My desire to eat my way around China, exploring its Eight Great Cuisines, began several years ago during a press trip to Shandong Province. Starting in the provincial capital of Jinan, we worked our ways to the coastal city of Qingdao, making several stops along the way. Every noon and evening, we would be hosted by local officials, and they were all eager to show off their towns’ specialties. I’ve been on many such junkets over the years, but I haven’t always enjoyed the food as much as I did on that trip.
It was during a banquet in the city of Zibo – the legendary birthplace of soccer – that I commented to the mayor, who was sitting next to me, that the roast duck there was much better than the the Peking duck I had sampled in Beijing a few weeks earlier. I added that overall I found the food in Shandong among the best in China – and very suitable to Western tastes.
The mayor beamed and explained that Shandong Province was home to one of the country’s “Eight Great Cuisines”. That was first time I ever heard the term. He then explained to me the origins of Peking duck.
“Peking duck originates in Shandong,” the mayor said. “Many chefs from Shandong went to Beijing and opened restaurants serving roast duck. Gradually it came to be known Peking duck.” And now it is generally recognized as China’s signature dish.
As the birthplace of some of China’s most famous ancient scholars – Confucius is the province’s best known native son – Shandong is also home to one of the country’s most highly regarded cuisines. Known in Mandarin as Lu Cai (鲁菜), Shandong cuisine is lighter, crisper, tenderer, and not as oily as some of the other styles of Chinese cookery. Many of the dishes generally associated with Beijing cuisine actually have their origins in Shandong Province.
“Lu Cuisine is fresh, delicate, and clean-tasting, often featuring seafood,” says Ng Wing-kun, executive Chinese chef at the Futian Shangri-La, Shenzhen, China. “Special attention is focused on soups, which are categorized into two types: clear broths and milky broths.”
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: Shang Palace in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, serves regional Chinese dishes.