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Culinary culture of Fujian

Updated: 07 Sep 2009
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Fujian lies on the southeast coast of China and borders Zhejiang to the north, Jiangxi to the west, Guangdong to the south and Taiwan lies to the east, across the Taiwan Strait.
 
Since the Neolithic age the region has been home to many cultures – military rulers, royal families, so-called barbarians and ordinary men called the region home at one time or another and, in so doing, causing massive instability, constant discord and warring and, at times, poverty, notwithstanding the reasonable stability during the Tang Dynasty, when it ended all hell broke loose and during the period known as the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms things didn’t get much better.
 
Today China is massively overpopulated which leads to a plethora of problems, not least of which is deforestation, but Fujian has benefitted more than most regions from it’s close proximity to Taiwan – since the late 1970s, the economy of Fujian along the coast has benefited greatly from its geographic and cultural proximity to Taiwan. The population is huge by western standards, if not by Chinese, and consists of 28 million people that speak over a 100 dialects.
 
 Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province, has been blessed with abundand food resources
 
Fuzhou is the capital of the province that has been blessed with abundant food resources and ample water in the form of rivers, like the Min. Only 10 % of the land is arable and sugar, rice, tea as, sweet potatoes and wheat are grown successfully. Rape seeds to make what the west knows as canola oil, is grown alongside peanuts and soya beans. Typical fruits are lychee, pineapples, longan and garlic, spring-onions and bamboo shoots are used in all Fujian food. This is also the land of the silver and white cloud ear fungus (tremella juciformis) and the black variety, known locally as yin-er and mo-er, respectively. The favourite herbs are angelica sinensis, chuangxiong rhizome and rhemannia root.
 
The food of Fujian is considered classic Chinese cuisine but it has travelled a long and often difficult road down the ages of history to achieve this fame. Because food wasn’t always readily available and there were many years of famine, loads of young men had to leave their beloved land and go overseas to seek fame and fortune. Those who remained were, mainly, descendants of immigrants from the Northern provinces and from indigenous local cultures. The Han, for example loved sauces and soups for which this region has become so famous but the influence of so many different cultures are felt here that it would be impossible and quite unnecessary to give you a complete list. 
 
Special sauces, soups with or without rice and noodles, noodle dishes, preserved fruits, fermented red rice paste used to colour and flavour and braised meat served on rice are but a few of the dishes that typify the food of Fujian, for example, Fujian Roast Suckling Pig became famous throughout China because of the way in which it was served - one meal often saw it served in a variety of different ways - the whole roast pig was accompanied by the roasted meat in soups, with noodles or rice as well as being part of the main dish.
 
Nowadays the Fujian cuisine has gained notoriety for its meticulous ingredient selection, spectacular and delicate slicing and obviously it’s fresh and unusual flavours. Local chefs excel at the preparation of seafood and their ability to create mouthwatering yet artistically superior and elegant dishes that are tender and tasty but never oily. The cuisine can be further divided into three styles, but all the three styles are more or less the same in the following aspects:
 
Exquisite cutting:  all ingredients are beautifully cut – as one can see in Fried Litchi-Shaped Pork, Shredded Bamboo Shoots with Minced Chicken and Stewed Sliced Conch with Fermented Glutinous Rice – the pork is cut into the shape of litchi, the bamboo shreds are as fine as hair and the conch is sliced into paper fine pieces. 
 
Soup takes pride of place and almost everything is turned into soup – e.g. Sea Clam in Chicken Broth, Pork Tripe in Minced Meat Stock, Fish Lips in Clear Soup, and Glossy Ganoderma with Jade Cicada.
 
Seasonings are vital to the cooking of Fujian – e.g. Sweet and Sour Pork in Bamboo Slices and Wine Simmer Chicken.
 
Artistic detail – the dishes are prepared with exquisite workmanship – Buddha Jumps over the Wall and Xi Shi-Style Pork Tongue are examples.
 
Buddha Jumps over the Wall
 
The Fujianese people are known to eat meat and fish together in the same dish and for serving as many as five different soups in a single meal. The soups are laced with local wines, some are red in colour made with the famous red wine paste (or lees), a left-over sediment from making rice wine, and some are clear broths served plain or with fish balls filled with meat in their center.
 
Rice, the main carbohydrate in Fujian is eaten as is, in a congee (known as juk) and is used as a grain or milled as flour. Rice is often found in soup, the Fujian mainstay and turned into rice noodles – often also in soup.
 
Turtle meat is loved by the people of Fujian as is the fungus, eel in all forms and from both the sea and sweet water as well as pork, chicken and everything associated with the animals.
 
Black tea is drunk at most meal times – often with tea known as the Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tit Kuan Yin) even though tea with meals is rarely done in other areas in China.
 
The soya sauce from Fujian is famous but only a little is used in their recipes because the prefer to add it to their dipping sauces combined with garlic, chili, chopped spring onions well spiced with cinnamon, sichuan pepper, star anise, lychee chinensis and local herbs.
 
Razor clams are plentiful and cooked in many ways – prepared with garlic and black beans it makes a delicious and very meal. Oysters are popular in pancakes and omelettes and naturally used in soup but also in stews and braised dishes as well as the famous local fire-pot recipes inherited from the Mongolian ancestors and perfect for winter – there’s nothing more warming than having a fire-pot cooked at your table.
 
The local fire-pot recipes inherited from the Mongolian ancestors
 
As in most of the provinces of China, the food of Fujian has been heavily influenced by other nations with exceptionally good results. The food of Guangzhou, Chiuchow, Chaochou, the Island of Hainan and the rest of the world, particularly South East Asia have played a role in the culinary tradition of Fujian.
 
Noodles feature throughout Fujian and are very popular, both thin and wide. Rice is used plain and unlike many Chinese regions, in some instances the braised dishes prepared are served on top of the rice. When rice is mixed with the red fermented paste left over from making wine, it gives colour, adds texture and turns dishes like the famous Drunken Spare Ribs, the Braised Meat in Red Wine Sauce, the Pork Pickled in Wine and the Tanjo Bright Prawns depth and colour and is also mixed into dumplings to enrich and add taste and colour.
 
This province uses a food that can be held over several seasons, the sweet potato. It is kept not in a root cellar but in the dried form. People shred and dry their sweet potatoes to be eaten as a snack. When completely dry, they are reconstituted for use alone or with another grain, and when dried, ground into a flour to make noodles, coatings, congees, mixed with eggs, or used in a variety of ways.
 
 
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