Perfectly placed between the mountains and the sea, Fujian is a rich, sub-tropical agricultural area, famous for its many linguistically rich and diasporic population. The influence of the Fujian people has migrated all over the world, and their impact on world cuisine has been significant.
Not bad for a proportionately 'small' province, with only 39 million people residing in the entire area. In comparison, the city of Beijing alone has a population of 21 million, and Guandong, China's most populous province, has over 104 million people.
What they lack in numbers, the Fujianese make up for in hard work, patience and invention. In fact, three of their most famous inventions - tea, ketchup and soy sauce - have long been staples across many cultures.
The influence of the Fujian people has migrated all over the world, and their impact on world cuisine has been significant.
Oolong, long time
Despite the copious amounts of tea consumed across China, Japan and surrounds, it's surprising how many people believe that the British invented tea. While it's true that the Brits have been knocking back tea for a good 350+ years, the story of tea actually begins in China as far back as 2737 BC.
Legend has it that the Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in the garden when leaves from the decorative tea tree blew into his soon-to-be-cuppa. The Emperor must have been particularly thirsty, for he drank on and found he enjoyed the flavour of this strange tea leaves drink. So much so, he researched the tree's properties and soon discovered the medicinal qualities of tea.
Legend has it that the Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in the garden when leaves from the decorative tea tree blew into his soon-to-be-cuppa.
The birth of Lapsang Souchong
Whether the legend is true or not, tea grew in popularity and black tea (which the Chinese call hong cha, or red tea) began being produced in Fujian during the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Wuyi Mountain in Fujian first produced Lapsang Souchong in around 1590. Lapsang for the mountainous area the tea came from, Souchong after the small leafed tea trees grown in the region. The production techniques for black, white and scented teas were all invented in Fujian.
A Fujian tea farmer callled Oolong, a distracting deer hunt and a forgotten batch of green tea that partly oxidised overnight.
Today, Fujian is also famous for its rich oolong varieties. Oolong is a slightly-oxidised tea that sits somewhere between green and black varieties for flavour. It's a relatively new tea, having first been produced in Fujian during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Of course, there is a legend attached to it: this time involving a Fujian tea farmer called Oolong, a distracting deer hunt and a forgotten batch of green tea that partly oxidised overnight.
Find the recipe here.
Soy, soy good
It's possible that only soy sauce and ketchup could rival tea for being the most consumed food in the world. (Or possibly Coca Cola, but let's stick to actual food, not made-up food.) Soy sauce has long been an essential ingredient in most Asian cuisines.
Surprisingly little is known about the ancient history of soy sauce, but early versions of the condiment, known as jiang, are widely believed to have originated somewhere in the Fujian area around 300 BC. Remarkably, the ancient method of soy sauce production is still being used today in places like the Gulong Soy Sauce Cultural Park.
Only soy sauce and ketchup could rival tea for being the most consumed food in the world. (Or possibly Coca Cola, but let's stick to actual food, not made-up food.)
Gulong allegedly set the world record for a number of traditional soy jars in its drying yard (55,559, which is a huge number of jars, but who knew there would be a world record for such a thing?). Gulgong uses a traditional brewing method that has persisted in Fujian for thousands of years.
Steamed soybeans are coated with wheat flour and left to culture for four days. The beans are then transferred to the jars, topped up with salt water and left to ferment outside in the sun for years to produce a rich, umami (xian-wei in Chinese) flavour.
"It's a long process, but it results in a complex sauce, completely different to sauces produced by modern, factory-accelerated short cuts," says Adam Liaw on Destination Flavour China. "It's so fragrant, and so savoury, without being overpoweringly salty."
If soy sauce has changed with modern methods, then ketchup is unrecognisable. Its origins are in the Hokkien word, kê-tsiap. Now, kê-tsiap is a dark, fermented fish sauce, but it's likely that the British encountered the condiment sometime in the late 17th century (most likely via the Fujian Chinese who were then in Indonesia). They returned home and tried to replicate the sauce, using anything from fermented mushrooms to walnuts to oysters.
Ketchup was used in this strange form for decades. On The Language of Food, Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky cites it as a favourite of Jane Austen's family. The recipe kept by Austen's best friend Martha Lloyd has a long list of ingredients, including "cloves, mace, sliced ginger, sliced nutmeg, Jamaica peppercorns, little horse radish with a few shallots."
The recipe kept by Austen's best friend Martha Lloyd has a long list of ingredients, including "cloves, mace [and] sliced ginger..."
Notably missing was the tomato. Much like the original Fujian kê-tsiap, Austen's ketchup knew nothing of the red love apple. In fact, it wasn't until sometime around the early 1900s that ketchup, as the world now knows it, was formulated. Tomatoes, vinegar and sugar took a staring role and, in the process, obliterated every trace of kê-tsiap, and with it, ketchup's mighty Fujian ancestry.
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The shape of these giant meatballs is supposed to resemble a lion’s head and the green vegetables around it, the mane. Destination Flavour China
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