Henan is one of the earliest developed regions in China. It is situated in the south of the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River. As Henan is considered as the hinterland of China, many dynasties in China’s history set up their capital here. In ancient times, due to its political status, Henan had witnessed a rapid economic and cultural development in itself and other regions in Central China. The movement of population and its favourable geographic conditions have greatly facilitated its economic development. As the population increased and the economy flourished, the catering business also started to grow, which formed the favourable basis for the birth of Henan Cuisine.
In the Song Dynasty, Henan Cuisine took shape and exerted great a great influence on the surrounding areas. Because of political changes in Central China, and the movement of people from Central China to South China, Henan Cuisine had exerted influences on many local schools of cuisine to different extents, such as Hangzhou Cuisine, West Fujian Cuisine and Guangdong Cuisine.
With a moderate taste, Henan Cuisine is suitable for all kinds of people, men and women, old and young.
Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is a transportation hub connecting south and north China. It boasts a great number of restaurants, serving all kinds of dishes of different schools of the Chinese cuisine.
Special Local Dishes:
Baked Carp and Noodles over a Low Fire—鲤鱼焙面
Procedure: Prepare a sweet and sour carp by adding various kinds of seasonings; serve the fish with ready-made noodles on the same plate.
Customers may taste the delicious fish while eating noodles by dipping the noodles in the fish juice. This dish is delicious, with a distinctive flavour.
Henan-style Egg Cooked in an Iron Pan—铁锅蛋
This dish is baked with egg liquid, diced sea cucumbers, dried scallops, dried shrimps, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, plus a wide variety of seasonings in an iron pan. Prepared using a unique method, this dish is colourful, delicious, aromatic, refreshing and nutritious.
Special Local Snacks:
The wonton served by Laocaiji Restaurant makes every customer gasp in admiration as it leaves a lingering taste in the mouth.
Braised Mutton and Noodles—羊肉烩面
Procedure: Plunge half-cooked noodles into prepared mutton, add some seasonings, and braise the mutton and noodles.
Kaifeng was once the capital of seven different dynasties in Chinese history.
Special Local Dishes:
Baked Sweet and Sour Carp and Noodles—糖醋鲤鱼焙面
Stir-fried Three Crisps—爆三脆
The main ingredients of the dish include chicken gizzards, pork tripe and jellyfish. Its supplementary materials include mushrooms, sliced bamboo shoots and peas. Cooked with a wide variety of seasonings, this dish is milky white, crisp, tender, delicious, fragrant, refreshing and nutritious.
Procedure: Take a quail, a pigeon, a chicken and a duck as the main materials, get rid of the bones in the four fowls without destroying their shapes, add sea cucumbers, Xianggu mushrooms and necessary seasonings, and stem the mixture.
The meat in the dish is soft and tender. And the dish is aromatic, delicious and nutritious.
Special Local Snacks:
Soupy Steamed Bun with Stuffing—灌汤包子
(Steamed bun with much stuffing and juice)
Yipin (First-class) Steamed Stuffed Bun—一品包子
Prince Zhou of the Ming Dynasty often entertained high-ranking officials with this snack. Therefore, he named it “Yipin Steamed Stuffed Bun.”
Chongyang (Double Ninth Festival) is a traditional festival in China. During the festival, people in Kaifeng eat Chongyang cakes.
Oil Cake with Onions—葱花油饼
Pan-fried Bun Stuffed with Mutton—羊肉水煎包
Fried Bean-starch Noodles—炒凉粉
Baked Wheaten Cake Covered with Sesame Seeds on Both Sides—双麻火锅
Among the snacks, Soupy Steamed Bun with Stuffing produced by No. 1 Kaifeng Restaurant is the most renowned.
Luoyang had been the capital of nine dynasties in Chinese history. Like the various historical sites here, the local dishes are of a great variety and have a long history.
Special Local Dishes:
Luoyang Water Banquet—洛阳水席
Luoyang Swallow Dish—洛阳燕菜
This dish is prepared with a white turnip as the main ingredient, and hams, winter bamboo shoots, dried mushrooms, the heart of a cabbage, soybean sprouts soup as supplementary materials, plus a wide variety of seasonings. This dish is delicious, and in the same shape and the same colour as the edible bird’s nests, hence the name.
Crisp Baked Cake—油酥锅盔
The cake is made of fried flour and dough made with boiling water. It is soft and crisp with a strong fragrance.
Jiaozi Dumpling Prepared with Dough Made of Boiling Water—烫面饺
Luoyang Water Banquet, served by Zhenbutong, a restaurant with a history of over 100 years, is the best. A total of 24 ancient and delicate dishes are served at the banquet. Each dish contains soup. There are three different kinds of water banquets—high-class, medium-class and low-class. Luoyang Swallow Dish is a must for every banquet.
Luoyang Swallow Dish—洛阳燕菜
Luoyang Swallow Dish is the first course served at the Luoyang Water Banquet. Each banquet consists of 24 dishes, and each dish contains soup, hence the name “Water Banquet.” Legend has it that Luoyang Swallow Dish originated in the reign of Emperor Wu Zetian in the Tang Dynasty. One year, a special large turnip grew in Dongguan, Luoyang, which was three feet long and as thick as a pillar. The local official of Luoyang presented it to the imperial palace. An imperial chef prepared a dish with the large turnip and some delicacies from land and sea and presented it to Empress Wu Zetian. The dish was very delicious with the same taste of the edible bird’s nest. The empress was profuse in praise and named it “False Edible Bird’s Nest,” which became famous and was frequently served at the banquets held by the nobilities. Later this dish was spread among ordinary folks. The people who could not afford to make the dish with delicacies from land and sea used shredded meat, eggs and coriander instead. Since the dish still tasted good, the locals named it the “Luoyang Swallow Dish.”
Crisp Baked Cake—油酥锅盔
Crisp Baked Cake is a famous snack of Luoyang. This snack has a long history. Legend accounts that this snack originated from the Shangqing Palace, a Taoist temple in Luoyang. During the Tang Dynasty, the Shangqing Palace was always crowded with pilgrims. Bai Juyi, a great poet, often visited the temple. The Taoists entertained him with flour cakes, which were crisp and aromatic and has an unusual taste. Bai Juyi liked it very much. Later, when a magistrate paid a visit to the Taoist temple, the Taoists treated him with such cakes too. The magistrate, who was very fond of the cakes, sent a chef to the temple to learn how to make them. The procedure to prepare the cake has been handed down from generation to generation.
Wuzhi Sweetened Fried Flour Gruel—武陟油茶
Wuzhi Sweetened Fried Flour Gruel was invented in the Yongzheng reign period (1723-1735) of the Qing Dynasty. According to legend, Emperor Yongzheng came to Wuzhi County one year to bring the Yellow River under control. The local officials tried every way to flatter the emperor. Wu Shilu, the magistrate of Wuzhi County, brought sweetened fried flour gruel made with high-quality flour, peanuts, sesame seeds, peach kernels and sesame oil and presented it to the emperor. After eating the snack, Emperor Yongzheng thought highly of it and granted a reward to Magistrate Wu. Taking this opportunity, Wu Shilu opened an eatery specifically selling such sweetened fried flour gruel. He sent high-quality sweetened fried flour powder to the imperial palace as tributes and sold the rest at a high price. Later, the sweetened fried flour gruel was spread far and wide among the people and became a famous local snack. Afterwards, it was introduced to foreign countries. For example, the Chinese restaurants in Paris serve this sweetened fried flour gruel.
Baked Carp and Noodles—鲤鱼焙面
Baked Carp and Noodles, which consists of a sweet and sour quick-fried carp and baked noodles, is a famous traditional dish in Henan. As early as in the Song Dynasty, the dish was well renowned. The legend goes that “West Lake Sour Fish,” a famous dish of Hangzhou, actually evolved from “Sweet and Sour Quick-fried Carp” of Kaifeng. In the past, the Kaifeng section of the Yellow River produced the best carps, so that Sweet and Sour Carp prepared in Kaifeng was the most celebrated. It was said that during the 1900 Incident in the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi forced Emperor Guangxu to flee to Xi’an with her. After the end of the Incident, she came back to Beijing via Kaifeng, where she tasted the dish and liked it very much. Since then, Baked Carp and Noodles has become a famous dish.
Shredded Pork Skin with Osmanthus Flowers—桂花皮丝
Shredded Pork Skin with Osmanthus Flowers is a famous traditional dish of Henan, meticulously prepared with pork skin. As the legend goes, in ancient times, a local official of Xinyang only ate pork without skin. The family cook thought it was a great waste. But he had to do as he was told. Before preparing a pork dish, he would cut off the skin and hung it under the eave. One day, the chef took off the dried pork skin, cut it into shreds, and stir-fried it. It turned out that the stir-fried shredded pork skin was very delicious, and people who had tasted it could not help shouting: “Well done!” Since then, it has become a famous dish.
Yipin Steamed Stuffed Bun—一品包子
Yipin Steamed Stuffed Bun, a famous snack of Kaifeng, was famous as early as in the Song Dynasty. Originally, it was called “Academy Bun.” Nearly 1,000 years ago, Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty ascended to the throne. He appointed Wang Anshi as the official in charge of promoting reforms and initiating new policies. Significant efforts were made to train people with talents. To show his concern for young scholars, Emperor Shenzong once paid a visit to the Imperial Academy and had a meal with the students. On that very day, the Imperial Academy served steamed stuffed buns, which was called steamed buns at that time. The emperor spoke highly of the steamed buns. The students of the Imperial Academy vied with each other for taking steamed buns home to share the glory with their family members. In the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang conferred a title of Prince Zhou on his son Zhu Su in Kaifeng. Prince Zhou liked the Academy Steamed Bun very much too and often entertained his guests with it. Therefore, the local people called it Yipin (First-class) Steamed Stuffed Bun.
Sesame Seed Cake with Crust—焦盖烧饼
Sesame Seed Cake with Crust, a famous snack in Henan, originated from Dengfeng County. Legend has it that in the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Song Dynasty, Yue Fei’s army in Dengfeng fought heroically against the Kin invaders and dealt them a heavy blow. Later, the court tried to negotiate peace with the Kin Dynasty (1115-1234) and ordered Qin Kuai to have Yue Fei killed. Yue Fei once had a meal at a small eatery in Dengfeng. After he was executed, the folks in Dengfeng hated Qin Kuai deeply. The chefs of the small eatery wanted to cherish the memory of the heroic general. They hit upon an idea: They made cakes in the shape of a turtle, baked the cakes until they had crusts, and called them “Burning Kuai.” The locals who understood the meaning tacitly vied with each other for buying the cakes. They called Qin Kuai’s name while eating the cake: “Qin Kuai, Qin Kuai, you’re a turtle. You’re as vicious as a viper while plotting to kill the loyal and righteous official. Eat your flesh, and drink your blood. We’ll open your turtle cover first!” In this way, Sesame Seed Cake with Crust became famous, and the way to prepare it has been handed down until today.