Shandong Cuisine, or Lu Cai, is one of the oldest regional cuisines of China. Although little known abroad, it had a big influence especially on Northern Chinese cuisine. Find out more about this diverse cooking style in our interview below!
My interviewee for this article of our “Eight Cuisines of China” series is Miaomiao, a Shandong local living and working in Switzerland. From the many food pictures on her phone, it’s easy to tell that she is a big foodie. I was surprised to hear though, that she only learned her cooking skills in recent years, after moving abroad. Because her family is not originally from Shandong, she also ate a lot of Southern Chinese food, but I still ended up with a very long list of Shandong Dishes after our conversation.
Miaomiao characterizes the typical taste of Shandong Cuisine as salty and umami. The natural fresh flavours of the ingredients are usually enhanced by using salt and soy sauce.
Shandong has plenty of different landscapes to offer, so it is no wonder that its cuisine is famous for its great variety of ingredients: From the coastal region with its saltwater fish and seafood to the mountainous centre with vegetables and meat to the mighty Yellow River and the large Nansi Lake which provide Shandong cuisine with its freshwater fish and crustaceans. A typical staple of Shandong food is Chinese green onion or 大葱.
One Shandong snack with these green onions is Jian Bing, 煎饼 which is a bit like a crepe with all kinds of stuffing.
Since making this at home takes quite some time, Miaomiao came up with a very easy recipe: She gets Yufka flatbread from a Turkish store and then adds her sauces and whatever meat or veggies are in her fridge. That’s how this home-style Jian Bing looks like:
Shandong Cuisine is said to have originated around 2500 years ago, during the Spring and Autumn Period. Because it was famous early on, it had a big influence on Northern Chinese cooking in general and many dishes from that region can be traced back to Shandong origins. It also has sub-cuisines, mainly Jinan Cuisine with its emphasis on soups, and coastal Jiaodong cuisine with seafood and fish. Also part of Shandong Cuisine is Confucius Cuisine which are the elaborate dishes served in the Confucius family. For a very interesting background story about Confucius Cuisine and its recent fame, read this article from the South China Morning Post.
In this vein of fancy food, the first “famous dish” (名菜) that Miaomiao can think of is Braised Intestines in Brown Sauce (九转大肠). It was invented in late Qing Dynasty by the famous chef of the restaurant Jiu Hua Lou (九华楼) in the capital Jinan and has a very rich taste which has hints of all the tastes, sour, sweet, umami, spicy and salty.
As Shandong is a Northern province, the staple food is flour and everything made of it, be it noodles, steamed bread or other kinds of bread. In our title image, you can see colourful Mantou (steamed bread) made by Miaomiao.
A snack, which can also be eaten as a staple alongside with dishes, is Youxuan. This pastry is a speciality from Miaomiao’s hometown Jinan. Every time she goes to see her family, Youxuan is definitely on her list of things to eat. Because it takes a lot of time to make it, fewer and fewer people sell it nowadays. This video gives you a little glimpse of the traditional method, along with a nice sample of Shandong dialect:
Even though there would still be many other delicious Shandong dishes, this article has to come to an end. For a special treat for you to try at home, we have a quick and easy recipe for you: Caramelised Sweet Potato, or 拔丝地瓜! This dish can also be made with apple or yam. Its name literally means “pulling strings sweet potato” because the caramel will form long strings.
For one portion you will need:
- Sweet Potato (around 300g)
- Sugar (90gr)
- Oil to fry the sweet potato
First, cut the sweet potato into generous pieces. Then heat up the oil and fry them until they are slightly golden on the outside. Then remove the sweet potato and only leave a little bit of oil in the pan. Then add sugar and keep stirring the oil and the sugar until you start to see a lot of bubbles. Then add the sweet potato, give it all a good stir and then serve it on a plate. This dish should be eaten right away so that the caramel is still sticky and you can pull long strings from it.
If you want to watch how Caramelised Sweet Potato is made, then check out this video: