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Fujian (Fukien) Cuisine

Fujian (Fukien) Cuisine

The foods of southeast China are exceptionally diverse. Fujian, moist and both semitropical and tropical, is in that region and sixty-eight nautical miles across the straits from Taiwan. For those who divide Chinese food by compass points, Fujian, also spelled Fukien or Fu Chien, is distinctly eastern and has culinary similarities with nearby regions. Its foods are influenced by rivers, long coastlines, and interior rugged mountains, some reaching to the sea. This region, its landscape and its foods, is called shan shui, meaning mountain and water. It is one of China's five outstanding traditional cuisines, the others originating from the Guangzhou (Canton), Honan, Shandong, and Sichuan provinces. Fujianese foods are easily recognized: their rich stocks and sauces are used in a plethora of thin and thick soups. Two or three soups are commonly consumed at main meals and five or six at banquets. Many main ingredients are marinated in wine or the leftover red wine sediment called lees or hung jiu.

With a population of almost thirty million people and an area of forty-eight thousand square miles, the foods of Fujianalso called Minare common wherever the Min or Wu dialects are spoken. They can be found in Fujian and in the southern Guangdung province in Shantou or Swatow, where many descendants of a wellknown statesman exiled during the eighth century fled. This variation of Teochiu, Chiuchow (also spelled Chaochou and Chaozhou), is considered the finest cuisine. Concentrating on foods of the sea, it uses many seasonings, fish sauces, citrus marmalades, and satay-type sauce pastes. Every Fujianese food is loved locally, by those living on Hainan Island and by peoples in nearby areas. It is missed by more than 2.5 million Fujianese living overseas. Although popular throughout China, this cuisine is little known outside of the country.

The foods of Fujian are closely related to Taiwanese cuisine as many Fujianese fled there during several disruptive historical periods. This ancient cuisine, its origins predating 135 b.c.e. when the state of Min Yue was established in the Fujian province, has food roots in ancient Hakka migrants from northern provinces, aboriginal groups, and local Han peoples. With only 10 percent of its land arable, the remaining extensively cultivated areas grow a reasonable amount of rice, wheat, and sweet potatoes. They also grow fruits, soybeans, peanuts, and other oil seeds; people eat these agricultural products year-round, fruits included, because the region specializes in drying and preserving them. Sweet potatoes were not an important dietary component until they helped alleviate famine during Sung times (9601280 C.E.) and again in the late 1500s. A shortage of rice propelled interest in this tuber, shredded and dubbed "sweet potato rice." Wheat foods also substituted for rice, and currently both are major dietary components in the region.

The sweet potatoes are roasted, boiled, and dried, used as snacks and meal components, and made into flour. Along with wheat, they are eaten in amounts equal to rice and used to make noodles, pancakes, dumpling skins, and other foods. Wheat and sweet potatoes are used to produce noodles in every imaginable shape. More are eaten here than in any other Chinese province; they are frequently served in soups when their solid content is finished. Noodles are also served plain, in stir-fried dishes and soups and stews, and transformed into batters. The latter is called "swallowskin" and is made from thin poured noodle batter. The batter, or kuopien, is cooked in a wok, and soup is added to it when a soft crust is formed. Swallowskins may also be served plain, have dried powdered pork or wine lees as ingredients, and can be used as wrappers for dumplings and fried foods. Some batters are made only of egg whites. These are called kao li and often have foods buried underneath.

Chou, better known also as juk or congee, is a popular southeastern breakfast-type rice soup. Other beloved Fujianese foods are fish balls, turtle meat, and a large variety of fungi including black or silver (white) cloud ears called mo-er or yin-er, respectively. Dishes are made with coagulated pig or chicken blood, with foods from local waters, and with chicken, pork, duck, and some goose. It is not uncommon in this province to be served a bird's nest or shark's fins as a main course, served as a thick stewlike soup. Many foods are cooked more slowly, fried with lard, and seasoned more liberally than in neighboring provinces. Soy sauce, with famous varieties made from local water, is employed sparingly in dishes, but large amounts are used in dipping sauces.

Contrary to practice in other provinces but similar to that in Guangzhou, tea is commonplace at meals. Grown in the north, it is preferred black, but more accurately called red for the color of the brew. The most popular variety is local; it is called tit guan yin or "Iron Goddess of Mercy." Local dishes are sweetened with sugar cane grown in the south, vegetables harvested wherever they can be grown, and animals raised where crops do not prosper.

Fujianese foods are typically served in three daily meals; they are easily recognized. Mornings start with rice soup and other small dishes or seasonings for the juk, two to three soups accompany other dishes at main meals, and five or six and an equal number of other dishes make up a banquet. Other than the breakfast chou or juk, soups may be clear, with contents, or thick and stewlike. Dipping sauces accompany other dishes, such as garlic crushed in a vinegar base if the main protein is poultry, or maltose if it is fried fish. Dishes and soups are based on complex stocks, maybe a sweet and sour sauce. Some are highly colored, many red from the marinade of red wine lees.

Fuzhou, also transliterated as Foochou or Foo Chow, was founded in 202 b.c.e. Meaning "happy city," this provincial capital on the Min River is blessed with more than a hundred different kinds of freshwater fish. It enjoys Fujianese and Fuzhou dishes cooked with fermented red wine lees, dumplings wrapped in swallow skin, noodles made with powdered pork, and meat and fish in one dishsometimes one ball as in fish balls stuffed with meat in soup. Fermented fish sauces are used, as are different types of soy sauce, an influence from other southeastern countries that, in turn, were influenced by Fujian.

Xiamen, once called Amoy, is the second largest city in Fujian. Both are important up-river port cities sheltered from typhoons; they helped the province become a major maritime trading center. Known for their popia, Xiamenese people love this pancake. It is commonly filled with cooked meat and vegetables such as bean sprouts, garlic shoots, carrots, and bamboo shoots. Seaweed may also be added and the mixture flavored with hot mustard and/or plum sauce. Other popular dishes with roots in this city are stir-fried Xiamen noodles and Xiamen spring roll. Both are made with carrots, bean sprouts, peanuts, and grilled seaweed strips.

Well-known Fujianese dishes include diced and fried wine-marinated pork, steamed chicken in preserved tofu, drunken spare ribs, sweet and pungent litchi pork, deep-fried eel in wine lees, oyster omelet, stir-fried razor clams with ginger, hot and sour squid soup, duck tongue with white and black fungus, fried peanuts, and dried longan soup with lotus seeds. Also well known is chi ping, a Hainanese chicken-rice dish. Peace noodles are served everywhere on the first day of the first lunar month and eaten during Ao Jiu festival that same month. Another special dish is "Buddha Jumping Wall," a multiboiled thick casserole with shark's fins and ten other ingredients. Herbal soups are popular, too, and made with peony or rheumannia root, angelica (sinensis ), star anise, wolfberry (Lycium chinense miller), cassia bark (Cinnamonum aromaticum ), or a member of the prickly ash/fagara family (Zanthoxylum avicennae ). In addition, they and other herbs are used as tonics, concentrates, and pastes.

Current literature divides China into many culinary regions, regional or provincial. Almost all include Fujianese food, whose essence may be found in its plethora of soups, sauces, vegetables, seafood, fruits, mushrooms, herbs, preserved fruits, and a special treat called "Tribute Candy." This after-dinner or snack sweet is a blend of baked peanuts ground into maltose or ground peanuts wrapped in a paperlike layer made from glutinous rice. Served with fresh fruit at the meal's end, it is enjoyed by everyone who adores sweet and tasty foods.

See also Buddhism ; Japan ; Korea ; Noodle in Asia ; Rice ; Southeast Asia .

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Jacqueline M. Newman

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