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Showing off the soft and subtle tastes of China’s Huaiyang region : Master Chef Qi Zhihai brings unfamiliar dishes, tastes to Seoul

Dec 20,2017
A chance to broaden your knowledge of Chinese food beyond dim sum and Beijing style duck has arrived in Korea.

While three out of the four major culinary regions of China - Guangdong, Shandong, and Sichuan - are relatively well-known in Korea, food from the Jiangsu region has been slow to catch on with local diners simply because it is not widely available.

To expose locals to the diversity of Chinese cuisine, Master Chef Qi Zhihai of the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel in Singapore is in town until Friday, cooking at Millennium Seoul Hilton’s restaurant Taipan on Mt. Namsan in central Seoul. Qi specializes in cooking dishes that originate from Huaiyang, Jiangsu, an east coast province of China, just north of Shanghai.

The reason why the cuisine that chef Qi makes has been difficult to find in Korea is simple. It takes a lot of time and effort to prep Huaiyang-style dishes, which don’t include much salt or sauce, said the chef during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. The cuisine requires cooks to use their hands to soften up the meat by constantly beating it rather than having a machine make cuts that take away from the original texture.

“The meticulous [use of] knives and the minimal use of salt in order to highlight the original taste and smell each ingredient has is what Huaiyang cuisine is all about,” said Qi.

“While many other cuisines developed in China use fire to capture the taste of heat, this particular cuisine cooks its ingredients with low heat over a long period of time.

One dish that cannot be missed when talking about Huaiyang cuisine is a pork soup called Lion Head. It is made with meat that is about 70 percent fat, so that texture becomes soft when steamed for hours. The meat is rolled into round-shaped balls and is usually served with red crab roe in the center. This shape and color earned the dish the nickname Lion Head, as it looks like a mask used when performing a lion dance. The dish is also known to have been enjoyed by Chinese emperors in many different dynasties.

“While many Chinese chefs are aware of the cuisine and its dishes and used to eat it when they were younger, the particular style has been much forgotten in the modern day as it takes time to get it right,” said Qi.

“It is difficult to say that this particular cuisine represents Chinese cuisine as a whole, but since the style has not been widely promoted to the world outside of China, I want to take this chance to show that these kinds of Chinese dishes exist and how comforting this dish can be.”

Another popular dish from the region is stir-fried rice, made with meat from pork legs. The semi-dried pork meat has to be included for it to be considered stir-fried rice from the area. The other ingredients that go into the dish, such as eggs and other vegetables, are the same as in stir-fried dishes found elsewhere in China.

The individual dishes of Huiyang cuisine are available from 14,000 won ($12.93). For more information, call (02) 317-3237.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]