kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
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Description follows.

[Image: A map of China with Fujian province shown in red. This is a public-domain image from Wikimedia Commons, originally created by Joowwww.]

Here in the UK, probably the most well-known Chinese cuisines are Cantonese, Sichuan, and more recently Hunan. However, these are only three of the cuisines included in the Eight Schools classification of Chinese food (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang).

A little-known fact I recently learned from the ever-informative [identity profile] sung is that many of the kitchen staff at Chinese restaurants in the UK originally come from Fujian, a province which lies on the southeast coast of China, across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan itself. The peculiar thing is that despite this, restaurants offering Fujianese food can be quite hard to find here. I only know of two in London — New Aroma on Gerrard Street and Fu Zhou on Lisle Street — and both of them have their Fujian dishes hidden away on Chinese-only menus.

Fujian borders on Guangdong, the home of Cantonese cuisine, and hence the food bears some resemblance, though it is by no means identical. The province's location on the coast has a strong influence on its cuisine; clams, oysters, jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and other seafood are commonly used, as is nori (a seaweed more often associated with Japanese cuisine).

Fujian cuisine often uses fish and seafood in combination with meat, perhaps most famously in the form of Fujianese fish balls (魚丸/yú wán); springy, chewy spheres of minced fish stuffed with pork mince and served in soup (photo; not mine). Another example is oyster omelette (蠔煎/háo jiān), which often includes a little pork mince for extra flavour.

An additional effect of location is the adoption of ingredients from other coastal areas outside China. One example of this is the sweet potato, which according to Jacqueline M Newman's Cooking From China's Fujian Province was originally imported from the Philippines during a famine in the province around 400 years ago. Sweet potatoes are used in Fujian cuisine both in their original form, for example as sweet potato balls (蕃薯丸/fān shǔ wán) stuffed with pork and nori (photo), and in the form of sweet potato starch.

However, by no means all the ingredients associated with Fujian cuisine are related to the sea. Lychee (litchi) fruits are used in both fish and meat dishes, and give their name to one of the province's characteristic meat dishes, lychee pork (荔枝肉/lì zhī ròu; photo). The pork in this is cut in such a way as to curl up and resemble lychee fruit after cooking; some versions include actual lychees as well, while others don't.

Another unusual ingredient is red wine lees. Fujian red wine is made from glutinous rice and red yeast rice, the latter getting its colour from being cultured with a reddish mould, Monascus purpureus. After fermentation is complete, the rice residue is removed and the wine is bottled. This residue, known as lees, is not discarded, but saved and used in dishes such as eel in red wine lees (photo). For more info on how this wine is made, see posts by Going With My Gut and Greg & Nee.

Like most Chinese cuisines, Fujian cuisine includes various dumplings. Perhaps the most intriguing of these are the dumplings known in Chinese as 燕丸 (yàn wán), literally "swallow balls" ("swallow" as in the bird)[see footnote] These are wonton-style dumplings with a minced pork filling — hardly unusual so far, but the interesting thing about them is the wrappers, which are made from pounded pork along with some kind of starch. Some sources say that the starch component is tapioca flour and glutinous rice, while others have it down as sweet potato flour, and others still say that it's yam. They're usually served in a light soup (photo).

Finally, no discussion of Fujian food would be complete without a mention of the dish known as "Buddha jumps over the wall" (佛跳牆/fó tiào qiáng). This is essentially a casserole of many delicious ingredients, which is said to smell so tantalising that it would tempt any Buddhist monk to set their vegetarianism aside and climb out over the wall of the monastery for a taste. I've never had it, partly because it's quite expensive. At New Aroma it costs £32.50, while Kai, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair, currently prices its version at £108 and notes that five days' notice is required; the ingredients listed on the menu (PDF) include abalone, dried scallops, sea cucumber, corn-fed chicken, and gold.

For more photos of Fujian food, see my Flickr photoset, and for further reading on Fujian cuisine see encyclopedia.com or Wikipedia.

Footnote: [0] 燕丸 may also be called 燕皮 (yàn pí), though some sources say that 燕皮 refers only to the meat paste wrapper. They may also be called 扁肉 (biǎn ròu), though I'm really not sure about this one — it could be something different.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

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