Citizens, few things delight the Imperial palate of the Draconic and Dynastic TFD more than the ancient Imperial recipes of China! This one is a favorite of mine for many reasons – not the least of which include that it is a dish of subtle yet shifting flavors, that it is a representative of a rarely-seen Chinese cooking style and that this delight of the Emperor was created by a commoner!
Huaiyang cuisine (淮揚菜) is considered one of the Four Great Traditions in Chinese cuisine. It is derived from the native cooking styles of the region surrounding the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers, and centred upon the cities of Huai’an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province.
Although it is one of several sub-regional styles within Jiangsu cuisine, Huaiyang cuisine is widely seen in Chinese culinary circles as the most popular and prestigious style of Jiangsu cuisine – to a point where it is considered to be among one of the Four Great Traditions (四大菜系; Sì dà càixì) that dominate the culinary heritage of China, along with Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine and Sichuan cuisine.
Huaiyang cuisine characteristically bases each dish on its main ingredient, and the way that ingredient is cut is pivotal to its cooking and its final taste. The cuisine is also known for employing its Zhenjiang vinegar, which is produced in the Jiangsu region.
Huaiyang cuisine tends to have a slightly sweet side to it and is almost never spicy, in contrast to some cuisines of China (like Sichuan or Hunan). Pork, freshwater fish and other aquatic creatures serve as the meat base in most dishes, which are usually more meticulous and light.
Huaiyang cuisine also includes several breakfast choices such as crab soup dumplings (蟹黄汤包; 蟹黃湯包; xìehúang tāngbāo), thousand-layered cake (千层糕; 千層糕; qiāncéng gāo), steamed dumplings (蒸饺; 蒸餃; zhēngjiǎo), and wild vegetable steamed buns (野菜包子; yěcài bāozi).
Other dishes in Huaiyang cuisine include:
The famous “Beggar’s Chicken” (叫化鸡; 叫化雞; jiàohuā jī), which is a whole chicken marinated with spices and wrapped in aluminum foil. Contrary to its name, it is not the food for the homeless. Traditionally, beggar’s chicken is wrapped in leaves or sometimes even in mud, allowing the full flavor of the chicken to be preserved.
Huaiyang cuisine has been employed in official occasions by the Chinese government. Some examples include:
- In 1949, for the first state banquet of the People’s Republic of China.
- In 1999, for China’s 50th anniversary state banquet.
- In 2002, for visiting U.S. President George W. Bush, hosted by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
As noted on jiangsutravel.us about our dish for the day:
Pingqiao tofu is a famous dish in Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province. It has a history of about 300 years. As the best of Huaiyang cuisine, it has its own attractions. Pingqiao tofu can be described in three words: fresh, hot and fine.
Pingqiao tofu is very delicious, because each of its ingredients has a delicious flavor, and the cooking method is very delicate and ingenious. Use tender and smooth tofu, cut it into consistent diamond-shaped small pieces, and accompany it by diced chicken meat, mushrooms, minced coriander and crustacean eggs, so the taste is very salty and delicious.
Pingqiao tofu soup is very hot, because there is a layer of bright oil on top of the soup, so the heat does not come out. No steam seems to come out, but in fact it is very hot. The steam won’t come out unless you stir it, so you need to blow the food before eating. Enjoy the steaming soup with caution.
Pingqiao tofu is also rich in nutrients. It has the effect of tonifying five internal organs and healing asthenic disease, and it has a more significant effect in summer. The tofu is tender in texture, with aroma and smooth, fresh and salty in flavor, and it is loved by people.
What’s more, this was also a favorite food of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai!
While soupy in texture, this is not a soup (although the broth is truly amazing!) – you could (if you prefer) add more soup to the dish to make it a soup course, but this would be inauthentic. Be sure and use only Silken (also known as soft) tofu in this – the firmer tofu ruins the textural aspects of the dish! The tofu absorbs all the subtle flavors of the other ingredients – truly worthy of the Imperial palate!
Either way, this is a dish worthy of Emperors and your lucky guests alike – I hope you see fit to try this, my Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo