In general, Jiangsu cuisine’s texture is characterized as soft, but not to the point of being mushy. For example, meat may feel quite delicate, but would not fall from the bone.
As the style is typically found near the sea, fish is a dominant ingredient. Other characteristics include a strict selection of ingredients, according to season, and an emphasis on the matching color and shape of each dish. Soup can be added to improve flavors.
Sometimes shortened to Su, one of the major styles in Jiangsu cooking is Huaiyang cuisine. Although it is one of several sub-regional branches within Jiangsu, it is widely seen in Chinese culinary circles as the most popular and prestigious style in the cuisine. In fact, it is even considered to be among one of the four most influential regional schools (四大菜系) that dominate the culinary heritage of China.
The Emperor, who happened to be passing through, stopped to dine with the beggar and declared the meal so delicious that it was added to the Imperial Court menu.
Other styles relating to different areas are most notably from Nanjing, where dishes emphasize an even taste and matching color and usually employ river fish, shrimp and duck. Contrastingly, Suzhou’s focus is placed on the selection of materials. It has a stronger taste than that of Nanjing and a tendency to be sweeter, as well.
Then, there is Wuxi. Its proximity to Lake Tai brings a wide variety of freshwater produce, such as the “Three Whites”—white bait (银鱼; yín yú), white fish (白鱼; bái yú) and white shrimp (白虾; bái xiā). In Wuxi, cooking is characterized by the addition of sugar and soy sauce to many savory dishes, often in the form of red braising (红烧; hóngshāo). This results in a fragrant, caramelized flavor.
The dish that offers the most intriguing legend has to be Beggar’s Chicken. During the Qing dynasty, a hungry beggar stole a chicken from a rural farm. The farmer caught wind of the crime and chased the beggar down to a river. To hide his loot, the beggar buried the chicken in mud.
Later that evening, the beggar returned, lit twigs on fire and set the mud-soaked chicken atop the flame. The result? A tight, clay crust formed over the chicken. When cracked open, the feathers fell right off to reveal aromatic, tender meat. The Emperor, who happened to be passing through, stopped to dine with the beggar and declared the meal so delicious that it was added to the Imperial Court menu. Rather than keeping his new-found creation a secret, the beggar rose out of poverty by selling Beggar’s Chicken to local villagers.
Today, this dish is regarded as a fixture of Chinese haute cuisine and is now often wrapped in lotus leaves for baking. To keep tradition, some recipes do call for covering the lotus-wrapped chicken in clay or a flour based dough to ensure the sealing of the juices. Some still even cook this dish outside with hot coals and cover the lotus-wrapped chicken with clay or mud. Although originally from Jiangsu, the dish has gained popularity in Zhejiang and is considered by some as part of Hangzhou cuisine.
银鱼炒蛋 / yínyú chǎodàn / Whitebait omelette
无锡小笼包 / Wúxī xiǎolóngbāo / Wuxi dumplings
鲫鱼汤 / jìyútāng / Crucian carp soup
Where to find it
Jiangsu Renjia 江苏人家
Phone: 2241 3865
Address: No.5, Yinfeng Rd, Nancheng
Zui Huaiyang 醉淮扬苏菜馆
Phone: 2339 7620
Address: South gate of Hongcheng International Hardware Wholesale Center, Hong’er Rd, Nancheng (Metro Line 2, Hadi stop Exit B)
Din Fung Private Home Cuisine 鼎丰私房菜
Phone: 8229 6098
Address: No. 18, Lianhu Rd., Puxin Village, Shipai (beside Police Station)