Ocean’s Bounty

Speak­ing fairly, the culi­nary unique­ness of Zhoushan is second to none in China, like a gift that keeps on giv­ing – it re­wards the most hy­per­crit­i­cal gourmets amongst us with un­ri­valled seafood from the East China Sea. Oys­ters, sea crabs, jel­ly­fish, yello

That's China - - Ocean's Bounty - Text by / Serene Li

De­li­cious Ding­hai His­tory

Zhoushan jus­ti­fi­ably ranks as an out­stand­ing con­trib­u­tor to the culi­nary spec­trum of China’s Jiang­nan re­gion. Am­ple ev­i­dence has emerged from the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings in Bai­quan and Ma’ao (both in Ding­hai) to prove that the an­ces­tors of to­day’s Zhoushan peo­ple caught fish and picked clams to meet ba­sic liv­ing needs as early as the Ne­olithic times, and rice grow­ing and fish­ing had be­come so­phis­ti­cated en­ter­prises among peo­ple liv­ing in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River by the Spring and Au­tumn Dy­nasty. There are also good rea­sons to be­lieve peo­ple liv­ing in the He­mudu era knew how to catch sharks and whales in the deep sea re­gion of to­day’s Zhoushan ter­ri­tory. Find­ings from the Tangjiadun site in Ma’ao, in par­tic­u­lar, elo­quently sug­gests that to­day’s Zhoushan was fa­vored by the He­mudu fish­er­men as a fish­ing foothold.

Many his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als have in­di­cated the prac­tice of mak­ing dried yel­low croak­ers was an in­ven­tion of the peo­ple liv­ing in to­day’s Shengsi ter­ri­tory in Zhoushan about 2,100 years ago.

The hey­day of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s fish­ing and salt-mak­ing in­dus­try was recorded in Ding­hai An­nals, com­piled in the Qing Dy­nasty. When Lu Yun, a Western Jin lit­ter­a­teur looked back on his seafood spree in Zhoushan, he de­scribed the Na­ture’s Bounty from the East China Sea as “in­cred­i­ble” and the daz­zling va­ri­ety of clams and shell­fish as “un­heard of and in­com­putable”. By the Tang Dy­nasty, the seafood from Zhoushan had dom­i­nated the mar­ket in eastern Zhe­jiang re­gions.

The Song and Yuan pe­riod saw the fu­sion of south­ern and north­ern culi­nary tra­di­tions, thanks to the ex­o­dus of the north­ern­ers. Such fu­sion led Zhe­jiang food cul­ture into a new realm in which it ripened into a self-con­tained mech­a­nism. By that time, sig­na­ture Zhoushan del­i­ca­cies had found their way into the coun­try’s na­tional culi­nary in­ven­tory. The spec­tac­u­lar scene of more than 100 shops sell­ing a smor­gas­bord of Zhoushan salted dried fish in to­day’s Hangzhou dur­ing the South­ern Song years was vividly men­tioned in Liang Meng Lu.

Af­ter more than 200 years of stag­nancy due to two ma­jor em­i­gra­tion waves be­tween the late 14th cen­tury and the late 17th cen­tury, Zhoushan’s seafood glory made its come­back af­ter Em­peror Kangxi or­dered the es­tab­lish­ment of Ding­hai Pre­fec­ture in 1688. The re­turn­ing home of wan­der­ers and immigration tides in the wake of the new ju­ris­dic­tional de­ploy­ment by the gov­ern­ment was doc­u­mented in Ding­hai An­nals, with the re­vival of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s fish­ing scene es­pe­cially men­tioned. Wined and dined to sati­ety, North­ern Song min­is­te­rial ad­vi­sor Ouyang Xiu wrote a poem to ex­tol the seafood in the coastal south­east of China. The Qing Dy­nasty scholar, artist, and gas­tronome and "China’s Bril­lat-Savarin", de­voted a great amount of space in Suiyuan Shi­dan, his most fa­mous gas­tro­nomic man­ual and cook­book record­ing recipes and thoughts on cook­ing, to cook­ing tips about Ningbo and Zhoushan cui­sine.

The Repub­li­can years of China saw the trade boom of mud snails from Zhoushan. The sup­ply of mud snails was un­able to meet the cry­ing de­mand in Hong Kong and south­east­ern Asia.

The ‘Zhoushan fla­vor’

The unique mixed tides and run­ning water in the Zhoushan ter­ri­tory brings am­ple nu­tri­ents for sea life to thrive, mak­ing the ar­chi­pel­ago’s hair­tails, yel­low croak­ers and swim­ming crabs the coun­try’s best.

The ‘Zhoushan fla­vor’ rep­re­sents a gourmet phi­los­o­phy that is rooted in the mas­tery of ‘keep it sim­ple and nat­u­ral’, as rep­re­sented by the lo­cals’ weak­ness for a smor­gas­bord of steamed seafood and the ‘min­i­mal­ism’ in us­ing sea­son­ings. How­ever, this does not mean the chefs are lack­ing in cre­ativ­ity. On the con­trary, Zhoushan seafood is a re­li­able source of epi­curean sur­prises when it comes to in­no­va­tion. Even for the seafood-phobes, there is bound to be some­thing on of­fer that will grab your fancy.

The lo­cals excel at mak­ing salty, dried fish del­i­ca­cies that should not be missed by any sane trav­eler. The wa­ters around Zhoushan also pro­duce the coun­try’s tasti­est sea­weed.

Es­sen­tially speak­ing, such a di­etary pol­icy also shows the lo­cals’ re­spect for the sea. The way the most nat­u­ral fla­vors of the sea life are re­tained in the process of cook­ing is the is­lan­ders’ way of say­ing thank you to all the bless­ings brought by the sea.

Waxberry wine plays an es­sen­tial role in the is­lan­ders’ daily culi­nary en­joy­ments, for­ever in­spir­ing the city’s sea­far­ing minds. This seem­ingly mild liqueur – with its glis­ten­ing, rosy colour – can get you tipsy quicker than you think…

Din­ing Eti­quette and Taboos

When din­ing in Zhoushan, it may be a bless­ing for for­eign­ers who can only count from one to ten in Chi­nese. Be care­ful if you can­not help show­ing off your man­darin, be­cause what you say may be frowned upon by a fish­er­man sit­ting next to you. For ex­am­ple, it is a taboo to say “fan” (mean­ing “turn­ing over the fish”) or “mei” be­cause both sound un­lucky. And it is bad ta­ble man­ners to place the chop­sticks across the bowl be­cause it looks like the bad omen of putting an oar on a mal­fuc­tion­ing boat and hav­ing to re­sign one­self to fate on a stormy sea.

Seafood Court

An au­then­tic way to end your Ding­hai trip would be to en­joy the Zhoushan style beerand-seafood nightlife whilst ad­mir­ing the charm­ing panorama at one of the many restau­rants along the bustling Ding­hai Seafood Court. The booths near the en­trance of the at­trac­tive Ding­hai Dock area, just across the street from where a tourist dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter is lo­cated, opens up to a daz­zling va­ri­ety of seefood snacks for tourists to sam­ple and buy. Win­ing and din­ing here opens your eyes to what the sea re­ally has to of­fer – a bizarre ar­ray of sea crea­tures which come in all shapes and sizes.

One can also try the Furongzhou Food Street in down­town Ding­hai. Host­ing not only food stands but shops, ven­dors’ stands and tea­houses, the street is also a nice place for peo­ple watch­ing and shop­ping.

Be­fore lean­ing back into your chair, get ready for yet an­other belt bust­ing meal. Din­ing in one of the food courts in Lip­ing and Mu’ao, both in Jin­tang, one can take in the awein­spir­ing view of two of the five gor­geous sea-span­ning bridges. Be­ware, the pe­riod from April to late June is the fish­ing off-sea­son in Zhoushan, and these two places are open only in July and Au­gust.

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