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Going Beyond Chinese Cuisine – IV

Anhui cuisine or just Hui cuisine, is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions  of Chinese cuisine that is derived from the native cooking styles of Huangshang mountain region in China. Anhui cuisine is known for its use of wild herbs, from both the land and the sea, and simple methods of preparation. Braising and stewing are common cooking techniques. Frying and stir frying are used much less frequently in Anhui cuisine than in other Chinese culinary traditions. Anhui cuisine consists of three styles – the Yangtze River region, Huai River region, and southern Anhui region. Anhui has ample uncultivated fields and forests, so the wild herbs used in the region’s cuisine are readily available.

Anhui cuisine is relatively lesser known. The province where the cuisine originated is a relatively poor inland province of West Shanghai. The cuisine itself is more like a hearty peasant food. This is the common diet of the people in the region of the Yellow Mountains and in the tourist area of Huangshan.

The most notable thing about Anhui cuisine is that it incorporates a lot of wild ingredients like wild frogs, local small shrimps, turtles, other local wildlife, local wild fungi and mushrooms, etc. Ingredients like Bayberry, Tea leaves, Bamboo shoots, dates, etc that commonly grow in the Mountains are common ingredient in Anhui cuisine. It uses both wheat and rice as staple food, though, traditionally, their staple is rice. They also use a traditional wild variety of potatoes as a staple. Pork and ham are very wildly used in this cuisine. Huanghshang Chakka, a popular ingredient has tender flesh and a sweet taste. The white tender bamboo shoots growing on the mountains are used to make delicious dishes in Anhui cuisine. Xianggu, a kind of top grade mushrooms that grows on old trees is also very tasty.

Anhui chefs are very particular about controlling the cooking time and temperature. They aim to cook food to perfection, and not overcook or over-spice it to destroy the nutritional value in it.

The Huai River (Noth Anhui) and Yangtze River (Central Anhui) styles of Anhui cuisine use a lot of river fish and aquatic creatures, while the Southern Anhui region style is where the Yellow Mountains are.

Some of the popular dishes would be –

  1. Stewed soft shell turtle with ham

One whole soft shell turtle, pork, ham, bamboo shoots, a clove of garlic, shallot, ginger, soy sauce, salt, rice wine, black pepper, lard are all stewed together in a pot on charcoal fire. The dish is not greasy and can lead diners to endless aftertastes.

  1. Steamed stone frog

Inhabited in caves, stone frog is a special product in Huangshan Mountain. It weights 250 grams or so, whose belly is white and back black with stripe. Stone frog is rich in protein, calcium and so on. It has the functions of clearing heat, improving vision and nutrition. It is one of the best exotic dishes from mountains.

  1. Bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and dried mushroom

It is one traditional flavor in Huizhou mountainous area. Cooked with sausage and dried mushrooms, the bamboo shoots are more fragrant. It is delicious, and noted for its good color, juicy meat and thick soup.

  1. Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch

Li Hongzhang hotchpotch is a popular dish named after one of Anhui’s famous personages. Li Hongzhang was a top official of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). When he was in office, he paid a visit to the US and hosted a banquet for all his American friends. As the specially prepared dishes continued to flow, the chefs, with limited resources, began to fret. Upon Li Hongzhang’s order, the remaining kitchen ingredients were thrown together into an impromptu stew, containing sea cucumber, squid, tofu, ham, mushroom, chicken meat and other less identifiable food materials! Thus appetites were quenched and a dish was created.

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