Fo­tiao­qiang: A Dish that Re­flects Life

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Tian Meng Edited by Greg S. Vanisky

As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Fu­jian Cui­sine, Fo­tiao­qiang is known for its elab­o­rate cook­ing method and high- qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, and is re­garded as a top del­i­cacy.

Re­fined men of let­ters have be­stowed the Eight Fa­mous Chi­nese Cuisines with per­son­al­i­ties that high­light their con­spic­u­ous fea­tures: Jiangsu Cui­sine and Zhe­jiang Cui­sine are com­pared to the beauties liv­ing the south­ern lower reaches of the Yangtze River; Shan­dong Cui­sine and An­hui Cui­sine are sug­ges­tive of well- built, guile­less men in North China; Sichuan Cui­sine and Hu­nan Cui­sine rep­re­sent eru­dite and ver­sa­tile schol­ars; Guangdong Cui­sine and Fu­jian Cui­sine are as­so­ci­ated with lov­ing no­ble men.

Many peo­ple de­rive their knowl­edge about and love for Fu­jian Cui­sine from Fo­tiao­qiang, which means “Bud­dha jump­ing over the wall.” As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Fu­jian Cui­sine, Fo­tiao­qiang is known for its elab­o­rate cook­ing method and high­qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing shark fin, abalone, pig tripe, sea cu­cum­ber, shark’s lips, mush­rooms, pork ten­don, cut­tle­fish, dried scal­lop and quail eggs. Each in­gre­di­ent is sep­a­rately cooked to pre­serve and re­flect their unique tastes and aro­mas. Then all the cooked in­gre­di­ents are mixed in a pot along with soup-stock and cook­ing wine and sim­mered on low heat. With its rich and mel­low fra­grance and flavour, Fo­tiao­qiang is re­garded as a top del­i­cacy.

There are many ver­sions of Fo­tiao­qiang with al­ter­na­tive names. Some call it Tan­shao babao (Eight Trea­sures in a Pot), some have coined it Man­tanx­i­ang (Pot Filled with Aroma), and oth­ers re­fer to it as Fushouquan (Abun­dance of Luck and longevity). But all th­ese names pale in com­par­i­son to Fo­tiao­qiang, which ig­nites fer­tile imag­i­na­tions and brings

plea­sure to Chi­nese peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to a book en­ti­tled Zhong­guo ming­cai pu (“China’s Fa­mous Dishes”), dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu (1875–1908) in the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), an of­fi­cial of the Coinage Ser­vice of Fuzhou threw a lav­ish din­ner party for Zhou Lian, the Trea­surer of Fu­jian Province. In or­der to curry favour with Zhou Lian, the of­fi­cial asked his wife to cook the dish in per­son. The woman pre­pared a pot of stew with over 20 in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing chicken, duck meat, mut­ton, pork tripe, and seafood that was wellsea­soned. This de­li­cious dish won high praise from Zhou Lian. When asked the name of the dish, the of­fi­cial called it Fushouquan, a name sym­bol­is­ing aus­pi­cious­ness. Zhou Lian’s pri­vate chef, Zheng Chunfa, later im­proved Fushouquan. The im­proved Fushouquan was even bet­ter than the orig­i­nal, and be­came the sig­na­ture dish of Juchun­yuan (Spring Gath­er­ing Gar­den), a restau­rant opened in Fuzhou City by Zheng Chunfa. Fushouquan was an in­stant suc­cess through­out Fuzhou.

One day, a group of men of let­ters came to Juchun­yuan to taste the dish. The mo­ment the pot lid was opened, the aroma of Fushouquan in­stantly filled the room. Amazed by the aroma, one of the guests im­pro­vised a poem in high praise of it: “The smell is so tempt­ing, just to get a taste, the monks next door forgo the prac­tice of Zen Bud­dhism and jump over the wall.” Co­in­ci­den­tally, in the Fuzhou di­alect, Fushouquan sounds sim­i­lar to the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of Fo­tiao­qiang. There­fore, the for­mal name of the dish has been based on Fo­tiao­qiang as ref­er­enced in this poem. The name has a his­tory of more than 100 years.

The flavour of Fo­tiao­qiang is true to its name. The aroma that wafts from the pot is in­tox­i­cat­ing. The dish is so ten­der that the in­gre­di­ents im­me­di­ately dis­solve in your mouth, leav­ing a strong fra­grance on the tongue. Brown in colour, the soup is rich in flavour and thick but not sticky. When en­joy­ing the dish, din­ers can dis­tin­guish be­tween dif­fer­ent tastes that split apart, as well as the fra­grance of seafood, the fresh odour of mush­rooms, and many other smells. All the parts, how­ever, in­te­grate to­gether and com­ple­ment each other well.

Fuzhou Cui­sine fea­tur­ing Fo­tiao­qiang was all the rage in Guangzhou’s Nanyuan Restau­rant in 1965 and in Hong Kong in 1980. Not long after, the pop­u­lar­ity of the dish swept around the world. Restau­rants opened by over­seas Chi­nese at­tracted cus­tomers by promis­ing them au­then­tic Fo­tiao­qiang. The fa­mous del­i­cacy was even served dur­ing state ban­quets in honour of heads of state, such as King Norodom Si­hanouk of Cam­bo­dia, the US Pres­i­dent Ronald Wil­son Rea­gan, and Bri­tain’s Queen El­iz­a­beth.

In­ter­est­ingly, a study by Fei Xiao­tong (1910–2005), one of the founders of China’s So­ci­ol­ogy and An­thro­pol­ogy, re­vealed that the ori­gin of Fo­tiao­qiang has a re­la­tion­ship with beg­gars: “Ev­ery day beg­gars beg for food on the streets while car­ry­ing shabby pots, which they fill with an as­sort­ment of left­overs from var­i­ous restau­rants. One restau­ran­teur re­port­edly went out one day and was over­taken by a strong fra­grance that led him to some beg­gars’ pots that con­tained re­mains of food and wine. In­spired by this ex­pe­ri­ence, upon re­turn­ing to his restau­rant, he at­tempted to make a pot of mixed stew seasoned with wine, thereby creat­ing Fo­tiao­qiang.”

There are not many facts that prove Fei’s claim about the ori­gin of Fo­tiao­qiang. The pot and wine he men­tioned, how­ever, have been used un­change­ably for gen­er­a­tions and are the keys to cook­ing the dish; whereas to serve the dish, Shaox­ing wine pots are al­ways used. Each in­gre­di­ent is pre­pared in ad­vance by ei­ther fry­ing, stir-fry­ing, boil­ing or deep­fry­ing them. The cooked in­gre­di­ents with their unique flavours are then placed in the pot layer-by-layer. Next, a mix­ture of Shaox­ing wine, soup-stock and sea­son­ings are added. After this, the pot—now filled with soup, wine and other in­gre­di­ents—is sealed with lo­tus leaves and brought to a boil. To suc­cess­fully cook Fo­tiao­qiang, no trace of its fra­grance can es­cape un­til the lid of the pot is opened. Once the lo­tus leaves are raised slightly, an aroma of wine per­me­ates the air. While tast­ing the dish, peo­ple are en­chanted by a smor­gas­bord of del­i­ca­cies, mixed fra­grances and end­less flavours. They are amazed that all the com­po­nents are ten­der, but not over­done. The rich, mar­vel­lous flavour is cred­ited to the in­te­gra­tion of its in­gre­di­ents.

Ac­cord­ing to an old say­ing used by gour­mands: “Three bowls of Fo­tiao­qiang are enough to make a per­son give up their chance at liv­ing an im­mor­tal life.” The first bowl tastes of rare, fresh seafood; the sec­ond one de­lights the palate with ex­otic prod­ucts from the moun­tains and ocean, as well as with the rich and nu­tri­ent soup; the third one of­fers the best part of the dish: a com­bi­na­tion of the en­tire flavour. Well­cho­sen in­gre­di­ents served one after an­other yield lay­ers of tastes, which fuse to­gether like in­sights into one’s life.

Some peo­ple even com­pare the cook­ing of Fo­tiao­qiang to life. With so many in­gre­di­ents, it’s hard to mas­ter the du­ra­tion and de­gree of cook­ing. This level of un­der­stand­ing, how­ever, only scratches the sur­face. Tech­ni­cally, the prepa­ra­tion of Fo­tiao­qiang far ex­ceeds both its cook­ing time. From prepar­ing all the in­gre­di­ents to the fin­ished dish, it of­ten takes three days or longer. The prepa­ra­tion of some of the seafood, such as shark fin, is very de­mand­ing and usu­ally takes dozens of hour, in­clud­ing a metic­u­lous se­lec­tion and re­hy­dra­tion process. Sim­i­larly, prepa­ra­tion and ef­fort are also re­quired be­fore one can en­joy a suc­cess­ful life.

At the Diaoyu­tai State Guest­house, Li Zhishun, known as the mas­ter of state ban­quets, never felt his abil­ity to cook Fo­tiao­qiang was as good as his teacher’s. At first, he pinned the blame on his teacher, as­sum­ing he had hid some tricks from him. His teacher, how­ever, as­sured him, say­ing: “You’ve learned from me for dozens of years. How could I not im­part all my knowl­edge to you?” There’s a spe­cific pro­ce­dure to cook­ing the dish that in­volves adding yel­low rice wine, which Li added by fol­low­ing his teacher’s ex­am­ple. But, the yel­low rice wine he added was ei­ther too strong or too light, so it didn’t im­prove the fra­grance of the soup. Li spent 10 years hon­ing this skill. Even­tu­ally he re­alised that rice wine should be added within two sec­onds be­fore the small bub­bles of the soup be­came big. A lit­tle ear­lier or later causes a loss of flavour. It takes ten years to make the soup per­fectly. Is this not an au­then­tic pic­ture of a suc­cess­ful life?

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