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An Introduction to Shandong Style Chinese Cuisine

As far back as 3,000 years ago, and as early as the Spring and Autumn periods, Shandong was part of the territories of Qi and Lu. Both of the states were extremely well developed in both the cultural and economic senses. The area is ideally situated with close proximity to fertile plains, mountains and the sea, making for easy access to the sea for fish, sea salt and other sea foods, and the plains provided an abundance of grains.

Shandong cuisine was created during the Yuan Dynasty and gradually spread into north China to Beijing, and to northeast China to Tian jin and ultimately to the palace where it became an important influence on the imperial cuisine.

Shandong cuisine consists of dishes that are native to the Jinan area and to the eastern Shandong area. Jinan cuisine is known for its soups, stir frying, quick frying, deep fat frying and for its stews. The typical raw ingredients of the cuisine are river fish, pork and vegetables. Because of the proximity to the sea, the main condiments used are sea salt, soy sauce, and salt fermented soybeans.

People of the Shandong area are particularly fond of using onions in their cooking. They even use them as a seasoning. In many dishes, the onions are deep fat fried before they are added to the dishes they are to flavor. They believe that by frying the onions before adding them to a dish, whether it be quick fried, deep fat fried, stir fried or stewed, will make the dish absorb more of the onion flavor.

Some of the common dishes that include onions are:

*Braised sea cucumber with onions

*Cartilage stewed with onions

*Meat stewed with onions

*Meat roasted and served with onions.

Among the most typical dishes of the Jinan area are:

*Sea cucumber with mat balls

*Braised shark’s fin with shredded chicken

*Sea cucumber, mushroom and bamboo shoots

*Clam in egg white

*Fried oysters.

The use of shark’s fin in Chinese cuisine has been a subject of much debate because of the barbaric practice of removing the fins. Shark fin isn’t a staple in any type of Chinese cooking, and it is usually something that is only affordable for wealthy people. The fins are sometimes bleached or soaked in hydrogen peroxide to whiten them and make them look more appealing.

Sea cucumber gets its name only because it is shaped like a cucumber. It isn’t a vegetable, however. It is a distant relative of the sea urchin and star fish, and it is a gelatinous creature whose other unusual characteristic is the tentacles that surround its mouth. It uses the tentacles to catch its food.

The process of preparing sea cucumber for cooking or consumption is quite involved. As with any sea creature, one must remove the inner organs and guts. Then it has to be washed and boiled several times. The gelatinous consistency may also function as a thickener of sauces in braised or stewed dishes. Sea cucumber is also widely used in Chinese medicine.

An unusual component of Shandong cuisine is the presence of foods that are made from wheat flour, including steamed or baked buns, pancakes, crisp cakes, and big cakes that are stuffed with minced meats.