Chinese dietary culture has developed for thousands of years and is divided into various cuisines gradually. Each cuisine differs from the others and is praised highly by numerous delicacy fans. Huaiyang Cuisine is one of the famous cuisines. It had been listed as one of the Four Cuisines in China as early as the period of Qianlong Emperor in the Qing Dynasty.
Huaiyang Cuisine is not too salty, too acid, too spicy, to bitter, to sweet nor too oily, it is suitable to the taste of everyone. Therefore people from the northern or southern areas could receive it, including those foreign friends. As well as, it always be served up at formal state banquets.
It is the main feature of the banquet of Huaiyang Cuisine that to cook dishes of Huaiyang Cuisine with materials produced in Huai'an. Make use of fresh and lively seafood as well as seasonal vegetables in different seasons, take the need of health preservation into consideration, reasonably mate up various kinds of cookie materials, get victory depending on the original flavour of cooking materials and do not need complicated implements. Therefore family cooking range is suitable to cook. However, the cooking skills are incredibly complicated. Therefore are strict standards as to how to use fire, water or thickening.
And for the Huaiyang Cuisine is strong regional and seasonal features. Certainly, the gold season of autumn is the best time to enjoy Huaiyang cuisine, and the place of Huai'an City is the best place to taste Huaiyang Cuisine because of its leading birthplace of Huaiyang Cuisine.
Shelled Fresh Shrimp is a nonesuch delicacy in Huaiyang Cuisine. For Huaiyang Cuisine had rigorous demands for raw materials which must be fresh and alive in the majority. That’s the reason why we need come to Huai’an to taste Shelled Fresh Shrimp. The main material of this dish is shrimps from the Hung-tse Lake, one of them is sizeable freshwater shrimp which was once awarded Silver Award on Panama Exposition in 1901.
In the first step, the cook directly soaks these fresh and alive freshwater shrimps into the juice of scallion and ginger. Instead of shelling the shrimps we commonly see. At the time, shrimp meat is different from those gained through shelling normal shrimps. It appears to be green slightly. However, once fried it in the pot, it shows its pure white colour. That’s the security of why Shelled Fresh Shrimp is not as red as the colour of shrimp meat in other cuisines.
The Stir-flying process is quite short, we just need fries for seconds and adds a little salt without any other additional materials, and then hold the dish with the plate.
But the cooking skill is to fry rapidly and cook quickly, which is very strict. It only needs tens or dozens of seconds. In other words, additional materials should be added accurately, including seasonings. There is not an opportunity for remedy. As to fire, the degree of fire should be extremely accurate. If it is fried for several seconds more, it is overcooked. Otherwise, it is undercooked. It is quite demanding, including how high you should toss when stir-flying. It is the time difference between cold and hot by turns. Within these in seconds, the cook embodies his skills of cooking.
Its process of selecting cooking materials and frying is of higher and stricter demands. One of the main features of Huaiyang Cuisine (other China Wok) is that there are lots of complex demands towards a seemingly simple dish. It needs several years of efforts for a cook to master all these cooking skills. It is also due to this reason that Shelled Fresh Shrimp, and Ruanda Eel are called Two Peaks of Fried Dishes in Huaiyang Cuisine.
It costs twenty and several seconds to toss the pot for two and half times. We can not toss the pot repeatedly and not toss when we put the eels into the pot. Once you toss, the skin of eel will stick to the pot. You should sway the pot initially. After swaying, toss the pot until the starchy sauce mix covers the eels. First, toss the pot for 20 centimetres two times, and then ten centimetres and a half times. Therefore toss the pot for two and half times.
After finished, the eel (Chinese yellow eel) should be picked up with chopsticks. After that, see whether both its ends could be joined together. If they could, it proves that the cooking material is of good quality and the cooking skills are also excellent. If you are not good at cooking, the dish could not satisfy this point. If it is picked up with chopsticks, both ends of an eel cannot be joined together. Therefore this dish is named as Ruandou (soft pocket) Eel.
More than 100 years ago, the boss of Yanle Restaurant in Huai’an, according to the idea of 108 courses of the Chinese Feast, chose only one common cooking material in Huai’an, the eel. He gathered advantages of cooking skills of many cooks and exerted his unlimited creation, to cook eel into 36 dishes per day, eaten for 3 days in succession and had 108 dishes in total, as the famous dishes of Yanle Restaurant.
Since then, Yanle Restaurant was famous for a night, and Eel Banquet shocked the whole China, then became the masterpiece of Huaiyang Cuisine. It says that persons who don't taste Eel Banquet, although he is wealthy, there’s a small regret in his mind. Some people had a long drive from a long distance away to specially come to Huai’an to taste Eel Banquet personally.
Wenlou Crab Soup Dumplings is a kind of an excellent wheaten food, in Hexia Ancient Town in Huai’an had been world-renown in the period of Jiaqing Emperor in the Qing Dynasty 200 years ago. Everyone who comes to Huai'an would like to taste this delicacy. Wenlou Steamed Dumpling Filled with Crab Roe and Gravy is different from Steamed Dumpling Filled with Minced Meat and Gravy in other places in its skin firstly.
The skin of the dumpling will roll very thin until you could read the characters vaguely if you put the skin on paper. The skin should be made into dumplings as soon as it is rolled. Otherwise, it will break without toughness and chewiness.
After steamed dumpling filled with minced meat and gravy is cooked through steaming, they should be a move by particular workers from teamer to plate, they lift it lightly and move it slowly with the rapid speed of hand. Otherwise steamed dumpling filled with minced meat and gravy will leak once it is lifted.At the same time, It is also testing the quality of the skin.
Yam Duck Soup which is a typical dish eaten by
every family in Huai’an in autumn. It is a dish cooked with Chinese Yam which
is a famous particular vegetable product of Huai’an as well as male duck.
According to the aged people, in the Ming Dynasty, cooks, including some families once tried a lot to cook Chinese Yam Rhizome with the meat of wild migratory goose, pork, mutton and chicken, but they received not very well effects. Finally, through the joint research of gourmets and some doctors of traditional Chinese medicine, they considered that it was made duck which nourished Yin that was a perfect match with Chinese Yam Rhizome.
Near the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Lunar August 15 about September, a wild vegetable called common-cattail, which was up to more than 150 USD per 500g. The common-cattail which is hard to buy with money is always an essential major course of banquets of Huaiyang Cuisine. There is a saying: without common-cattail, the banquet will not form.
Although the common-cattail is long and thick, the edible part is 20cm or 30 cm section in it, it looks like scallion stalk. Huai’an has the deepest and the most fertile silt. After unthreading from silt, the tender rootstalk is not only long but also thick and strong. So it is very tasty and refreshing, as the masterwork among common-cattail.
Common-cattail of Huai’an is in short supply. Common-cattail of each place in the province all collects in Huai’an because the consumption of common-cattail by Huai’an people is great.It is not because common-cattail of Huai’an is much better, but it is cooked best in Huai’an. It should say that skills in Huaiyang Cuisine promote common-cattail to the highest level.
There are many cooking methods for common-cattail, for example, frying, cooking or stewing which are all fit for it, but they all shall base on insipidity because people favour its original fragrance. Common-cattail which is fried, is semitransparent, has crisp and tender taste, and has tantalising fragrance.
In fact, common-cattail is the rootstalk of Typhaangustifolia which is used to weave straw mat. Although it seems insignificant, in over 2000 years ago, Mei Cheng, the master of prose in the Western Han Dynasty had recorded common-cattail as a delicacy in his representative work “Seven Elicitations七发.”
The “Seven Elicitations” had seven paragraphs in all and was used to treat the illness of prince of the State of Chu. Among it, there is a paragraph delicacy; the food therapy recovered his illness. As for the food therapy, he wrote the earliest menu in the history of Huai’an. The first course on the menu is Tenderloin with Beef, that is stir-fry tenderloin of small cattle with the vegetable common-cattail. Some people think that “Seven Elicitations” is deserved to be called the first menu of Huaiyang Cuisine. Mei Cheng praised delicacies in Yangtze River and Huai River as the most delicious one in the world.
While to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Huaiyang cuisine reached its most splendid and flourishing period. All of this fact originated from open of the Grand Canal from Beijing to Hangzhou . Huai’an is located on the geological dividing line between South and North China and is the important channel of water transport. At that time, Governor General of Water Transport and Governor General of River Conservation resided in Huai ‘an. People and goods from the south must leave the boat and land, to go to the north by a laneway. And people from the north must give up the horse and board the ship, to go to the south in Huai’an.
Huai’an which is an inland port city was once flourishing as never before. On both sides of the Liyun River which was 40 km long in all from South Gate of Huai’an to the wharf, restaurant accounted for a half of the land. 100,000 people worked here day and night. Owners of restaurants had never struck, closed, closed down but run day and night.
To meet the demand of different flavours of southerners and northerners, cooks of Huaiyang cuisine gathered advantages of delicacy and cooking skills of South and North China, and in communication and fusion, Huaiyang cuisine gradually formed a flavour that was moderate in sweetness and salt and was fit for southerners and northerners.
Admiration for delicacy let a strange phenomenon appear in Huai ‘an at that time. In feudal society, cook with low status became the preferred profession. At that time, the royal family and nobleman in the capital all introduced cooks form Huai ‘an; people served as officers in Huai ‘an also left with their cooks when transferred. Some even sent cooks as present to others.
However, to become a successful cook was more difficult than to pass the imperial examination at the country level. The cook shall not be too tall if he is too tall when he cooks, he has to bend down so that he will be tired, and it’s not convenient and flexible for him to cook. Besides, the cook shall not be too short, if he is too short, his arms will be tired because the hearth supports them. Thus, the cook shall be neither too tall nor too short. Secondly, the cook shall be neither too fat nor too thin, because if he is too thin, he will not have the strength to work, and if he is too fat, it will be cumbersome for him to work. Thirdly, the cook shall have a flat head and a normal face, and shall not have a strange appearance. If he was strength appearance, it is good for him to appear in public places. Finally, the cook shall have certain cultural accomplishment; have a ready tongue, be good at writing, can reading, and can saying something related to it.
The difficulty to choose cooks illustrates Huaiyang Cuisine’s strict requirement which made it become one of the four cuisines in China during the reign of Qianlong Emperor in the Qing Dynasty, and the difficulty goes on all the time, Which is also the basis for Huaiyang Cuisine to step on the stage of the state banquet.
Now, we learn about that the reason for Huaiyang Cuisine to become a dish in state banquet, for its tremendous efforts and fineness, and blend of five flavours keep the original taste and flavour of cooking materials to a great extent. Huaiyang Cuisine which contains essences of cooking skills of North and South China deserves the footnote “Greatness lies in its capacity有容乃大.”