My Citizens, your incandescent leader – the never ordinary TFD! – was privileged to eat at one of San Francisco’s finest restaurants last night – and it is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in all of the country! The chef’s table in the kitchen of Eight Tables was without question an unmatched experience and I was blown away by their use of Chinese medicinal herbs in several of the dishes!
In honor of that meal, allow me to share a unique recipe from Anhui province in China, where medicinal cuisine perhaps had its earliest start in China!
As noted on wayofchina.com:
Anhui (安徽) cuisine is also called Huibang cai (徽帮菜), Anhuicai (安徽菜), and Huizhou fengwei (徽州风味). It is one of the Chinese famous eight major cuisines.
The Anhui cuisine originated in the Southern Song dynasty, it was a local specialty. Its unique geography and humanistic environment give Anhui cuisine unique taste. The reason why Anhui cuisine becomes one of the Chinese famous major cuisines because it played a very important role in the Chinese history.
Huizhou merchants are one of the famous merchants’ groups in the history of China. Anhui is located in poor mountainous areas and people could not survive by farming in the old days.
Huizhou merchants began to be active in the Song Dynasty, and their heyday was in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. Huizhou merchants were almost everywhere and sold almost everything at that time. They were hard-working, diligent, and thrifty, gradually growing from small businesses into large capitalists.
The Ming and Qing Dynasties was a time when China’s commodity economy was more developed. Capitalism had sprouted in the Ming and Qing dynasties. This was when Huizhou merchants peaked.
While Huizhou merchants were doing their businesses, they also brought their hometown flavor to almost every corner of China. Anhui cuisine became a famous major cuisine since then.
There are two sayings about how the Huizhou merchants helped the propagation and development of Anhui cuisine:
The first is that at that time, the Huizhou merchants always talked about business, entertaining, or gathering with friends while put on a Huizhou style dinner to show their respect for the guests.
The second is that Huizhou merchants were all over the country, and kept their own tastes. So Anhui cuisine restaurants were all over the country in order to meet their requirements.
From the late Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty, Huizhou merchants had the No.1 strength among the top 10 business groups in China. Huizhou people had established thousands of Anhui cuisine restaurants across the country. There were more than 140 Anhui cuisine restaurants in Shanghai, which shows that the Huizhou merchants had a wide range of influence at that time.
As to this specific recipe, allow me to quote from the excellent site carryitlikeharry.com:
If you were to ask me to name one fad that is currently raving in the Chinese culinary world, I’d say it is Yipinguo 一品锅.
While all westerners know about ‘Chinese fondue’ (also known as hotpot, or shabu shabu), not many know about Yipinguo.
Yipinguo 一品锅 literally means ‘first grade pot’. By ‘pot’, one infers a ‘stew’.
Yipinguo has a very specific origin: it is a winter dish of the people living in the Anhui 安徽 province in central China, specifically in the county of Huizhou 徽州. It was made in the Ming dynasty by the wife of the State Secretary Bi Jiang 毕锵 (AD1517-1608), Madam Xu 余氏.
The Chinese Emperor came for a visit and Xu wanted to showcase the local dish of a hotpot. She presented the dish to the Emperor who loved it, and named it ‘first grade pot’. The term ‘Yipin’ 一品, is the same term used to classify court officials, hence only the Emperor has the right to confer the grade. Henceforth, the local Huizhou hotpot dish became known as Yipinguo 一品锅.
So what is so special about it?
Firstly, unlike other hotpots, Yipinguo is cooked, before it is placed on the table. Guests do not get to cook the raw ingredients over a boiling pot of broth.
Secondly, ingredients in a Yipinguo are layered in a strict hierarchy, such as that the lower layers are ingredients that take longer time to cook.
Thirdly, one does not stir the pot and it has to be presented as it has been placed.
Last but not least, the combination of the ingredients in the Yipinguo follows a strict Chinese medicinal rule of food compatibility, unlike other Chinese hotpots.
Layering of Yipinguo
The lowest layer comprises hard vegetables; daikon radish, carrots, bamboo shoots, winter melon.
The next layer is meat: pork, beef, duck, chicken, game meat and any kind of liver.
The following layer: seafood such as prawns, baby lobsters, fish, abalone, shellfish.
The second top layer is mushroom types: shiitake, straw mushrooms, black fungus etc.
The penultimate layer is made up of tofu products: tofu puffs, tofu sticks, tofu etc.
TFD follows tradition that the top layer should be something green – I use the leaves and yellow flowers of Yu Choy, which looks a lot like Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan), except that the Yu Choy stalks are skinnier and the flowers are yellow (Gai Lan has white flowers).
This vegetable is tender, the taste of the leaves are very much like spinach leaves, even though it is part of the mustard family. Fresh Yu-Choy has small tight yellow flowers, bright green leaves and stems, and if you look at the bottom of the bunch of stems, they should not be dried out.
The yellow flowers add to the imperial pedigree of this dish, as yellow was a color reserved for the Emperor alone. I have also upped the luxury quotient with ingredients worthy of the imperial presence! Lastly, I also specify a unique alcohol brewed with Chinese medicinal herbs first created for the Imperial family!
This is a ‘no-cook’ recipe and a delicious one at that, my Citizens! It includes wild game, wild herbs and a cooking technique that all define Anhui cuisine!
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