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A bite of Shandong: Foreigners experience the cookery and culture of Shandong cuisine

2021/6/21 15:38:25

Recently, seven international friends, who come from Thailand, Nigeria, Uganda and Yemen, together with “Touch Shandong” column, visited Mizhiyuan Restaurant in Jinan, to have a taste of authentic local dishes, and learn the cookery and culture of Shandong cuisine, accompanied by Li Qinhan, young reporter of China Shandong Website and student of High School Attached To Shandong Normal University.

Located on the southwest side of five Dragon Pool Park in Jinan, Mizhiyuan Restaurant is in an antique courtyard by Guandi Temple and Mizhi Spring, with the atmosphere of “households by the spring” in old Jinan city. Yan Hetian, senior catering professional manager, senior technician, and national judge of Chinese food, welcomed the international guests and introduced to them the history and characteristics of Shandong cuisine. According to Yan, Shandong cuisine is the first of the four (or eight) traditional Chinese cuisines, originating in the Spring and Autumn Period over 2000 years ago. It is the cuisine with the longest history, the richest techniques and skills, and the most emphasis on the cook’s training. It is a representative of Northern Chinese cuisines and had profound influence on Imperial cuisine greatly in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Representative dishes include sweet and sour carp, braised intestines in brown sauce, cattail milk soup, etc.

Today’s main dish is sweet and sour carp, a specialty dish of Jinan style of Shandong cuisine, using the carp produced in Yellow River as the main material. The chef of Mizhiyuan Restaurant performed knife skills in the preparation of the carp for the guests, cutting slits evenly on the belly and back of the fish so that it can be fried in paste and sugar and vinegar sauce. As Yan explained the cookery of the dish, the chef completed the cutting with neat skills, greatly amazing the international guests.

Under the hand-by-hand guidance of Yan, international friends tried to cut potatoes into shreds. Yan told them that influenced by the Confucian culture of eating etiquette, Shandong cuisine pursues the best taste made from the most ordinary ingredients and the most exquisite skills. Cutting potatoes into shreds is the most basic training in knife skills in Shandong cuisine cookery, requiring repeated, standardized practice, thus cultivating not only skills, but also patience and innate tranquility. “I’ve never cut vegetables so thinly, and its’s the first time I have used this kind of kitchen knife. It’s really a new experience to me”, said Munguni Edwin from Uganda.

Lunch time came soon, and everyone was seated around the stone table. Well known dishes in Shandong cuisine, such as cattail milk soup, stir-fried shredded pork loin, spring water tofu, meatballs boiled in light soup, were served on table. Yan introduced the ingredients, cooking methods and cultural allusions of the dishes as the guests tried them. “I’m so happy to have a taste of so many authentic Shandong dishes today”, said Nnalue Rapheal Chukwuebuka from Nigeria.

The international guests learned that taste of Shandong cuisine is inseparable from the natural and cultural environment of Shandong province. Thanks to the mild climate, diverse landforms and rich agricultural products in the downstream region of Yellow River, Shandong cuisine has a wide selection of materials and ingredients and thus seeks to preserve and highlight their original flavors. Also, as Shandong is the birthplace of Confucian culture, influenced by the Confucian value of moderation, Shandong cuisine emphasizes the harmony of the “five flavors”, namely sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty, making the dishes taste delicious in a mild and neutral way, without making any one particular taste too prominent.

“Stir-fried shredded potato is a classic dish in Shandong cuisine. Only when the shreds are cut carefully by hand, can the deliciousness of potatoes be best preserved”, as Yan explained, the dish was ready. Everyone could not wait to taste their “fruit of labor”. “We often eat stir-fired shredded potato in China, but this dish is extraordinarily delicious. The cookery of authentic Shandong cuisine is really amazing”, said Raheem Al-Hajj and Aziz Al-Hajj from Yemen.

“In the Shandong dish of sweet and sour carp, the head and tail of the carp were high up, meaning ‘Carp jumps over the Dragon Gate (to transform into a dragon)’ as it goes in Chinese mythology, and thus conveying Chinese people’s best wishes for success”, said Yan, as the main dish was served on table. The palatable sweet and sour sauce made with sugar and vinegar is the representative of the harmony of tastes in Shandong cuisine. “The fish tastes sweet but not greasy. It’s so delicious!” said Udeogu Loveth Chinenye from Nigeria. “I will try do make this dish when I go home”, said Wangdee Sasikan from Thailand.

When giving an interview to Li Qinhan, young reporter of China Shandong Website, the international friends spoke of this experiential activity as a very rewarding one as they had not only tasted the authentic Shandong cuisine, but also learned much knowledge. “The culture of Shandong is embodied in Shandong cuisine in all respects”, said Ugwu Perpetual from Nigeria.

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