• Adam serving Mapo Tofu at the Pixian Toubanjan Factory, Chengdu. #DestinationFlavour (Adam Liaw)
Adam Liaw is back to take us on another culinary journey and this time he's got China set in his sights. Watch as he tells a story like no other by uncovering one of the most influential cuisines known to humankind.
6 Nov 2018 - 12:01 AM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2019 - 9:48 PM

"No matter how many times I see it, it always takes my breath away..." Adam Liaw.

There’s a sage Chinese proverb: "Preserve the old, but know the new." As Adam Liaw embarks upon his adventure across China, this wisdom is at the forefront of his mind. Beginning in his mum’s hometown of Beijing, the capital city, he then travels through the provinces that gave birth to the eight great regional cuisines of China. And while this series is about food, travel, history and culture, it's also got an even deeper personal aspect for Adam as he returns to the island of Hainan, his father's ancestral homeland.

Episode 1 - Beijing

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 28 Nov on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“The story of Beijing food is quite an extraordinary one where the food of the Emperor’s became one with the food of the people and yet with all the capitals power influence and history it was never able to join that exclusive club that made it one of China’s eight great regional cuisines.” Adam Liaw

Adam has been to Beijing more times than he can count. His mother has lived here for decades, and during his time as a corporate lawyer, he had plenty of opportunities to visit her here. Before he visits this time around, he’s keen to uncover the capital’s food and culture. Things move at frightening speed in Beijing and as he ventures out into the streets, he can’t believe how much it's changed since he was last here. Being China’s capital, Adam first discovers its imperial cuisine and how this food still exists with some following their imperial family background, recreating food fit for an Emperor today.


Black sesame tangyuan

Zhajiangmian (fried sauce noodles)

Zhajiangmen (fried sauce noodle)

Episode 2 - Anhui Province

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 5 Dec on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

Dishes like the Stinky Fish and Hairy Tofu are known as Anhui delicacies but I think, as with so many regions in China, the true story of the cuisine isn’t in those headline dishes, it’s in the more simple food, the foraged greens from the mountain with their bitter taste or a soup of bamboo shoots and cured meat. I can easily understand why Anhui cuisine is one of China’s eight great regional foods but I think the true heart of it is in its humble origins.” Adam Liaw

The mountainous region of Anhui is stunningly beautiful and Adam can see why its ethereal landscapes have inspired poets, artists and photographers for thousands of years. Many in China refer to Anhui as a “big agricultural province”, a euphemistic term implying the region is backward, but that doesn’t preclude it from being the source of one of the eight great regional cuisines of China. Known for its use of wild game and herbs and simple methods of preparation, Adam expects a stark comparison with the elaborate cuisine he has just experienced in Beijing - and he's certainly going to get it here.


Bamboo shoots and cured ham stir-fry

Li Hongzhang’s chop suey

Episode 3 - Jiangsu Province/Zhejiang Province

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 12 Dec on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“This really is amazing I’ve heard about this dish [Wensi tofu] my entire life and I’ve never seen it been made before and the skill and training that goes into doing this are mindboggling. It’s been cut into literally thousands of individual strands.” Adam Liaw

Renowned for its affluence, Jiangsu’s extravagant cuisine is recognised in Chinese culinary circles as one of the most prestigious forms of cooking. The emphasis here is on presentation – the best ingredients are meticulously prepared using intricate knife skills. Food is art and here it’s thought to be just as important to feast the eyes before satisfying the palate and sating the appetite. Adam begins his journey in the city of Jinhua, in search of one of the region’s most cherished ingredients – ham. Here Adam is introduced to century-old methods used to make this dry-cured meat and it’s this technique that Marco Polo allegedly brought back with him to Italy – so it could be said that without Jinhua, Italy would have no prosciutto!

Over 1000 years of ham: Here's where it all began
Long before Italians were producing prosciutto and the Spanish their jamón, the Chinese were making their own dry-cured of ham in the small city of Jinhua. We take a look at the origins of this traditional Chinese ingredient, and how it made its way across the globe.


Yangzhou fried rice 

Longjing prawns

Adam at Longjing tea fields in Hangzhou.

Episode 4 - Shanghai

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 19 Dec on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

Wow that’s incredible I don’t think I’ve ever had xiaolongbao that good.” Adam Liaw

Adam takes a side trip to a city he knew all-too-well during his years working as a corporate lawyer for the Disney company: Shanghai. This global metropolis doesn’t officially fit into any of the regions Adam is visiting for the eight great regional cuisines, but given he’s in the neighbourhood, he can’t pass by without dropping in to see how the city has changed since he last visited. By Chinese standards, Shanghai is a very new city. Less than 200 years ago, this was just a small fishing village but in the modern era, Shanghai has become a vital port, bustling with traders from every corner of the globe. These traders have all left their culinary mark, and Shanghai cuisine now has a flavour all of its own. 


Shanghai-style wonton soup 

Lion's head meatballs

Adam on the streets of Shanghai diving into Lion head meatballs.

Episode 5 - Shandong Province

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 26 Dec on SBS and then on SBS On Demand 

"One of the big differences between western clientele and the Chinese at the Chinese restaurant. If you want to order like a Chinese person you’ve always got to order soup it’s an integral part of every meal.” Adam Liaw

Confucius was one of the most prolific moral and social philosophers of the pre-modern era so it’s not surprising to learn that he had a thing or two to say about food. Adam is in Qufu at the Confucius Temple and Mansion to find out more. Born in 551 BC, Confucius’ thoughts on cuisine had a profound effect on Chinese gastronomy. Protect the environment; Eat seasonally; And adhere to the proper way of preparing and serving food, by respecting the ingredients. Adam meets up with Master Peng Wenyu, a descendant of a Confucius Mansion chef and a veteran of the elaborate Confucius-style banquet cuisine. Master Peng takes Adam to try a Confucian banquet so he can see for himself the meticulous and conscientious food preparation involved and as he sits down in a private room, Adam is treated to a banquet – not as extensive as the 180-course meals enjoyed by Confucius’ heirs – but an indulgence, nonetheless. 


Cattail milk soup

Shandong roast chicken

Shandong roast chicken

Episode 6 - Yunnan Province

Aired 8pm, Wed 26 Dec on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

Yunnanese cuisine is one of my favourites in all of China because it’s got that taste of Chinese food that’s quite traditional but it also has influences from Southeast Asia as well.” Adam Liaw

Whilst the Han ethnic group makes up 92% of China's population, Yunnan holds the largest number of ethnic minority groups, with 25 here out of the 55 that are recognised. Adam is keen to explore different ethnic minorities within the province. Discounting the impact of the powerful forces within Yunnan ethnic minorities leaves out way more for Chinese cuisine than it embraces. Instead, the minority groups give the country a spectrum of unique foods that reflect the local culture, traditions, history, and ingredients and that’s what Adam is here to discover.


Tibetan yak stew

Bai-style grilled pork

Episode 7 - Sichuan Province / Hunan Province

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 2 Jan on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“Sichuan cuisine has been legendary for its kind of vibrant and exciting flavours, kind of hearty folk cooking with all this spice.” Fuchsia Dunlop

The Sichuan Province is best known in the West for its fiery cuisine, but Adam suspects there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Adam arrives at this rich crossroad and this time he’s joined by celebrated chef and author Fuchsia Dunlop who is an expert on the region. Fuchsia and Adam visit the local spice market to search for the chilli pepper, the fundamental ingredient of Sichuan cuisine, while they come across uncover the Sichuan pepper. Although it’s known as a ‘pepper’, it’s actually a citrus fruit and Adam tries it to experience its numbing flavour to understand that quintessential Ma La (numbing hot) flavour, that Sichuan cuisine is famous for. 

Fuchsia Dunlop’s top tips for Chinese home cooking, and more
We speak to writer, cook and Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop about her tips for Chinese home cooking, how she fell in love with China, and the next regional cuisine you should be looking out for.


Mapo tofu

Episode 8 - Fujian Province

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 9 Jan on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“This is why I find food exciting I know it’s just a plate of noodles but isn’t it incredible that you can go to Penang or Kuala Lumpur or Singapore or suburban Sydney and every time you eat a plate of noodles like this [Hokkien dish] it's telling a different version of a story that 200 years ago some people set out, left their homes here and went to the coast and got in a boat and pointed it to a place they’d never ever been before and in some small way went on an adventure that ended up changing the world – it’s amazing.” Adam Liaw

Adam Liaw is in Fujian – a place with a long history of migration where the movement of people left an enduring mark that manifested in its food and culture. Fujian cuisine is known for its huge variety of seafood and wild foods from the mountains. Cooks here have become known for their deft touch with seasonings, vinegar, wines and soy sauces and Adam visits Gulong Soy Sauce Factory, the largest dry yard in Asia that uses the traditional brewing method to turn 55,000 pots of soybeans into soy sauce. It's here that Adam learns about the two-year fermentation process and tastes firsthand the deliciously thick and salty sauce before using it in a local Fujian dish.


Steamed radish with dried scallop 

Hokkien noodles

What lies beneath these oversized jars is an abundance of soy sauce.

Episode 9 - Guandong Province/Hong Kong

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 16 Jan on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“When we think of Cantonese food we often think of Hong Kong but as one of the 8 great regional cuisines of China Cantonese cuisine gained its reputation long before Hong Kong was ever established – abundant seafood, tropical fruits and delicious sweets – were some of the things that gave Cantonese cuisine its kudos and prestige around China and it’s from places like here in Guangzhou in Chinas south that it started its journey to dominance around the world.” Adam Liaw

Hong Kong looms on the horizon, its glittering peaks towering over the lush foliage tumbling down the steep peaks that punctuate the city. Adam has arrived in a city where the average Hong Kong resident eats out an astonishing 23 times a month. To help him find his way around, Adam meets up with his friend, Hong Kong-based food writer Janice Leung who takes Adam to her favourite Hong Kong BBQ restaurant, the Michelin starred Yat Lok and the meat sweats are on! Over the water, Adam then heads next to Guangdong Province to explore the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine with local Shadow Yan as they explore some of the finer desserts made with buffalo milk, brought to the region by European traders in the 16th century. 


Sweet potato with white fungus soup

Liaw family XO sauce

Liaw Family's XO sauce.

Episode 10 - Hainan Island

Aired 7.30pm, Wed 23 Jan on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

“I think for a lot of migrants you have a short history at a place that you arrive in and you forget how much tradition and history you leave behind. It’s so nice to come back and experience this. It’s not remembering for me because this is the first time I’ve ever been here but to experience all of these things that have kind of trickled down into my modern day life in Australia and to see where it all comes from back here on Hainan Island.” Adam Liaw

Hainan Island is known as “Oriental Hawaii” and it enjoys the same palm-fringed golden beaches and tropical climate. Over the years, many Hainanese left the island migrating to Southeast Asia in search of a better life and history has also influenced the island's food and culture. With a multitude of dishes explored, including jiaji duck, hele crab and wenchang chicken, it’s time for the family reunion and Adams wife and kids arrive in Haikou so they can all travel to Adam's grandfather’s village together. Keen to know more about his family, Adam and his uncle Sian go for a tour of the village where they find the Liaw family hall. Here all their family history is recorded and Adam works out he is the 13th generation of 30 Liaw’s who have come over from the mainland. 

Dipping sauce and a little controversy: who knew chicken rice had such 'wow' factor
The mouth-watering low down on what is widely considered to be Singapore’s national dish, Hainanese chicken rice.


Steamed oyster with garlic, ginger and crab tomalley

Wenchang chicken

Adam's daughter Anna inspects the Wenchang chicken before it goes out to the family table.

Adam Liaw is back in his brand-new 10-part series of Destination Flavour China. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.

Destination Flavour China is sponsored by Cathay Pacific. For more information, please visit cathaypacific.com.au