Introduction to Huai Yang Cuisine
Weeks ago, I was introduced to Huai Yang cuisine by the American Chinese Culinary Federation (ACCF). The organization’s President, Gary Zhu, invited one of China’s most prominent chef and curator of the Huai Yang Heritage Museum, Gao Daiming, to Washington D.C. region. Chef Gao was invited to teach aspiring young American culinary students and community leaders about Huai Yang cuisine.
Despite playing a very significant role in Chinese culinary heritage, the term “Huai Yang cuisine” is quite unknown outside China, even though many have had dishes from Huai Yang cuisine (Peking Duck, Potstickers, Congee with Pork and Century Egg, YangZhou Fried Rice ). Most people in the US or overseas are familiar with Cantonese and Sichuan cooking because most the Chinese immigrants came from the provinces of Canton and Sichuan. Hence, these immigrants brought with them the food from their hometown and popularized these cooking styles through overseas restaurants. The local Chinese government hopes to increase awareness of Huai Yang cuisine and so they partnered with ACCF to introduce it to Americans.
To understand Huai Yang cuisine, it is helpful to know the basics. There are fundamentally Four Great Traditions of Chinese Cooking Style and Eight Great Chinese Regional Cuisines that dominates the culinary heritage of China. However, these two are different. One refers to the cooking style while the other refers to the dishes themselves. Cooking styles are categorized by the differences in techniques adopted by north, south, east and west part of the country. I want to point out this difference because “cooking style” has often been translated as “cuisine”, and can be a little confusing.
Huai Yang cuisine or cooking style is one of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese Cooking Style. The other three are Cantonese, Sichuan and Shandong cooking styles. Huai Yang cooking style is s derived from the native cooking styles of the region surrounding the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers, and centered on the cities of Huai’ an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province. The “Huai” in Huai Yang refers to the Huai’an city and the “Yang” refers to Yangzhou city of Jiangsu Province. It is also has some influence of cooking from Beijing, Shanghai and Anhui.
To understand a little more about this cooking tradition, I dug a little more to understand why it is so prominent in Chinese heritage. Huai Yang cuisine was well known since about 1,000 years ago but its popularity reached peak during the Qing dynasty periods (1664 – 1912) under the reigns of emperor Kang Xi and Qian long. The two emperors became familiar with this cuisine stayed in Huai’an and Yang Zhou city frequely during their journeys to the south. It was during Qian long’s reign that Huai Yang cooking was listed as one of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese Cooking Styles.
During the banquet celebration of the founding of new China in 1949, Huai Yang cuisine was also selected to be served at this prestigious and historical event. Why? Because the Chinese found that food prepared in Huai Yang cuisine will be much more enjoyable when catering to a huge number of guests coming from all parts of China and of the world. The dishes, as Chef Gao Daiming described, “… not too sweet, not too oily, not too spicy, not too bitter…”
Here’s an interesting story that Chef Gao shared about this historical banquet. Originally, the first dish to be served was the famous “Fried White Shrimp” and to prepare this, shrimp must be cooked alive. Unfortunately, when the shrimps were delivered they weren’t alive. In a pinch, they picked an ingredient that was abundant in the local region – eel and made Ruandou Eel 软兜长鱼 the first dish served at this historic banquet.