the pronunciation in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I am also giving names in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters as the latter are still used in Hong Kong and Macao and sometimes in restaurants on the mainland, although that is discouraged. If only one set of characters are shown as in the title of this post, that means the simplified and traditional are the same. On with the show.


客家人 (Mand: kè jiā rén; Cant: haak3 gaa1 jan4) , the Hakka people are descended from alienated Han China who moved south to escape persecution. The first wave was in the 4th century AD with another in the 9th. Finally in the 13th century, they had largely settled in Guangdong, particularly around the 东江 (Mand: dōng jiāng; Cant: dung1 gong1), River Dong, and so the cuisine is sometimes referred to as 东江菜 (Mand: dōng jiāng cài; Cant: dung1 gong1 coi3) , but many have settled here in Guangxi. They are also found in Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. There is a Hakka community in Jamaica. They truly justify their name, which means ‘guest people’.


Although considered part of Cantonese cuisine, their food is quite distinct and features foods and techniques not found in ‘regular’ Cantonese fare. The cuisine is generally more salty, robust and thickly sauced. It is also more calorific than Cantonese food and, as they immigrants tended to settle in higher mountainous areas (which no one else wanted), seafood is rarely a feature. Perhaps as a legacy of their mobile nature in the past, little attention is considered necessary to presentation, unlike their neighbours’ cuisine.


A favourite cooking technique is / (Mand: niàng; Cant: joeng6), stuffing vegetables and tofu with meat and frying or steaming them.



Haka stuffed tofu



Hakka stuffed bitter melon


Another is (Mand: bàn; Cant: bun6), mixing other foods with rice in a similar manner to the Korean 비빔밥 (bibimbap).


On their travels they learned the value of drying foods to preserve them, a tradition they retain. Stewing and braising are also common unlike in other Cantonese cuisine.


扣肉 (Mand: kòu ròu; Cant: kau3 juk6), a dish of fried, then steamed slices of pork belly either with preserved mustard greens or the pork slices interspersed with taro. The first is the most common in Guangdong, but the latter more so in the Hakka influenced areas of Guangxi.



Kou rou with preserved mustard greens. Image from Meituan food delivery app



Kou rou with taro


One of the stranger dishes is 猪肚鸡 / 豬肚雞 (Mand: zhū dǔ jī; Cant: zyu1 tou5 gai1), literally ‘pig stomach chicken’. This consists of a chicken being stitched up inside a pig’s stomach then stewed with Chinese herbs normally used in TCM. When cooked the chicken is released from the stomach and both are chopped into bite sized pieces and returned to the boiling liquid with the herbs then served as a soup!



Pig Stomach Chicken - Image Meituan


Another tradition is 擂茶 (Mand: léi chá; Cant: leoi4 caa4). This is similar to the oil tea made by the ethnic minorities such as the Zhuang, Miao, Dong, Yao etc, but with one important difference. The peanuts, rice, tea leaves, sesame, green beans and ginger are ground to a powder then used to make the tea, unlike in the minorities’ version where they remain whole. Same ingredients; different technique.


Final part of Cantonese Cuisine next.

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粤菜 (Mand: yuè cài; Cant: jyut6 coi3) - Cantonese cuisine (Part Four) - 点心 / 點心 (Mand: diǎn xin; Cant: dim2 sam1)


Note: As many people in this area speak Cantonese, I am giving the pronunciation in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I am also giving names in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters as the latter are still used in Hong Kong and Macao and sometimes in restaurants on the mainland, although that is discouraged. If only one set of characters are shown as in the title of this post, that means the simplified and traditional are the same. On with the show.


I felt obliged to do this.

Dim Sum refers to the food served at 饮茶 / 飲茶 (Mand: yǐn chá; Cant: jam2 caa4), Yum Cha, literally ‘drink tea’ and often referred to in English has ‘morning tea’. It is possible Cantonese cuisine's best known and appreciated contribution to world cuisine.

I can’t stand it! The food is OK, but overrated; the event less so. The yum cha teahouses (茶楼 / 茶樓 – Mand: chá lóu; Cant: caa4 lau4) open as early as 5 or 6 am and are rapidly packed with groups of mainly elderly people screaming at the top of their voices, arguing and debating all of life’s many vicissitudes. I’ve seen old men getting ridiculously drunk at 8 am and taking out their frustrations in hilariously inept fights; women in the men’s facilities because the women’s line is too long; people sleeping, and (just once) people dying; he was carted out and everyone continued as usual. By noon or earlier, the mayhem is all over. The all day dim sum places common in the west are rare here.


Fortunately, I can buy the more common dim sum type food easily away from the restaurants (or make it myself) but I very, very seldom do. So, there is a good chance you know more about it than me! Hence no pictures in this post.


In fact almost anything can be served as dim sum; it’s just small plate eating – tapas with tea. The words dim sum mean ‘touch to the heart’. If your heart is in your mouth or stomach that makes sense.


The Spruce Eats (or, as I call it, The Spruce Sucks) says the cart wielding days have gone, but then they are usually incredibly wrong about Chinese food other than American Chinese. Most of the restaurants here still have carts for the most popular items, but there are also long disposable menus for each table on which you have to tick off what you want and how many (take a pen or pencil).


One place here in Liuzhou is a revolving restaurant at the top of a tower over a hotel. Unfortunately the hotel is now surrounded by higher office blocks, so the view is less than wonderful. The carts revolve in the opposite direction to the restaurant. Popular place but expensive and not that good.


Next I’ll get onto something I actually like. 再见广东 / 再見廣東 / Goodbye Guangdong.



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秦菜 (qín cài) – Shaanxi (陕西) Cuisine



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I spent the first year of my time in China in Xi’an. When I arrived I was astonished to find that the food in no way resembled anything I’d ever eaten before, despite regularly eating ‘Chinese’ food in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. I was delighted and still firmly believe it is one of China’s best (a million times more interesting than Cantonese, usually (mythically) considered number one by so many people.) Yet, it isn't included in the 'eight cusines' list. 

Shaanxi Province (not to be confused with 山西 (shān xī), the neighbouring province of Shanxi), is in north-central China and the capital 西安 (xī ān) Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Army. The city was formerly known as 长安 (cháng ān) and was China’s capital during 13 dynasties but starting with the 秦朝 (qín cháo), the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE). Founded by 秦始皇 (qín shǐ huáng), Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), who became the first Chinese emperor on its founding. The Tang dynasty, 唐朝 (táng cháo) (618-907) city is still considered one of the most cultured for its innovation, literature and food. Emperor Qin ordered the building of The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors were created to guard his lavish tomb, just outside Xi’an. This lay for over 2000 until farmers digging a well in 1974, discovered what is now considered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world.



Qin Shihuang - PD


Of course, today it is a major tourist city and this has led to the cuisine often being referred to simply as 西安菜 (xī ān cài) or 西安美食 (xī ān měi shí – Xi’an culinary delicacies) although not all of its most well-known dishes originated in the city but elsewhere in the province. Eating here has been described as like returning to ancient China. 吕氏春秋 (lǚ shì chūn qiū), “The Spring and Autumn [Annals] of Mr. Lü”, completed in 240 BC under the general direction of Lü Buwei, a minister in Emperor Qin’s court describes, among other things, the agricultural and culinary sophistication of the times in Shaanxi.


Shaanxi has had a large Muslim population since the 7th century AD and this has influenced the cuisine in many ways, especially in the use of mutton and beef rather than China’s usual pork. But it is also influenced by the cuisines of other parts of China and the outside world. Xi’an was the starting point of the famous Silk Road heading west as far as the Arab countries with which they traded, bringing back spices and other foods. Wheat is a major staple, as with most of northern China. Less rice is consumed here as that is a southern crop, although there are exceptions.


Shaanxi food is generally full of strong, heavy flavours. Vinegar is a common ingredient as are chillies, but fewer than Sichuan or Hunan. It is cold in winter, so people like higher calorific foods.

Despite those cold winters, almost a year-round staple in Shaanxi is 凉皮 (liáng pí). These are a type of noodles made from gluten starch extracted usually from wheat. They are served cold with vegetables. There are three main versions

1) With sesame paste

2) With cucumber

3) With chilli oil





They are often eaten alongside the next dish.


I have mentioned 肉夹馍 (ròu jiā mó) many times on these forums. These hamburger-like sandwiches also come in various versions. Most common are tose made with stewed pork and chilli and served in 白吉饼 (bái jí bǐng), a type of Shaanxi flatbread. However in Xi’an, because of the large Muslim population, they are often beef. My favourites are 孜然牛肉夹馍 (zī rán niú ròu jiá mó), cumin beef with chillies. Outside Xi’an, but still in Shaanxi, lamb or mutton is used. There is more over on this topic, including a recipe for my favourite type.



Pork Roujiamo



Cumin Beef Jia Mo


Then I come to a dish which only appeared recently (it was unknown when I lived there). Or was it? For centuries Xi’an people have been eating 油泼面 (yóu pō miàn), oil splashed noodles. These are wheat noodles which are boiled then finished with hot oil with chilli and scallions being poured over them, imbuing them with flavour. A simple, but popular dish.



Image from menu of local menu


A few years ago some vendor come up with a marketing trick to attract or fool the tourists. He took that same 油泼面 (yóu pō miàn), invented a new name and a new character and launched a re-branded version. The only change he made to the actual dish was using extremely long noodles – up to a metre or more in length, so difficult to eat. The version he came up with is Biang Biang Noodles, an onomatopoetic name supposedly derived from the sound made when the noodles are slapped against the counter on which they are made. The character he used is totally bogus, but he claimed it was the most difficult character to write as it has 57 or 58 strokes. It appears in no Chinese dictionaries and cannot be typed on any computer (Unicode seems to be wisely ignoring it). Menus write it ‘biang biang ’. Here is the best I can do using Photoshop.



Biang Biang Mian


The thing that amuses me is that some restaurants offer the same dish under the two names, but for different prices, the biang version being more expensive – of course.




Another common dish is the strangely named 臊子面 (sào zi miàn), minced pork noodles. In the local dialect, 臊子 means ’chopped meat‘, but in Mandarin, means ‘bad smelling’! The dish doesn’t smell in any way other than appetising. This noodle dish was recorded as being invented in the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) in Qishan county in Shaanxi and consists of minced pork, day lily, fungi, vinegar, tofu, egg, chilli and carrot and is sour and salty. The chilli is very mild but gives colour.


saozi mian.jpg

Saozi Noodles


There are, of course many other dishes but these, I remember are the most popular.



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We were in Hong Kong maybe 10 years ago (not quite sure without looking it up) but at that time we had a lot of dim sum - by then, most of the better places had gotten rid of the carts completely and solely used a paper menu that you checked off which dishes you wanted with the supplied pencil.

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1 hour ago, KennethT said:

We were in Hong Kong maybe 10 years ago (not quite sure without looking it up) but at that time we had a lot of dim sum - by then, most of the better places had gotten rid of the carts completely and solely used a paper menu that you checked off which dishes you wanted with the supplied pencil.


Yes, I  know Hong Kong has mostly scrapped the carts, but many remain here on the mainland, albeit no longer universal.


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苏菜 (sū cài), - Jiangsu (江苏 - jiāng sū) Cuisine


I found myself in something of a quandary. Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisines are both included in the list of eight (first post) but in modern times they tend to be grouped together, along with the unlisted Shanghai cuisine into 江南菜 (jiāng nán cài), Jiangnan cuisine, literally meaning ‘south of the river cuisine’, the river in question being the 长江 (cháng jiāng) or, as its known in the west, the Yangtze river. Yangtze (Mandarin: 扬子江 (yáng zǐ jiāng) more correctly only refers to the lower reaches of the river.


Anyway, in the end, I decided go with the ‘Eight Cuisines’ theory and separate them, largely because the three cuisines involved in Jiangnan do have significant differences, and despite the name meaning the south, does include one city which is actually on the river’s north bank! So here, it is Jiangsu I am looking at.


Jiangsu province is in the east of China, north-west of Shanghai and south of Shandong province discussed above. It has a long coastline with the Yellow sea and is bisected by the Yangtze river, meaning that aquatic food is plentiful. It and the rest of Jiangnan are commonly referred to as ‘the land of rice and fish’.


Yangzhou 扬州, Nanjing 南京 and Suzhou 苏州 cities are the main centres of culinary excellence in Jiangsu. I will take each in turn, but first some general notes of the combined cuisine.


Jiangsu cuisine places great emphasis on perfection of ingredients, knife skills and cooking. Dishes must be neither over or undercooked. Dishes are neither excessively salted or sugared. Sauces must be light and certainly not greasy. Meat dishes are generally simply sauced with the meat’s own juices rather than a created ‘gravy’ style sauce.


Yangzhou lies on the north bank of the Yangtze but gets honorary membership of the Jiangnan style. Its cuisine, also known as 淮扬菜 (huái yáng cài), is well-known throughout China and beyond. Its meals are highly pleasing and colourful to the eye as well as the palate. Its soups are renowned but its most famous dish is one most people in the west have eaten, whether they know it or not. This is 扬州炒饭 (yáng zhōu chǎo fàn), Yangzhou Fried Rice, China’s most luxurious rice dish, sadly often bastardised in western Chinese restaurants into ‘special fried rice’ or simply ‘house fried rice’. Many online recipes for the “authentic” dish include char siu which is Cantonese and not used in Yangzhou. There. they would use Jinhua ham, China’s premium ham from the city of Jinhua in Zhejiang. That said, the real thing generally uses simple, fresh ingredients, mainly ham and vegetables and seldom eggs. It is lightly seasoned with salt. Shrimp are often added but not essential. It is served as a prized dish in its own right; not something to throw your day-glo sweet and sour on!



Yangzhou Fried Rice


Once the capital of China (from 1368 to 1421 when Beijing took over. Nanjing means southern capital; whereas Beijing means northern capital), Nanjing is now demoted to capital of Jiangsu andlies on the south bank of the river.


Its dishes are more robustly flavoured but never heavy. It leans towards a more al dente texture rather than tenderness. As a former capital, it has absorbed more outside influences than the rest of Jiangsu.


Duck is a local speciality. Peking duck was invented here and taken back to Beijing when it became the emperor’s residence where it was renamed. Originally it was 精灵鸭 (jīng líng yā), the name under which it is still available in Nanjing restaurants. Nanjing salted duck, a dish in which the duck is marinated with fried salt then boiled with ginger and scallions, is very popular in the city and highly appreciated as is duck blood soup. The city’s nighttime food markets and food streets are among China’s best.


Suzhou, a beautiful canal and garden city in southern Jiangsu, is a popular side trip for people visiting Shanghai. Its cuisine is slightly sweeter and is noted for its strict use of seasonal vegetables. To fully appreciate Suzhou food, you have to visit several times throughout the year as it is constantly changing, depending on availability.


Some dishes found throughout Jiangsu include:


松鼠鳜鱼 (sōng shǔ guì yú)  - Squirrel Fish  aka 松子鱼 (sōng zǐ yú) aka 菊花鱼 (jú huā yú) - Chrysanthemum Fish. The fish in question is usually Mandarin fish, Siniperca chuatsi, a freshwater species, although sometimes other fish are substituted. The body of the fish is skillfully scored in such a way that, when deep fried, the flesh opens up to resemble the tail of a squirrel or the petalled segments of an open pine cone. Prepared well, it can make for a spectacular banquet dish. After frying, it is coated with a 糖醋 (táng cù) Sweet & Sour sauce.



Squirrel Fish


叫花鸡 (jiào huā jī ), Beggar’s Chicken is from Changshu in Jiangsu. There is an attached legend that some beggar or thief stole a chicken and on noticing the Emperor and his guards approaching, quickly covered it in mud to disguise it and dropped into his fire. When the danger was over, he retrieved the chicken and to his surprise it was perfectly cooked. Sounds far-fetched to me and there are variants on the story including that the Emperor somehow also ate the chicken and pronounced it delicious. I have eaten it and agree with the Emperor. The chicken is covered in yellow mud and lotus leaves and roasted. Often today, metal foil is used instead of the mud, but purists reject that.



Beggars Chicken


狮子头 (shī zi tóu), Lion’s Head Meatballs are also well-known throughout China. There are two versions of this dish. The first is large pork meatballs braised and served in a broth with Chinese cabbage. This is the original version. In the second the same meatballs are braised in soy sauce, the so-called ‘red cooking’ technique so popular in Shanghai.




Jiangsu is the origin of China's best known black vinegar from the city of Zhenjiang. 镇江香醋 (zhèn jiāng xiāng cù), Zhenjiang vinegar (for their own reasons called Chenkiang vinegar in America) is sold worldwide. The vinegar has been manufactured in Jiangsu for around 1,400 years. It is used in many dishes.



Zhenjiang Vinegar


小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo), Little Basket Dumplings are usually associated with Shanghai where they are indeed very popular, but they originated in Jiangsu according to most authoritive reports, although Kaifeng in Henan province also has a claim. Shanghai probably invented the soup filled version,  more correctly called 汤包 (tāng bāo). I talked about this more in this post. Often served with a dip of soy sause and Zhenjiang vinegar (above).



Xiao Long Bao


There are hundreds more Jiangsu dishes.  Sparrow in hot sauce or perhaps, braised turtle may take your fancy, too.


Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice (eG-friendly Amazon.com link) is an excellent treatise on Jiangnan food in general and includes recipes for many Jiangsu dishes.



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浙菜 (zhè cài) Zhejiang (浙江 - zhè jiāng) Cuisine


Zhejiang is found south-west of Shanghai and borders Jiangsu, as mentioned above. Another contributor to the Jiangnan group of cuisines, Zhejiang is an important culinary centre and one of the supposed eight cuisines. Jiangsu and Zhejiang are the most similar to each other of the eight listed cuisines (hence the Jiangnan name), even to the point that both claim to be the origin of certain dishes such as Beggar’s Chicken and Lion’s Head Meatballs. I have researched these at length and allocated them to the most likely real origin.


Four recognised centres culinary of excellence in Zhejiang are 杭州 (háng zhōu), Hangzhou the provincial capital (and capital of Song dynasty (960–1279 CE) China; nearby 绍兴 (shào xīng), Shaoxing; and 金华 (jīn huá), Jinhua, with 宁波 (níng bō), Ningbo the runner up. Of these four, only Jinhua is not coastal.


Hangzhou is usually considered to be the most refined. Its most famous dish has to be 东坡肉 (dōng pō ròu).



Su Dongpo

苏轼 (sū shì), Su Shi (1037 -1101 CE) was a statesman and poet who pissed off the Emperor and was exiled to Hangzhou. His literary name was 苏东坡 (sū dōng pō), Su Dongpo. While in Hangzhou representing the emperor, he dedicated himself to improving the lives of Hangzhou residents. He also wrote poems praising the city’s beauty, especially the West Lake which lies in the city. To this date, he is revered as one of China’s literary giants.


There are various legends attributing the invention or, at least, the inspiration of a pork dish to the poet-statesman. Whatever the truth, the dish bears his name still. Although the dish is relatively simple, it does take around four hours to prepare, so few people prepare it at home. However, almost every restaurant in Hangzhou has it on its menu.


DongPo Pork consists of fatty pork belly (50% fat to 50% flesh is considered optimum) which is cut into 5 cm / 2 inch cubes then slowly simmered in a mix of water, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, rock sugar, ginger and scallions for around 3½ to 4 hours. The dish turns dark chocolate brown and the fat takes on a melt-in-the-mouth texture and sensation. Despite the amount of fat, it is not greasy. Usually served as part of a family meal with other dishes and rice.



Dongpo Pork

West Lake also provides the protein for the almost equally famous Hangzhou dish, 西湖醋鱼 (xī hú cù yú), literally ‘West Lake Vinegar Fish’, but often more accurately referred to as ‘sweet and sour fish’.


The lake also provides 玛蹄草 (mǎ tí cǎo), literally ‘horse hoof grass’ (describing its shape), or 莼菜 (chún cài), This is Water Shield, Brasenia schreberi, a mucilaginous aquatic plant which is used in soup, famously with beef, but also with chicken and ham together.



Water Shield

Near West lake is the village of 龙井 (lóng jǐng), the origin of the prized 龙井茶 (lóng jǐng chá), Dragon’s Well Tea. Not only is it used to make a cuppa, but also features in a dish I love and have frequently cooked. 龙井虾仁 (lóng jǐng xiā rén), Fried Shrimps with Longjing Tea and Shaoxing Wine.



Longjing Shrimp


Heading south-east a little we come to Shaoxing, a small but culinarily important city. Here is, of course, the home of Shaoxing wine, used across China and abroad as the premium cooking wine, but also comes in superior grades for drinking. There is a Shaoxing wine topic here which gives more information on the various grades etc.



Shaoxing Wine

Probably the dish that uses most Shaoxing is 醉鸡 (zuì jī), Drunken Chicken. This is basically de-boned chicken legs cooked in a 50/50 mixture of chicken stock and Shaoxing wine with ginger, scallions, jujubes and goji berries. The chicken is boiled for ten minutes the left to cool in the broth for a further ten to complete the cooking. It is then put into an ice bath for a final ten minutes and served cold. Popular at banquets and celebratory meals. Do not make this with salted Shaoxing wine as only found in North America. It will be inedible. If you can find unsalted wine, then use the best grade possible.



Drunken Chicken


Heading south-west from Shaoxing we arrive in Jinhua, situated almost in the dead centre of Zhejiang, far from the sea or rivers. This is famous for its 金华火腿 (jīn huá huǒ tuǐ), Jinhua Ham. Made from the legs of a local breed of pig, 两头乌 (liǎng tóu wū), an amusing name to describe the breed. It means ‘both ends black’ as the breed has distinctive black heads and hindquarters, the trunk and legs being the usual pig pink. The first record of the salt-cured ham dates to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). Widely considered to be China’s best ham, it has been compared favourably with Spain’s Jamón Ibérico.



Jinhua Ham


Jinhua is also noted for its rice. There are archaeological records to show that rice has been grown here for around 10,000 years. The area is also known for various meat pies and stuffed omelettes.


Finally, while in Jinhua, I must mention 一根面能供百 (yī gēn miàn), Longevity Noodles made in Jinhua’s 潘周家 (pān zhōu jiā) village. The noodles are extra-long to indicate long life. In 2014, a noodle maker from the village made a single narrow ribbon-like noodle using one kilogram flour, The noodle was 200 meters long and fed 100 people.


Being coastal, Ningbo obviously is famous for seafood, but two standout dishes are its fried eels, 炒鳗鱼 (chǎo mán yú) and braised turtle, 甲鱼 (jiǎ yú ).




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沪菜 (hù cài) or 本帮菜 (běn bāng cài) in Shanghai dialect – Shanghai (上海) Cuisine


Lying at the mouth of the Yangtze River by the Yellow Sea, Shanghai is by far, China’s most cosmopolitan and international city. In the 1940s it had around 100 foreign restaurants and by the end of the 20th century that had risen to 650 restaurants selling foreign food from over 40 different countries. Of course, it also has food from all over China. As of November 2023, it has two-three star Michelin restaurants, neither of which are Chinese; eight 2-star and forty-one 1-star.






Of course, there are thousands of other restaurants offering both regional Chinese food as well as foreign.


What I’m struggling with is identifying any examples of any food that truly originated in the city! Every time I think I’ve found something, a little research leads me elsewhere. I mentioned in a previous post that Shanghai’s famous xiaolongbao are actually from Jiangsu but I’ve found many dishes I suspected might be Shanghainese that turned out to come from provinces far away.


I’m unsure why it’s included in Jiangnan cuisine, either. It doesn’t really fit.


For a long time, people from all over China have moved to Shanghai in search of fame and fortune, and taking their dishes with them. I have three good friends in Shanghai – two are from Hunan and the other, Guangxi. Few people move in the other direction.


红烧 (hóng shāo), Red Cooking or braising in soy sauce is a very popular technique in the city, but I can find no evidence that it originated there. Chairman Mao’s favourite food was famously said to be 红烧 肉 (hóng shāo ròu), Red Cooked Pork and he was a Hunan native. I’ve been to what I was told was Mao’s favourite restaurant in Changsha, Hunan’s capital, but I’ve been to his favourite iPhone store, too! Mao died in 1976. However, the dish is as popular and common in Hunan, too. Whether this or the Shanghai version came first is uncertain, but I’d bet on Hunan. Alternatively, it may be just a variation on Dongpo pork as described in the last post (or vice versa). They certainly use similar techniques and look alike.


Shanghai away from the Michelin stars is renowned for its street food, but again most if not all is imported from elsewhere China.


I’m told the city is also better than most in China for its many vegetarian options but again, that doesn’t mean they are exclusively Shanghai cuisine.


Shanghai is a great place to eat at any level or price bracket. As I said, it is very cosmopolitan. Even more so, I think than Hong Kong.



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湘菜 (xiāng cài) - Hunan (湖南 - hú nán) cuisine


After a year in Xi’an, I moved south to a small city in Hunan in south-central China and fell in love.


At first, I hated where I was living, but soon acclimatised. What took me no time at all to love was the food. I had no idea such food existed! What is this? Such wonderful food. Almost 30 years later, I remember every detail of the first meal I ate there. I was home! It remains my favourite Chinese cuisine. I revisit often.


Hunan food is known for its extravagant use of fresh and, less often, dried chillies, usually red but also green. In summer every flat surface - basketball courts, railway station platforms, roads and sidewalks - are covered in chillies drying in the sun.




I remember a chilli-averse British friend coming to visit and telling me she wanted the fried noodles in one hole-in-the-wall restaurant near my home, but without chilli. I explained to the cook, who gave me a strange look as if to say “that will never work”. She knew me well and knew I have no problem with chilli heat. However, she did her best and wokked up some fried noodles without chilli. My friend still complained. It seemed that after decades of use, the cook’s wok was irretrievably imbued with the heat of the spice.


As I’ve mentioned on eG before, Hunan women, especially the younger ones, are often called 湖南辣妹 (hú nán là mèi), literally ‘Hunan Hot Sister’ with the ‘hot’ part referring to the capsicum, 辣椒 (là jiāo) but also the sexual innuendo doesn’t go unnoticed. The singing group, the Spice Girls are called 辣妹 (là mèi) in Chinese.


Another important feature of Hunan food is the use of smoke. Hams (腊肉 - là ròu) are usually heavily smoked. as are fish and other meats. The cuisine is often sour – pickles being commonly used, not only on vegetables but also pork and fish. Robust, pungent, spicy flavours rule.



Hunan smoked ham



Hunan smoked ham



Hunan smoked fish


The cuisine is usefully split into three styles. 湘江菜 (xiāng jiāng cài), Xiang River cuisine, 洞庭湖菜 (dòng tíng hú cài), Dongting Lake cuisine, and 湘西菜 (xiāng xī cài), Western Hunan cuisine.


The first, Xiang River cuisine is that centered on 长沙 (cháng shā), Changsha, the capital of Hunan in the east of the province. The river flows through the city centre. The food is more oily than other areas of Hunan but is fresh and aromatic. Included in this sub-cuisine is the small town of 韶山 (sháo shān), Shaoshan, Mao’s birthplace, as mentioned above. Here, Chinese tourists flock to see his former residence and the Mao museum then go on to eat his favourite dish of 红烧肉 (hóng shāo ròu), red braised pork, also mentioned in the last post. Changsha is also a bit over Mao-centric (he studied there to be a teacher and this was where he took up communism). His favourite restaurant is still there, complete with Mao posters all over the walls, but also with photos of him in the restaurant to prove the authenticity of the claim. As I remember, they didn’t look Photoshopped.

Changsha is well-known for its 臭豆腐 (chòu dòu fu), Stinky Tofu. This is fermented tofu in spices until it turns black and yes, stinks. However, like some stinking cheeses, when you get it past your nose and into your mouth, it tastes delicious.



Changsha Stinky Tofu


Dongting Lake is to the north of Hunan (Hunan literally means ‘south of the lake’) and supplies much of the province’s seafood, so that prevails. The area also produces a lot of chicken, also a favourite. But the best thing I ever ate there was lotus seeds in sugar, even though I have a very un-sweet tooth.


I lived in the west of Hunan, one of the last parts of China to be taken by the communists under Mao. It was, in the past, a wild place ruled by warlords and full of bandits. It is a beautiful part of the world and very mountainous area (the floating mountains in the movie Avatar were inspired by the real mountains there) and almost every valley has a different dialect or language. It is home to several of China’s ethnic minorities, especially the Miao and Tujia, but also Dong. This is where I took all the photos in the linked topic below. It has the spiciest food in Hunan, probably spiciest in China and is known for its sour flavours.


I showed many West Hunan dishes a few years ago in this topic, so I’m not going to have many here, but there are a few I feel I must mention.


芷江 (zhǐ jiāng) Zhijiang town in Zhijiang Dong Autonomous County was where the Japanese formally surrendered in China at the end of World War Two and is the site of what they call “Memorial Hall of the Victory of the Anti-Japanese War and the Acceptance of the Japanese Surrender”. It also is home to The Flying Tigers Memorial Hall. Although these attract many visitors, it attracts me for its signature dish, 芷江鸭 (zhǐ jiāng yā), simply the best duck dish in the world to my tastes. When I go back, as I do as often as I can, this is what I go for first.



Zhijiang duck


Another, very local speciality is 沅陵晒兰 (yuán líng shài lán), a type of ham only made in 沅陵 (yuán líng), a small town in Huaihua (怀化 - huái huà) prefecture. This mild, unsmoked salt-cured ham is made using a local breed of black skinned pigs. It is to die for. Usually cut into strips and stir-fried with chilli (of course), garlic and green beans.



Shai lan ham



Shai lan with green beans


Once dish you will struggle to find in Hunan is General Tso’s Chicken as sold in every American Hunan restaurant – perhaps every American Chinese restaurant. It is almost unheard of in Hunan and when the inventor tried to introduce it there the locals were deeply unimpressed. Hunan ain’t sweet. But I love the place.


Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook - Recipes from Hunan Province (eG-friendly Amazon.com link) comes highly recommended,


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My wife and I get takeout from a Hunan place around the corner from us probably once a week. I've never tried their version of Chairman Mao's favorite dish though. I'm curious what you think of their menu - 


It's a fast casual place where you order at the counter and then they call your number (in Mandarin and then in English) when it's ready to pick up to either bring to your table and take away. I'm partial to the bamboo shoots with pork. When they first opened, everything came topped with a generous portion of pickled mustard greens but that stopped a while ago claiming they couldn't get them anymore.


They were one of the first restaurants in NYC to use fresh rice noodles. Basically every menu item is served on either rice noodles (dry or with soup) or on white rice.

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10 hours ago, KennethT said:

My wife and I get takeout from a Hunan place around the corner from us probably once a week. I've never tried their version of Chairman Mao's favorite dish though. I'm curious what you think of their menu




It doesn't strike me as particularly Hunan orientated. Several of the dishes, including your favourite Bamboo Shoots with Pork can be found anywhere in China. Some are distinctly Sichuan: Pork & Pickled Mustard Greens, Hot & Sour Fish Soup Noodle, Hot & Sour Chicken Gizzard, Stir Fried Chicken W. Chili Paste and as you know, Mapo Tofu.


Hunan certainly has rice noodles; it is one of the leading rice growing areas in China. But I've never seen them being offered as an alternative to rice in that way. In fact noodles of all kinds tend to be incorporated into specific noodle dishes. I've never seen plain unadorned noodles on a menu like that, other than in hotpot restaurants, where they may be added to the broth in which everything else has been cooked and eaten by the diners.


There is a dish called Hunan Rice Noodles but it is a fully composed dish of the rice noodles in which the noodles are boiled then placed in a bowl with broth and a selection from chopped chili, shredded radish, pickled vegetables, cooked pork shreds, chopped beef, minced garlic, etc according to the restaurateur's whim.


Finally, if the pictures of the dishes are accurate, Hunan folks would be asking if there is a sudden shortage of chillies. 🌶🌶🌶.


It does seem strange that they attribute stopping the pickled mustard greens to unavailablity, yet still offer Pork & Pickled Mustard Green (another Sichuan dish) on the menu .


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9 hours ago, liuzhou said:




It doesn't strike me as particularly Hunan orientated. Several of the dishes, including your favourite Bamboo Shoots with Pork can be found anywhere in China. Some are distinctly Sichuan: Pork & Pickled Mustard Greens, Hot & Sour Fish Soup Noodle, Hot & Sour Chicken Gizzard, Stir Fried Chicken W. Chili Paste and as you know, Mapo Tofu.


Hunan certainly has rice noodles; it is one of the leading rice growing areas in China. But I've never seen them being offered as an alternative to rice in that way. In fact noodles of all kinds tend to be incorporated into specific noodle dishes. I've never seen plain unadorned noodles on a menu like that, other than in hotpot restaurants, where they may be added to the broth in which everything else has been cooked and eaten by the diners.


There is a dish called Hunan Rice Noodles but it is a fully composed dish of the rice noodles in which the noodles are boiled then placed in a bowl with broth and a selection from chopped chili, shredded radish, pickled vegetables, cooked pork shreds, chopped beef, minced garlic, etc according to the restaurateur's whim.


Finally, if the pictures of the dishes are accurate, Hunan folks would be asking if there is a sudden shortage of chillies. 🌶🌶🌶.


It does seem strange that they attribute stopping the pickled mustard greens to unavailablity, yet still offer Pork & Pickled Mustard Green (another Sichuan dish) on the menu .


Interesting. Are 'Gai ma' type dishes typical for the region? I don't know what gai ma means, but I assume it means some type of stir fry or something over rice or rice noodles. They actually do put in a lot of chillis - the majority of which are fresh green goat horn chilli and some kind of mildly spicy red chilli. They add chopped birds eye chillis (I think) to adjust spiciness to order.  The first time I went there (years ago when they first opened) I ordered something "spicy" which is 3/4 on their scale and it was so hot I had trouble eating it. Eyes watering, nose running, the works. When I ordered it, the cashier asked if I was sure because she didn't know if I'd like it . Nowadays I order it medium (2/4) and add some of their roasted chili oil if necessary. They understand the NYC market in that many of their patrons are Chinese (my branch is right near NYU which has a lot of Chinese students) but they also get a few of us white people who aren't familiar with Hunan food and its spiciness.

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3 hours ago, KennethT said:

I don't know what gai ma means


It is a very unusual expression even in in Chinese. I even asked one friend from Hunan if the expression was unique to Hunan and she asked me what it meant!


It refers to dishes served over rice or noodles. Those are not particularly common in Hunan, other than as fast food or in canteens.


The menu spiciness scale is something I've seen in British restaurants whether Chinese, Indian or Thai etc. I've never seen it in Asia though, that I recall. The chopped chillies are a Hunan thing. I'm never without a jar of 湖南剁辣椒 (hú nán duò là jiāo), Hunan chopped chilli from Changsha by my side. I'm not sure what cultivar of chilli they use, but I guess local but similar to Thai bird's eye.


duo lajiao.jpg


See here.




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东北 Cuisine – North-Eastern Cuisine Part One - 龙江菜 (lóng jiāng cài) Heilongjiang Cuisine


In this post I’m heading to the frozen north, not in person, but in terms of describing as much of China’s various regional cuisines as I can.


东北 (dōng běi) literally means ‘east-north’, the Chinese way of saying north-east and comprises the three provinces of 黑龙江 (hēi lóng jiāng), Heilongjiang, 吉林 (jí lín), Jilin and 辽宁 (liáo níng), Liaoning. The area is in China’s north-eastern corner bordering Russian Siberia, Mongolia and North Korea. It’s damned cold.


Until recently, this cuisine wasn't well known even in China and I guess still isn't abroad. But that is changing and the area is becoming fasionable. That said, there are a couple of dishes whose names you may know if not the original renditions.


This area was what some people still call Manchuria (Chinese: 滿洲), a term many Chinese find distasteful as it reminds them of them of the puppet state, 满洲国 (mǎn zhōu guó), in Mandarin; manchou kuni in Japanese) which Japan set up after invading China in 1932 and annexing the area under the puppet-leadership of Puyi (溥仪 – pǔ yí), the last Chinese Emperor who had abdicated as a child back in 1911. He was dragged back basically as a hostage. He was imprisoned by the communist regime after 1949, but released after ten years. His story is the subject of Bertolucci's biopic “The Last Emperor”. He lived out his life as a gardener and died in Beijing in 1967. The Japanese were booted out in 1945 at the end of World War Two. In 1949, Mao’s new government changed the name and divided it into the three new provinces.



Puyi - The Last Emperor - Public Domain Image


I’ll take the three provinces in turn, heading north to south. Heading south is always best in the northern hemisphere, I find.


Heilongjiang is named after its principal river and means ‘black dragon river’. It is bone-chillingly freezing in winters with temperatures falling to -40℃ / -40 ℉. The capital, 哈尔滨 (hā ěr bīn) Harbin holds an ice festival every winter. I’ve never been even in summer. I don’t do cold. Heilongjiang borders Siberia (which, perversely, I have been to). That probably explains why I don’t go back.


The 龙江菜 (lóng jiāng cài) as they call their food is, as in all of Dongbei, is hearty and the portions famously ample. Also, like most of northern China they traditionally use wheat rather than rice, in the form of breads and especially dumplings. This is where 饺子 (jiǎo zi) Jiaozi originated. The Japanese stole them and called them 餃子 (gyoza), their attempt at pronouncing the Chinese and using the Traditional characters, no longer used in mainland China. One of my favourite places in town is 哈尔滨饺子王 (hā ěr bīn jiǎo zi wáng), a family run restaurant whose name means ‘Harbin Jiaozi King’. The family is from Harbin and most people agree their jiaozi are the best. They sell thousands of handmade jiaozi every day.



Harbin Jiaozi King - Liuzhou



Harbin Jiaozi King's Wares


Heilongjiang also use potatoes, sorghum and crn as starches, the latter being another good reason for me never to go there!

地三鲜 (dì sān xiān), is a favourite here. It literally means means ‘earth’s three delicacies’ and is stir fried potatoes, hot green peppers, and eggplant with a moderately sweet soy sauce. It is served with hearty meat dishes.



Earth's Three Treasures


Harbin is also the origin of sweet and sour pork. Known locally as 锅包肉 (guō bāo ròu), this is, in all likelihood, rather different from the offering in your local Happy Wok, or whatever. Not nearly so sweet and certainly doesn’t glow in the dark. Larger slices of pork are coated in potato starch (not batter) and double fried. First at a lower temperature, then again in hotter oil to crisp it up. Stop there! At least that is what the Harbinites did until some Russian traders requested a sauce with it and the modern version evolved. The sweet comes from a moderate amount of sugar – around 100 grams / 3½ ounces to 500 grams / 1lb meat and is balanced by 150 ml / 10 tablespoons of rice vinegar. The sauce also contains rice wine, preferably Shaoxing, garlic, ginger and soy sauce.



Guo Bao Rou


木樨肉 (mù xī ròu), Mu Shu Pork is also local, but also not much like that found in the west. And it is emphatically served with pancakes, but with rice. And it isn’t mu SHOO either, but xī, which is pronounced sort of like ‘she’ as the pronoun for females. The mù refers to the wood-ear fungus which are an essential element of the dish; the xī means osmanthus, referring to the aroma; and ròu is the meat.



Mu Xi Rou (Mu-Shu Pork)


Heilongjiang is also noted for its goose farms. Most of that is sent south to Guangdong and Hong Kong to be roasted as famous in Cantonese cuisine. What I get are the livers, both natural and as foie gras.


Goose Liver and Toast



Heilongjiang Foie Gras


Also available are these rather good goose liver and pork sausages.




and, bizarrely given the history of ther region and Japan, the local livers are available in Japanese restaurants there as liver sushi. The restaurants are all Chinese owned. (Anyway, sushi originated in China).




In the far north-west of Heilongjiang, bordering Siberia is 兴安岭 (dà xīng ān lǐng) Daxinganling, a mountain range and wooded area. The area has an average annual temperature of -2.8C /27F and in the long winters gets as low as -40C / -40F). Summer is a mere two months long. The area is known for its mushrooms and other wild foods. Particularly prized are 元蘑 (yuán mó), Armillaria mellea, wild honey mushrooms which are made into 小鸡炖蘑菇 (xiǎo jī dùn mó gu) a delicious chicken and mushroom stew. Stewing is not, as I’m sure you know, a common Chinese technique, but Heilongjiang has many examples – blame the weather. Incidentally these mushrooms also grow in America so you needn’t visit the frozen north to sample it. I buy them dried here and they rehydrate well.



Chicken and Honey Mushroom Stew



Rehydrated Dried Honey Mushroom.


The closeness of Russia and the long-established trade relations in Heilongjiang mean that the cuisine has a noticeable Russian influence. Sold all over are 哈尔滨红腊肠 (hā ěr bīn hóng là cháng), Heilongjiang red sausages. These were introduced to China from Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. It resembles a smoked Polish or Lithuanian sausage much more than the well-known lapcheong Cantonese sausages. They are relatively low in fat and smooth textured. Me likes 'em. These are often served with 大列巴 (dà liè bā), a type of rye bread with raisins which was also introduced by Russia in the 1950s.



Harbin Red Sausage


Da Lei Ba - Russian Style Raisin Bread made in Harbin.


Next up, Jilin which I have visited – in summer!




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东北 Cuisine – North-Eastern Cuisine Part Two – 吉菜(jí cài), Jilin Cuisine


Jilin means ‘auspicious forest’ and is immediately south of Heilongjiang, bordering Inner Mongolia to the west, Liaoning Province to the south, a small part of Russia to the east and North Korea to the south-east. Its capital is, surprisingly no longer 吉林市 (jí lín shì), Jilin City as you might expect but was transferred to 长春 (cháng chūn), Changchun in 1954.


Although it shares many features of Dongbei cuisine it also has some unique influences of its own and most of the dishes mentioned in my last post are also available here. These other influences come from Inner Mongolia and, particularly from Korea. In fact, Jilin has a reputation of being something of a magpie province, culinarily taking on board many influences. It favours lighter dishes than Heilongjiang, and freshness it important. Game meats, wild vegetables and mushrooms are much appreciated. Deer are raised, so venison is a local choice of protein. The Mongolian influence is shown in mutton / lamb being a favourite. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) are as popular here as they are all over China. These are street food for the summer months, especially in Jilin city.



Mutton on Sticks


Jilin is China’s main source of 人参 (rén shēn), ginseng, (Panax ginseng), a herbal root. The plant is extinct in the wild but cultivated in Jilin. It is expensive as it takes five years to be ready to come to market. American ginseng, (Panax quinquefolius) is available all over China, but considered inferior, so cheaper. Apart from its medical usage in TCM for its supposed ‘invigorating’ effect, in Jilin it is mostly used in 参鸡汤 (shēn jī tāng), or Ginseng and Chicken Soup. Actually, this dish originated in Korea where they also grow ginseng, but Jilin has adopted it with enthusiasm. I admit, I don’t see the point. It is tasteless and I am very cynical that it has any real medicinal benefit. The soup is OK though. Hey! It’s chicken soup.






Ginseng and Chicken Soup


China has around two million residents who are of Korean ancestry and have been in China for generations and most are in Jilin. Known as the 朝鲜族 (cháo xiǎn zú), Korean Ethnic Group, they are officially recognised as one of China’s 56 ethnicities. There is also an unknown number of recent arrivals from North Korea who are in China as refugees illegally, often smuggled in by human traffickers.


Korean 반찬 (ban zan in the official Korean transliteration but usually banchan in English), 配菜 (pèi cài) in Chinese and ‘side dishes’ in English are often served at the start of Jilin banquets and formal meals, as well as at home.



Jilin Style Banchan - Perilla


Korea also manifests itself in the popularity of 冷面 (lěng miàn), cold noodles made from sorghum or buckwheat which are served both with sweet and sour or salty sauces.


A few years ago I discovered I could buy Korean blood sausage made by the Korean people in Jilin. I am a blood sausage collector so I succumbed. Not the best; not the worst.



Korean Blood Sausage


More indigenous Jilin dishes include 清蒸白鱼 (qīng zhēng bái yú), steamed white fish, Coregonus peled. These freshwater fish come from 松花湖 (sōng huā hú), Songhua Lake in Jilin city and are simply steamed in a similar manner as Cantonese steamed fish.



Jilin Steamed Whitefish


Fish lovers must head to the small village of 清零 (qīng líng) near Songhua lake where they have a famous Fish Street with restaurants cooking and selling fish plucked straight from the lake. No tanks here. The lake is the holding tank.


Chinese New Year is often celebrated by banquets called 杀猪菜 (shā zhū cài), literally ‘slaughtered pig food’) in which a whole pig is slaughtered and every edible part made into a dish.


Next, the last of the Dong Bei cuisine saga, Liaoning.


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I am minded of @chefmd's food blog of her son's North East Chinese wedding:  "every edible part made into a dish."  I have met her dear son but not her Chinese daughter-in-law.  I miss @chefmd and her contributions.





Coincidently as I was reading the bit about ginseng I was/am listening to Gillian Welch's Ginseng Sullivan from the album All The Good Times Are Past And Gone.


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13 minutes ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

I am minded of @chefmd's food blog of her son's North East Chinese wedding


Yes, I remember that topic. Yakeshi is in Inner Monoglia, which has influenced the North-Eastern cuisines and vice versa. I'll get to covering Inner Mongolian cuisine one day soon.



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东北 Cuisine – North-Eastern Cuisine Part Three – 辽菜 (liáo cài) - Liaoning (liáo níng) Cuisine


Liaoning, literally meaning ‘far away and peaceful’, is to the south east of Jilin, also bordering Inner Mongolia to the north-west, Hebei to the south-west, North Korea to the south-east and Yellow Sea to the south. The capital is 沈阳 (shěn yáng), Shenyang, formerly known as Mukden. This is where the Japanese invasion of China started in 1931.


In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it served as the Imperial pantry, with many of its rarer and more luxurious ingredients shipped to Beijing for the court’s meals, but was far enough away from Beijing for the times (the high speed rail hadn’t quite started yet) to be peaceful, away from the court intrigues, hence the name. Maybe.


The province shares many of the features of the rest of the north-east, but also that of Beijing cuisine, the influences being two way, so 御膳 (yù shàn) or 宫廷菜 (gōng tíng cài), Imperial cuisine impacted the local use of the ingredients it was sending the emperor. I’ll say more about Imperial cuisine when we get to Beijing.


Also Liaoning’s fertile, mixed terrain of mountains, seas, forests, lakes, grass and sand allow for a wider than normal range of products to be grown or foraged.


The North-East region is famous for 饺子 (jiǎo zi), the dumplings known today all over China and the rest of the world. Whether the jiaozi are boiled to make (水饺 - shuǐ jiǎo), steamed to make (蒸饺 - zhēng jiǎo) or fried to nake (锅贴 - guō tiē or 煎饺 - jiān jiǎo), these are a huge part of Chinese culture with whole groups of friends or whole families gathering together before major holidays to prepare them. Chinese New Year is unthinkable without them.



Boiled Jiaozi


Many people consider 老边区 (lǎo biān qū), Laobian disrtrict in 营口市 (yíng kǒu shì) Yingkou city on Liaoning southern coast to be the best. Types include 三鲜饺子 (sān xiān jiǎo zi), or three delicacy jiaozi (filling being leek, fresh pork and dried small shrimps); 茴香鲜肉饺子 (huí xiāng xiān ròu jiǎo zi), pork and fennel jiaozi; and 西葫芦鲜肉饺子 (xī hú lu xiān ròu jiǎo zi) , pork and zucchini jiaozi. There are of course many other fillings available across China. I’ve even eaten ice cream jiaozi in Beijing!


I must here mention 海肠水饺 (hǎi cháng shuǐ jiǎo). Chinese penis fish jiaozi! These are Urechis unicinctus and are only found off the southern coast of Liaoning in the Bohai Gulf, as well as Korea and Japan, so relatively rare. The similar-looking American Urechis caupo found in America’s west coast is a different species. Besides being used as a jiaozi filling, they can be stir-fried with vegetables. They can also be dried and ground for use as an MSG substitute as they also enhance umami.



Stir fried penis fish - image baike.so.com


蛋饺 (dàn jiǎo), egg jiaozi are popular here, too. The jiaozi are not filled with egg. Instead the wrapper is. Like a mini omelette.



Egg Jiaozi


A famous patriotic general 张学良 (zhāng xué liáng), Zhang Xueliang, a famous general, son of a warlord, but later served in the army under both the Nationalist leader, 蒋介石 (jiǎng jiè shí) or, as he is known in the west, Chiang Kai-shek and then under Communist leader, Mao, spoke highly of four Liaoning dishes, namely 小炒猪腰 (xiǎo chǎo zhū yāo) stir-fried kidney, 小炒猪肝 (xiǎo chǎo zhū gān), stir-fried liver, 炸肉丸 (zhá ròu wán) fried meatballs and 小炒百合 (xiǎo chǎo bǎi hé) stir-fried day lilies.




Day Lily Flowers


Some more unusual Liaoning dishes are 白肉血肠 (bái ròu xuè cháng), boiled pork with blood sausage; 熊掌 (xióng zhǎng), bear paw with dried shrimp and rape (today it doesn’t usually include actual bear paw, which would be illegal, although there is a black market); 炖驼鹿鼻子 (dùn tuó lù bí zi) stewed moose nose; and 鸟巢 (niǎo cháo) bird’s nest. 腊八蒜 (là bā suàn), Laba garlic which is an alarmingly green pickled garlic.


Sea food is, of course available, especially by the southern coast. Shrimps, oysters, clams, crab, sea cucumber and sadly, shark fin are all available as well as as wide range of fish, including 虹鳟 (hóng zūn), rainbow trout which is not so common around China.



Rainbow Trout


Where to next?




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闽菜(mǐn cài) – Fujian (福建) Cuisine


Staying in the east of China but moving to the south-easternmost corner we find Fujian Province. It borders the provinces of Zhejiang to the north, Guangdong to the south-east and Jiangxi to the west and faces Taiwan to the east across the Taiwan Straight to the east. The capital is 福州 (fú zhōu), Fuzhou on the coast along with 泉州 (quán zhōu), Quanzhou city to the south. Finally, we have the beautiful city of 厦门 (xià mén), Xiamen, formerly known as Amoy completing the trio of coastal cities.


Moving inland we find a mountainous, wooded interior. This combination of mountain and sea helps define the province’s cuisine. The sea obviously providing seafood and the mountains bringing wild game, mushrooms and other wild plants to the table. The coastal area also means that Fujian has been an important maritime trading centre for centuries. This has exposed it to ‘exotic’ spices and other ingredients from India, Arabia etc.


The abbreviated name for the province comes from it being known as the Kingdom of Minyue (閩越 - mǐn yuè) in c334-110 BCE. The Min language is spoken by around 80 million people, mainly in Fujian and in Taiwan but also around other provinces, as well as SE Asia. I’m told there is a Min-speaking community in New York City.


The cuisine is noted for clear soups, light flavours, unusual ingredients and crisp fried food.


The most celebrated but unusual Fujian dish is undoubtedly 佛跳墙 (fó tiào qiáng), Buddha Jumps the Wall, referring to the myth that it is so delicious even Buddhists would break their vows for a bite. At its most elevated this dish takes three days to make and has a minimum of thirty ingredients.


These include abalone, king scallops, sea cucumber, fish maw, crabmeat, shark’s fin, shiitake, chicken, duck, tripe, pork tendons, poultry gizzards, pigeon eggs, bamboo shoots, Jinhua ham, ginseng, innumerable herbs etc. They are all cooked individually to perfection then assembled in a serving pot and finished with a rich chicken broth. Not something to rustle up on a school night. Obviously this is a dish meant to impress and attracts sky-high prices.


Radically simplified versions are available but the cheapest I can find locally costs 75元 / $10.50 USD per serving. To put into perspective that’s about three times what I normally pay for a dish in a restaurant. The elevated version requires the host to have enough loot to cover my entire year’s dinner budget.


President Xi has banned the dish being ordered at government banquets to reduce waste of public money and ostentatious stupidity. I’ve never had it nor ever will. Shark fin collection is cruel and sea cucumbers are disgusting.



Buddha Jumps the Wall - Image news.ifeng.com


At the other end of the scale is a dish I make often. 青椒肉丝 (qīng jiāo ròu sī) is a simple dish of pork slivers with fresh green chilli peppers. The meat is fried with garlic and ginger, the peppers added along with a splash of Shaoxing wine and a dash of soy sauce and that’s it. In a restaurant I would pay maybe 14元 / $2 USD and that would include rice.



Pork with Green Chilli


酸辣烂鱿鱼 (suān là làn yóu yú), hot and sour squid is another personal favourite. 黄焖田鸡 (huáng mèn tián jī) are frogs boiled in wine and a popular Min dish, as is 鸡汤汆海蚌 (jī tāng cuān hǎi bàng ), sea clams cooked in chicken broth.



Hot and Sour Squid


Another unusual dish on the Fujian menu is 红糟鸡 (hóng zāo jī), chicken cooked in red rice wine. The wine is made with rice deliberately infected with a parasitic red yeast, monascus purpureus. This rice is also used to make red vinegar, which originated in Fujian, although now the neighbouring province of Zhejiang is the largest producer.



Red Wine Chicken


There are innumerable Fujian seafood dishes. With a local catch of hundreds of fish species, they aren’t short of choice. Fish are usually cooked simply to preserve their natural flavours. Steaming is the most common cooking method.


Xiamen food is a delight (it’s the only part of Fujian I’ve visited). Favourites are 沙茶面 (shā chá miàn), roughly satay noodles. These mildly spicy wheat noodles in broth can be served with a selection of add-ons including shrimps, squid, pork belly meat, pork offal, mushrooms and bean sprouts. 虾面 (xiā miàn), shrimp noodles are also common.



Satay Noodles


If you are in Xiamen and of the Buddhist persuasion, don’t jump over the wall but head to 南普陀寺 (nán pǔ tuó sì), South Putou Temple, a large 1,000 year old Buddhist temple in the south west of Xiamen Island for some 素馅饼 (sù xiàn bǐng), vegetarian crêpes. The Temple is at 515 Siming South Road, Siming District, Xiamen 361005 and open from 3 am to 6 pm. Entry free.


Meat crêpes are available all over the city for those who don’t suffer from vegetarianism.


I could spend the next few months describing Fujian’s many dishes, but for now, I’ll just finish by mentioning that the province is the home of 铁观音茶 (tiě guān yīn), Tieguanyin tea, a prized type of 乌龙茶 (wū lóng chá), oolong tea. In fact Fujian has a number of renowned teas such as silver needle white tea, black lapsang souchong and more.



Tieguanyin tea



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北菜 (běi cài) – Beijing (北京 – běi jīng) Beijing Cuisine


Having covered the whole eastern coast, I’m moving back north again, this time to the capital, Beijing, a city I have visited many times, but dislike more every time ago. I wasn’t looking forward to doing this, as I’m about to explain.


As you’d expect, the capital has food from everywhere. Every cuisine in China (is that eight or eighty?) is represented – even China’s ethnic minorities’ cuisine can be found here, as well as food from pretty much all around the world.


As with Shanghai cuisine, it is however difficult to identify anything which actually originated in Beijing. I read one internet site claiming to list the top twenty Beijing dishes – only one was maybe from Beijing. The others certainly weren’t. Available in Beijing yes, but so are tacos and pizza!


Over the centuries, every area of China sent food – both ingredients and whole dishes, to the capital as tributes for the emperor of the day. However, the capital has changed many times on the whims of the emperors or political necessities of the times. Xi’an was the capital for longer than Beijing has been. Luoyang in Henan province, too. Hangzhou was capital in the Song dynasty. Nanjing had a turn, too from 1368 to 1421 CE. There have been others. Beijing settled as capital in the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), lost its place at times during the civil war in 1945 then was restored on October 1st 1949, when Mao declared the People’s Republic from the walls of the Forbidden City.



Mao declaring the People's Republic of China, October 1949

Even Beijing’s most famous dish 北京烤鸭 (běi jīng kǎo yā) Beijing duck (Peking as some cloth-eared British diplomat heard it) doesn’t come from Beijing. It well documented by the emperor’s court as being from Nanjing in Jiangsu. As I’ve mentioned above, it was carried from there to Beijing when the emperor decided to move home.



Beijing Duck


I’m not suggesting that Beijing is not the best place to eat Beijing duck, merely that it didn’t originate there. It probably has the best, today. There are hundreds of places to avail yourself of your Beijing duck hit when in Beijing, but three favourites are:


全聚德 (quán jù dé), established in 1864 is the restaurant visited by the most world leaders and officals, with over 200 having eaten there. They have a branch in New York and another in Vancouver. The signage on their Beijing restaurants is written right to left as it was in the distant past 德聚全.



Qianjude, Beijing


便宜坊烤鸭店 (biàn yí fāng kǎo yā diàn), Bianyifang Roast Duck Restaurant), still going after opening in 1416, in the Ming Dynasty, must be doing something right. Their recipe is more traditional than the others.



Bianyifang Roast Duck Restaurant


A newer arrival is the highly-rated 大董烤鸭店 (dà dǒng kǎo yā diàn), Dadong Roast Duck, established 1985. It sees more foreign visitors and expats than others, but the food is wonderful.




All three have multiple branches in Beijing. They get very busy, so booking is wise; essential during Chinese public holidays..


Much of so-called Beijing cuisine comes from Shandong province. Definitely 煎饼 (jiān bǐng) originated in Shandong around 1,800 years ago. Beijing’s famous breakfast pancakes or crêpes with scallions sold on almost every street corner, These are made to order, in front of your eyes, with wheat flour, chilli paste, sweet bean sauce, fried wonton wrappers and scallions.





Something most visitors to Beijing notice and are intrigued by is the number of places selling 北京酸奶 (běi jīng suān nǎi), small jars of yoghurt sweetened with honey, sold in convenience stores or on street stalls. You buy these and are handed the jar and a drinking straw. Pierce through the wax paper lid to the jar and slurp away. The jars are not to be taken away; they must be returned for reuse. It seems to have originated in Inner Mongolia, where yoghurt is common.



Beijing Yoghurt



Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面), or Fried Sauce Noodles is so famous in China that the mere mention of it makes people think of Beijing.


The Wok of Life


People can think all sorts of things, but again this undoubtedly comes from Shandong province. This is a dish of long, thick wheat noodles traditionally served cold, served with pork, and a selection of raw vegetables of the cook’s choice but usually including cucumber, carrot, daikon radish, bean sprouts etc. The dish is dressed with 黄豆酱 (huáng dòu jiàng), fermented yellow bean paste, a pungent, thick paste of yellow soy beans, wheat and salt. The vegetables are usually served unseasoned to balance the salty paste.



Zha Jiang Mian




Yellow Bean Paste - the one on the right is the most used.The other has added chilli, not such a popular taste in Northern China.


On the streets you will see wandering vendors selling 糖葫芦 (táng hú lu), candied hawthorns on a stick. Despite Beijingers being sure it’s their idea, I can see no evidence that they originated there. Candied fruits are found worldwide.



Candied Hawthorns on Sticks


One of Beijing’s most iconic cuisines stands apart: 宫廷菜 (gōng tíng cài), Imperial cuisine. Also known as 御膳 (yù shàn), this is the food of the Qing emperors. Ingredients were sourced from across China, but especially Jiangsu and Shandong, the rarer and more expensive the better.


Cooks were also imported from all over the country to work in the imperial kitchens. Hundreds of them. The Qing dynasty imperial kitchen employed a director, deputy and assistant directors, manager, executive manager, and clerks to handle the emperor’s daily meals. In total, more than 200 officials, cooks and eunuchs were employed. The kitchen would prepare meals for the emperor, his wives, his concubines (whoo were classified as second wives), and the rest of the imperial family. The emperor usually ate alone, but occasionally he might invite his wife or a concubine to keep him company, but no one but him was allowed to sit, except a dowager empress.


A detailed record was kept of every meal he ate, including the recipes, the location of the meal (he would have it at which palace in the city took his whim) and the chef and cooks who were on duty. The latter was so they knew who to punish if anything went wrong. It was also to guard against assassination by poisoning. Eunuchs were required to taste every dish before the emperor could touch it.


One breakfast is recorded as consisting of duck soup with Chinese yam; a wild herb salad with cold bean jelly; duck stewed with wine and cauliflower; stir-fried spinach with dried shrimp; steamed lotus root with glutinous rice; tofu with mushrooms; sliced chicken and duck cooked with soy sauce; bamboo knotted rolls; steamed buns stuffed with minced pumpkin and mutton; braised chicken with cowpea; pickles; round-grain rice and a bowl of plain boiled cowpeas.

A typical dinner was chicken hot pot with bird’s nest and pine nuts; a second hot pot with chicken, smoked meats and Chinese cabbage; a third hot pot of shredded lamb stomach and shredded mutton; steamed chicken with fresh mushrooms; salt pork fried with fresh mushrooms; cold steamed chicken and mutton; cold steamed duck and deer’s tail; pork in thick gravy; steamed dumplings with minced chicken, salted pork and pickles; four small cold dishes, chicken soup with cooked rice, thick wild duck soup with Chinese yam and bird’s nest soup with spinal cord.


Some of these dishes were also eaten by the great unwashed outside the palace, but inside they were elevated with more expensive ingredients and sophisticated techniques. Other dish were invented here by the senior chefs.


A fuller history of Imperial cuisine is here and details of meals are here.


The Forbidden City (紫禁城 - zǐ jìn chéng) is now open to visitors and has even been used for concerts. There was even a Starbucks inside for a short time but that was a stretch too far for most people and it was kicked out in 2007 soon after opening.



Forbidden Starbucks - image thetowerinfo.com


Now you can eat versions of imperial meals, not in the palace but in restaurants around Beijing and elsewhere. There is one here in Liuzhou, 2,980 km / 1,852 miles from Beijing. Most of these serve smaller versions though, with only around 10 courses. They still cost a pretty penny. I’ve never been.




Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.


The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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