Trade fla­vor

An on­go­ing fes­ti­val in Bei­jing lets food­ies sam­ple a Chi­nese cui­sine that was greatly in­flu­enced by busi­ness­men who trav­eled around the coun­try and be­yond to seek their for­tunes

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIU ZHIHUA li­uzhi­hua@chi­nadaily.com.cn

An­hui cui­sine of­fers fla­vors in­flu­enced by busi­ness­men.

In China, there are few places that are so closely linked with busi­ness­men than An­hui prov­ince. The only pos­si­ble ri­val is Shanxi prov­ince with its so-called Jin mer­chants.

Nearly all as­pects of life in the so-called Huizhou area, as it was known in an­cient times, and which is now the south­ern part of An­hui prov­ince, were greatly in­flu­enced by busi­ness­men who trav­eled around the coun­try and be­yond to seek their for­tunes.

From food and ar­chi­tec­ture to the val­ues of hon­esty and dili­gence, the Huizhou mer­chants had a unique life­style, and their “Hui cul­ture” is now one of the three dis­tinc­tive re­gional cul­tures in China. The other two cul­tures are Ti­betan and Dun­huang.

For Bei­jingers, a rare op­por­tu­nity has come up to sam­ple An­hui fare and ex­pe­ri­ence its cul­ture.

Minzu Ho­tel is run­ning a fes­ti­val till Nov 14 of­fer­ing An­hui fare and a chance to ex­pe­ri­enceHui cul­ture.

“We of­ten say food is cul­ture and An­hui food is among the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this,” says Zhai Li­jun, the gen­eral man­ager of the ho­tel.

“Al­most every dish from An­hui has a story, or is re­lated to the area’s his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy.”

The fes­ti­val is not only a feast for the palate but is also a treat for those seek­ing some­thing for the mind— it of­fers his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural nuggets re­lated to the food — and there are also Huang­mei Opera per­for­mances to en­joy.

An­hui food, one of the eight ma­jor cuisines of China, com­prises three parts — dom­i­nant Wan­nan fare from South An­hui that orig­i­nates from the an­cien­tHuizhou area; Yan­jiang fare from near theYangtze River and Yan­huai fare from near the Huaihe River.

The cui­sine reached it zenith dur­ing theMing and theQing dy­nas­ties (1368-1912), be­cause as Huizhou’s mer­chants pros­pered, they be­came par­tic­u­lar about the fla­vor and pre­sen­ta­tion of their food, which helped the cui­sine to de­velop.

The grow­ing in­flu­ence of An­hui’s mer­chants on the na­tional scene also led to An­hui restau­rants out­side the Huizhou area. This was where Huizhou’s mer­chants en­ter­tained their clients, friends and them­selves, I was told dur­ing the fes­ti­val.

The fes­ti­val has top chefs from An­hui prepar­ing del­i­ca­cies for Bei­jing’s din­ers, and the culi­nary team uses the best and fresh­est in­gre­di­ents it can ac­cess, and cooks the food fol­low­ing au­then­tic recipes and tra­di­tional meth­ods.

The del­i­ca­cies of­fered the day I was at a tast­ing were very im­pres­sive

We of­ten say food is cul­ture and An­hui food is among the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this. Al­most every dish from An­hui has a story ...” Zhai Li­jun, Minzu Ho­tel gen­eral man­ager

and show­cased the essence of An­hui cui­sine. The dishes had in­gre­di­ents sourced from An­hui, and many foods were cooked and served in the same pots.

The cui­sine is char­ac­ter­ized by cook­ing tech­niques that go be­yond fry­ing — such as sim­mer­ing, stew­ing and steam­ing. It fea­tures oil and soy sauce, but is very good at pre­serv­ing the in­gre­di­ent’s orig­i­nal fla­vors.

The cui­sine is also in­volves heat­ing dif­fer­ent foods to dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures to bring out the best fla­vors.

When you speak of An­hui cui­sine, you can­not avoid the smelly man­darin fish, which as its name sug­gests, smells aw­ful.

Leg­end has it that the dish orig­i­nated about 200 years ago when busi­ness­men trans­ported the ex­pen­sive fish from the Yangtze River in wooden casks to sell it in the moun­tains.

To keep the fish from go­ing bad, they mar­i­nated the fish in salt and ac­ci­den­tally cre­ated the sig­na­ture dish of An­hui cui­sine.

Af­ter the fish was mar­i­nated in the casks for a few days it grad­u­ally de­vel­oped a chewy tex­ture and its dis­tinct pow­er­ful aroma.

Among Chi­nese food­ies, there is a be­lief that the smelly man­darin fish has magic pow­ers.

So, if you like it the first time you eat it, they say you will like it al­ways and will miss it from time to time.

Of course, some peo­ple can­not bear the spe­cial aroma of the fish. But I love the smelly fish. And de­spite its name and smell, it tastes great.

An­other dish I en­joyed very much was “maofeng prawn”.

Maofeng tea from Huan­gan Moun­tain, which ranks among the top 10 Chi­nese teas, gives the boiled river prawns a hint of the tea’s fla­vor.

The prawns were so fresh that they had a pleas­ant sweet­ness when I sam­pled them with­out any sauce. When eaten with the sauce they have a sa­vory taste.

Other must-haves also in­clude hairy tofu, dried fish, and stewed frog with shi’er lichen (Um­bili­caria es­cu­lenta).

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The An­hui Fare Fes­ti­val in Bei­jing of­fers din­ers not only a myr­iad of au­then­tic dishes from An­hui prov­ince, but also a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal cul­ture.

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