Digging into wild and hearty Anhui cuisine aka “Mountain Peasant Food”
- On December 22, 2017
- By Cez Krol
- In Food and Drinks
You wouldn’t expect a not-so-wealthy, minimally-publicized, rural region to have some of the most exotic, delicious cuisine in all of China, but after coming upon the food crafted by the Anhui people, we discovered just that.
Often referred to as “hearty mountain peasant food,” these dishes are known for their vast array of unique ingredients that are freshly foraged from the area’s surrounding Yellow Mountains, also known as Mount Huangshan. This land owes its legacy to the famed Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, a godly figure who reigned in 747 AD and has been credited with bringing China into its current state of civilization.
The natives’ use of newly-plucked, local produce is what health nuts all over the Western world are pushing for, and yet here, it is just de rigueur. Accustomed to living off their unique land, this thriving population has plenty of unheard of dishes that we had so much fun digging into. So, what’s a traveler to discover in exploring this cuisine?
The stand-out ingredients that make all the difference
These nutritious rarities include chukka, pangolin, stone frogs, small white shrimp, and Mati turtles. When braised, these turtles are believed to be so delicious that they have inspired poets, while the protein and calcium-rich frogs are touted for their ability to improve vision and clear the body of excess heat. Dishes containing any of these are certainly not for vegetarians, but everyone else will enjoy the unique tastes.
Including “xianggu,” a tasty, high-quality type of shiitake mushroom found on trees. Often sautéd and included in vegetarian dishes like Buddha’s Delight, they are also used, at times, medicinally for a range of purposes, mainly to lower blood cholesterol and pressure, and to ward off tumors.
Herbs & Vegetables
Wild in nature and locally picked, these plants are used for both aromatic/flavoring purposes, as well as medicinal ones. They include bayberry, tea leaves, sweet dates, and white tender bamboo shoots, which are traditionally cooked with sausage and mushrooms, producing a delectable taste when combined with the shoots.
Plus, you’re bound to encounter the less foreign and exciting, but essential ingredients that serve as the basis for many meals in Anhui. These include rice, potatoes, wheat, and pork.
Traditional cooking methods
To ensure they are ingesting the purest, high caliber food, the Anhui people incorporate many raw dishes in their diet.
When they do choose to cook, they are careful to avoid overheating their food, which negatively impacts nutrient-density. Keeping this in mind, these health-minded folk opt for simple, low-temperature cooking techniques to prepare their meals, including stewing, steaming, braising and sautéing in oil.
Across the Anhui region, dishes are traditionally topped with thick, starchy sauces and/or heavy amounts of oil, for optimal flavor. They are also known to use ham as a seasoning and sprinkle dishes with sugar to bring out fresh notes in their dishes.
Yet amongst different parts, there lie variations in the focus of the meal. In Northern & Central Anhui—river regions—dishes are predominantly centered around aquatic ingredients, while the Southern District focuses largely on wild game from the nearby mountains.
Native dishes for inspiration
If you’re someone who seems to find yourself on the hunt for new, creative recipes, you’re in for a treat. Try making these beloved Anhui dishes at home, and if you can’t find the same ingredients, simply use them as inspiration—play around by swapping out their native ingredients for what you can find at home. It may not always be authentic, but how can it be if you do it elsewhere? We definitely recommend you come and try it at its origin, here in Anhui!
Stinky Mandarin Fish
Aptly named for the odor given off by the brining and fermenting process the fresh fish undergoes before cooking, which can be accomplished by rubbing either tofu or salt on the fish’s body. After a week, the dish is then seasoned with ginger, cloves, Sichuan & black peppercorns, and cooked in oil on the stovetop.
When you can smell the flavors being released and see the fish Browning, the final step is to add soy sauce and cooking wine to the pan, allowing the fish soak up the delectable combination of the flavorful sauces.
Fat King Fish Milk Soup
This warming, nourishing meal is traditionally consumed by those under the weather or new mothers post-delivery. To replicate, fry up some ginger for thirty minutes; add chicken broth, salt, and white snow mushrooms. Wait fifteen minutes and then mix in diced tomatoes. Then boil, add sliced fish and continue to boil for two minutes. In the end, add in cooking wine and unsweetened milk; sprinkle with some sliced green onion. Top off with a splattering of sesame oil, and you’ve got a delicious, cozy dish.
This golden indulgence is a favorite appetizer to enjoy before dinner in China. Simply take wrung-out, extra-firm tofu, fry it up in some oil, add a pinch of garlic and a dash of cilantro for seasoning, and serve with a traditional sweet ‘n’ hot dipping sauce.
Share the Chinese food with your loved ones
Are you about ready to dive head first into any—let’s get real all—of these dishes? Don’t worry, us too. Trying different dishes in foreign countries not only inspires us to become braver in the kitchen but in life too. Never before did we think we’d enjoy eating a meal that contained the word “stinky” in its name, but here we are—proof that you never know what changes travel may bring to your life.
Though we delight in our own growth, what we really love above and beyond all else is that ability that food has of providing us with the medium through which we may share our travel experience with our loved ones back home. After all, not everyone’s as blessed as we are to have the freedom to travel the world. Many won’t make it Anhui, ever. But the silver lining is that everyone can gather around a table and experience an exotic culture on the other side of the world through the conduit of a delicious meal. Bon appétit!
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