As early as the Spring and Autumn Period, more than 3,000 years ago, Shandong was territory of Qi and Lu. Both states were economically and culturally developed. Because they bordered the sea, and had mountains and fertile plains, they had abundant aquatic products and grains as well as sea salt. The people of the area have stressed seasonings and flavorings since ancient times.
Shandong cuisine was created during the Yuan Dynasty. It gradually spread to north China, Beijing, Tianjin, northeast China, and the palace where it influenced the imperial food. The Shandong cuisine comprises mainly eastern Shandong and Jinan dishes.
The most typical Jinan dishes are sea cucumber with mat balls; braised shark’s fin with shredded chicken; sea cucumber, mushroom, and bamboo shoots; clam in egg white; and fried oysters. Jinan cuisine is known for its soups, quick – frying, stir – frying, deep – frying, and stewing. The most common raw materials are river fish, pork, and vegetables. Some typical dishes are carp in milk soup, Yellow River carp in sweet and sour sauce, stewed pork leg, and quick – fried double crisps.
Shandong cuisine is characterized by quick – frying, stir- frying, braising, and deep – fat frying. Its dishes are crisp, tender, delicious, and greasy with salty and some sweet and sour flavors. Its main condiment is salt, but it also uses salted fermented soybeans and soy sauce.
People in Shandong like to eat onions and use onions as a seasoning. The dishes include braised sea cucumber with onion, cartilage stewed with onions, and meat stewed with onions. Roast meats are also served with onions. The onions are first deep – fat fried before the dishes are quick – fried, stir – fried, stewed, or sauted so they absorb the onion flavor. People in Shandong also like foods made of wheat flour, such as steamed buns, baked buns, pancakes, crisp cakes, and big cakes stuffed with minced meats.
Huai-Yang Cuisine. This cuisine includes dishes from Huai’an, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. Huai-Yang refers to the cities of Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Huai’an in Jiangsu Province along the Grand Canal north of the Yangtze River. Yangzhou was a military fort and a cultural center in ancient times. It was a very busy city as early as the Tang Dynasty, and was the most flourishing commercial city in China after the capital city. Extravagant consumption by rich, important businessmen stimulated the thriving catering trade and the development of cookery.
Every important salt trader employed a skilled cook who specialized in cooking certain delicious dishes or desserts. When a salt trader gave a dinner, he often borrowed cooks from other salt traders, and when every cook prepared his specialty, a lavish dinner was ready. In this way, the cooks exchanged their cooking skills and improved the cooking in Yangzhou.
Yangzhou, located in a region crisscrossed by rivers and lakes, has abundant fish, shrimp, and seafood, which are used in the local cooking, The city’s catering trade flourished during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. There were also cooks who sold their cooking skills as “external cooks” at festivals, banquets, and weddings. Their different services were evidence of the fierce competition among them, which helped develop the cooking skills in Yangzhou.
If Shandong cuisine is characterized by stirring and frying over a hot fire, Huai-Yang cuisine is characterized by stewing, braising, and steaming over a low fire for a long time. Famous dishes cooked this way are chicken braised with chestnuts, pork steamed in lotus leaf, duck stewed with eight treasures, pork meat balls Yangzhou style, and butterfly sea cucumber (sea cucumber cut into butterfly shapes and cooked with flavorings).
Yangzhou dishes stress the stock and extract, and require chicken to taste like chicken and fish to taste like fish, with clear distinctions between the primary and secondary ingredients. The dishes are cooked over a low fire and the pots are covered or sealed so the marrow cooks out and the primary taste and form are kept. These traits stock fresh and delicious (this is the main difference between stewing and braising). Stewed dishes are tender, fragrant, and tasty.
Stewing without water in the pot is one stewing method. It is done this way: Put the cleaned meat (preferably a whole chicken or duck) in a sealed vessel and immerse the vessel in boiling water for several hours. Boiling food in its own juice without soy sauce was begun in the Yangzhou cuisine and has since influenced the Beijing cuisine. Yangzhou dishes, which are slightly sweet, are often flavored with both sugar and salt. Sugar makes the dish more delicious and tasty. The Yangzhou cuisine also stresses colors, such as the colors of red sugar, soy sauce, the raw materials, and egg white. Dragon hidden in snow is a good example. The major ingredient is quick – fried eel shreds. Steamed egg white is used as the base color, and when the shining, black – and – yellow, quick – fried, shredded eel is placed on the white, it looks like a dragon lying on snow. Other dishes, such as chicken boiled in its own soup without soy sauce, roast Mandarin fish, steamed hilsa herring, and steamed shrimp dumplings look sparkling, lustrous and attractive.
Crystallized dishes made in Zhenjiang are sparkling, transparent, tender, and delicious. They are known for their color, form, and taste. Huai-Yang cuisine also pays attention to color and taste. If a dish is heavy and brightly colored, its taste must be heavy and its soup must be thick. If a dish is simple and light colored, its taste must be light and its soup must be clear.
The vegetarian banquet is a special feature of the Huai-Yang cuisine, and the vegetarian dishes in the Beijing cuisine are mostly variants of the Huai – Yang cuisine. This is not true for the vegetarian foods of the other cuisines, The Huai-Yang snacks and refreshments are exquisite, such as boiled, shredded, dried bean curd; steamed dumplings with minced meat and gravy; steamed meat dumplings with the dough gathered at eh top; steamed stuffed meat buns; steamed buns filled with meat, bamboo shoots and vegetables; Huangqiao baked sesame cakes; multi-layer cake; boneless fish and noodles; quick- fried eel and noodles; noodles with seasoned topping; and steamed crystal buns from Zhenjiang.