Dalian Food

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Jul 05, 2008

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Food of Dalian  
Except for the white rice and noodles, the food in Dalian would not be familiar in a Chinese restaurant in the US.  Dalian food is a combination of Manchurian (Lu), Korean , Japanese, and Russian.  The primary ingredients are vegetables and seafood, some meat and poultry,  tofu (called doufu here) always cooked in combination with sauce for a formal meal.  The most popular vegetables are onions and cabbage (or lettuce - you can't tell the difference after it's treated with the sauce).  Carrots, potatoes, and yams are also available as is corn-on-the-cob.  You can find tomatoes and beans in the markets, but they don't show up much on the Dalian plate.   
The Koreans have also made an industry out of kabobs, which are very popular street food.  Octopus, squid, chicken heads, feet and all other parts; pork balls (not that kind!), snouts, intestines; sea bass, even goldfish are available on many street corners, cooked off the back of bicycles or on open grilles over wood and charcoal.  It's not that uncommon to see a barbecue taking place in a street pothole.  Several streets have become outdoor cafes where the sidewalks are lined with the charcoal grilles, tables and tripod seats about 8" off the ground.  Smoke and grease everywhere.  The smell of fried octopus is something awful - like the dumpster in the alley behind the Peacock the morning after Happy Hour.
On pleasant evenings, these streets are packed cheek-to-cheek with diners.  The chefs prepare tables full of kabobs of every kind plus vegetables and some wrapped combinations.  Patrons take a plate and load up whatever they want cooked, hand it to the chef, drink beer while they wait a few minutes for the grille, then squat on the sidewalk and eat dinner.  It costs less than $2.00, including the beer.
Squid and Octopus are snack foods in Dalian, cooked on the street and eaten on a stick.  From one of the guide books:   "If you do not like eating seafood, you can get roasted food on the street.  In the square in front of the train station, there is a lot of roasting, the taste is good.  There is roast squid, a characteristic Dalian treat cooked on an iron grille.  But most famous in the whole country, the barbecues usually open at midnight, a good place for a party."
Dalian's pride is the restaurant seafood.  The City has a reputation throughout SE Asia as a food paradise.  "Oh, you're living in Dalian - beautiful city, are you gaining weight?"
The Bohai Bay to the West and Yellow sea to the East surround Dalian on 3 sides and the aquatic activity has apparently not been affected by the nuclear submarine facility off shore.  Chinese menus are notoriously long, but in Dalian, with the seafood choices, you often get a menu selection - kind of a menu menu.  Many restaurants don't even bother giving out menus since you can select your dinner as part of the evening's entertainment.   A typical dinner might last 3 hours.  You are seated quickly, then have drinks and snacks.  Then the host comes by and invites you to select dinner.  In the larger restaurants that means a wall full of display meat and vegetable dishes, uncooked, and an aquarium worth of live fish, eel, shellfish, frog, and then the non-vertebrae - sea worms and sea cucumbers which I will get to in a minute.  You pick your pet, ... er, I mean, dinner, then go back for more snacks.  That's usually when they serve you the first volley of slime covered whatever.  For me, it wasn't the airport or the language or the people or the buildings, it was this dining moment that shouted out "YOU'RE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY!" 
Of the seafood array, Dalian has elevated 8 categories of sea creatures to honor status, called "The eight treasures of the sea" or "The eighth sea estimate highly" or  "eight value highly of sea", depending on whose menu you are reading.  The Qing Dynasty had the legion of 8 banners further North.  I think it's kind of the same club. 
The 8 treasures are:  Abalone (the famous shell of sea ear, can be used as medicine), one dish known as "chicken's gruel abalone".  Scallop.  Prawn  (shrimp meat in spring is the fattest).  Clam.  Haihong (mussel), Small Clam, Oyster of the sea.  Every restaurant has their house special of these selections. 
But that's just a start.  Other selections often include jellyfish, Shark's fin, Bake the whole shrimp, Eggplant juice butterfish, colored snow flake scallop,  Steamed Kaji's fish, Fresh shellfish of all kinds, purple sea urchin,  and orange prawn.   
Crab is also popular with dishes such as "dance hammer of the whole crab", "sea crab of ginger juice", "lotus crab slice" "the fragile skin bombs the crab pincers".  One menu advised:  Don't eat the tided crabs. Take the chronic crab that lose flavour to eat are easy to be poisoned even more. Stored for a long time, can flood and steep crab with the salt solution to freeze.
Each of these has a tradition of preparation, but they all come out looking about the same to me, with a heavy sauce that looks just like what the Ghostbusters tried to avoid.  Here's one recipe for the sauce:
Braise the photograph of the whole family of seafood in soy sauce
Main material whether shark's fin, soaked cucumber , net shrimp meat , familiar chicken , net fish , ink send the tendons of beef , mutton or pork , abalone. Batching bamboo shoots, white fungus familiar pig tongue, rape heart. The condiment is well done lard , soy sauce , gourmet powder, continue the wine , white sugar , egg white , chicken oil. Cut the sea cucumber to slice; then cut a big thin slice the abalone; The bamboo shoots are cut the algae slice; The fish maw is cut slice; Chicken cuts one; If dried mushroom have can turn on with the razor blading heavy; The rape heart broke four connected with the dish stem slightly; Pig tongue cuts one; The white fungus is easy to clean to pluck ; Shrimp's meat removes the sand line, each one becomes three slices; Fish slice in flakes. Put bowl into shrimp chips , sliced fish, add refined salt , continue wine , egg white , starch, thick liquid to even. The round-bottomed frying pan is put on the very hot oven, add into the boiling water, besides chicken, shrimp chips, sliced fish, pig's tongue, spoon is it is it pull out to iron to float other various kinds of raw materials. The round-bottomed frying pan is cleaned and boiled hotly, put the wide oil, it is familiar to burn to 30%, slip and turn on shrimp chips , spoon under the sliced fish gently , pull out. Keep on file the oil in the spoon, put the spring onions , ginger and fry the pan at the end , add into fresh soup and other various kinds of raw materials, wait to be boiled, put and continue the wine , white sugar , gourmet powder , refined salt , burn a little , stir gently with the hand spoon, adjusting the good taste, the water and starch juice thicken soup , put into the chicken oil, the spoon appears to pack the plate into.

The sea worm.  Look at the picture and you will understand right away that this is not a food you eat without remembering that eunuchs served the emperor less than 100 years ago.  It's every man's nightmare, I can't believe they eat them.  They fry them, serve them whole, chop 'em up, cut them in strips, or rounds, sometimes mix them with greens.  They don't look any more enticing after they are cooked, still recognizable as "sea worm, the one eyed food".
And of all the seafood, the top prize winner is the Sea cucumber.  From one website: Famous and precious marine product. The northern stichopus japonicus' quality is the best, particularly the" five assassinate", Which produced in Changhai county of Dalian is known as "king of trepang ".  It is very high nutritive value, classified as " the first of sea eight value highly ".   Which I guess makes 9. 

Many websites like this one market all varieties of sea cucumber:

It's a slug with warts.  I ate one.  It had the consistency of coagulated lard, only slicker, and with a chewy core.  There was no flavor except for the coating material which could have lubricated any part on an earth mover.
Sea Cucumber is a delicacy like no other in Dalian.  They have sea cucumber stores, like the one pictured that has a 6' concrete replica of the animal on its sidewalk.  Like the Statue of Liberty.  They sell boxed sets from counters in shopping malls, major groceries and mail order.  You can order them frozen, dried or fresh, packed in ice, and they will guarantee delivery within 48 hours to any address on earth. 
One of the many recipes for Sea cucumber, including it's beneficial qualities:
Main material is sea cucumber which soaked, condiment Shaoxing wine, bad smell plain, white sugar, Chinese prickly ash water, soy sauce, starch, sesame oil, the end such as ginger. Cut the cucumber to be in half, accuse of being net to iron with boiling water to cut from it steeping. scallion to be cut to 6 sections. Round-bottomed frying pan put oil, cook hot , put spring onions section stir-fry before stewing yellowish one cook with the Shaoxing wine after frying, add proficiency spoon clear soup , plunge into the commercial sea join , Chinese prickly ash water , bad smell plain , soy sauce , white sugar , the end such as ginger, stew it for a moment slowly, thicken soup with the starch , drip the sesame oil and produce the spoon. Unless its flavour is the fresh, the nutritious, for Dalian seafood in product it is the the highest to beautiful good merchantable brand. Most important reason whether their is it is it invigorate the kidney to treat yin deficiency , strengthen organism immune efficiency to have. Different sea cucumber of kind can cure the disease to use as medicine directly, join such as stichopus japonicus , plum blossom, two grizzled Buddhist nun join , it is invigorate the kidney function of hydroncus to have; Sour jujube spoke anus is overflow blood and cure function , period of disease to control to have to join; The sea cucumber of black milk is the irregular menstruation , produce the good medicine stimulating milk secretion. The black sea cucumber treats the traumatism and bleeding, stops the pain, cooking the sea cucumber can cure the pulmonary tuberculosis .
I mentioned Chicken Heads and Chicken Feet above.  You can buy whole chickens, of course, but you can also buy packages of fresh or frozen chicken heads or chicken feet. 6 or 12 to a package.  No other parts, just the heads or the feet.  I was hoping that maybe it was some kind of soup stock, but you can find these cooked parts as kabobs, with sauce, mixed in with noodles or other foods and the chicken has still got his eye out for you, or the claw is recognizable as it enters and sticks in your throat.  
Speaking of chicken, it turns out that  KFC beats the tar out of McDonald's in China.  I think Mc has 400 restaurants, KFC has 1500 and expects to build another 300 this year.  That does not count their Pizza Hut outlets which they are able to service with the same distribution facilities, so they are often within the same block.
The major groceries are impressive.  You can get any food cheaply here except chocolate, cheese and olives, which have zero appeal to the Chinese.  They turn their noses up at fresh Parmesan cheese.  The Chinese groceries are really a lot more fun than the US.  They are staffed with people in each section who can answer questions, compare products for you, and help you pack them.  In the larger stores, sometimes half the floor space is bulk and fresh counter food.  You can point to a bowl of whatever interests you, get a sample, and tell them how much you want.  The variety ranges from ordinary, to familiar, to mystery, and there is plenty of each kind.  I saw one booth the other day that had what must have been a cow stomach neatly folded and hanging on the side.  My first reaction was "Why are they selling wool blankets in the grocery store."? 
The packaged products include all the usual as well as everything mentioned above.  Groceries often include see-through hermetically sealed pouches that have eyes, snouts and tails lurking on the shelf. 
Beverages include all the regular soft drinks.  Fruit juice is not the same here, though they do have watered-downed versions of many more different types than we find in the US.  Like casaba juice, and cherry juice, but 30% real juice is advertised as a high portion.  At least they don't sugar up the water portion.  That's another distinction in China.  Very little added sugar.  
Finally, Beer.  In the 1860's when Germany and Britain were ravaging this country, Germany settled a war debt by taking over the largest Chinese brewery.  It was a travesty in itself, but it resulted in better beer for the masses and today it's hard to find anyone in China who does not appreciate that fact that their beer comes from a German heritage.  Many restaurants and hotels in Dalian have their own breweries, at least one has a German brewmaster.  Typically, they brew a batch every few days, often light and dark, and some seasonal beers.  Dalian hosts an international beer festival that they claim is the largest in China and 3rd worldwide behind Oktoberfest and whatever was second.  The canned beer has pull tabs, the kind that comes off.  I'm sure the US sold all their technology here when the USDA banned the old style.  China doesn't care, just pour the beer. 
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Jane on

Thanks for the recipe!!! Love it. Fresh or frozen local abalone is cheaper but will never give the same taste, flavor and texture as canned abalone. I love the flavor and taste of canned abalone and one day I want to eat abalone like 'abalone kings' do: braised in sauce and served whole, like a steak, washed down with a good white wine. Cut with a knife and fork of course. Meantime, it's still cheaper to slice abalone thinly and share with the family. I love this dish. It's such a special treat

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