While we were being chauffeured around on our whirlwind tour of Jinan; the Missus's Foodie Uncle and Aunt were hard at work in the kitchen of the Missus's Grandmother's Sister. Well practiced hands were at work, creating dishes for a family dinner, moving with a well coordinated confidence that indicated a familiarity with the kitchen and the dishes that were being created.
There were a couple of dishes that were delightfully surprising; and one that brought back great memories for the Missus.
Everything started with Tofu with Xiang Chun Ya, a light coating of sesame oil adding a layer of flavor to the herbaceous Xiang Chun.
This started a parade of dishes......
I never got the name of this green vegetable.... fried in a light and crisp batter....it was so good!
The Xiang Chun Ya deep fried with a tempura like batter was amazingly good!
There were some really great dishes appearing out of the humble kitchen......
But there were two that were remarkably memorable for us.
I seem to pick up at least one dish from almost everywhere we travel. Something that becomes a fairly regular item in our household. This was such a dish. It looks very simple, and actually is, but the flavors are wonderful.....
Yes, it is purple cabbage. But the sauce used was fabulous; sesame paste, sugar, and black vinegar, hits on the savory-sweet-sour flavor profile. But it was the addition of one surprise ingredient that got my attention....... wasabi! I remember taking my first bite, and telling the Missus, "this is great..... but I swear there's wasabi in this." Which the Missus verified. In this case the cabbage is blanched; when we've been making it at home, we just slice the cabbage a bit thinner, and serve it raw. We had this dish at a restaurant in Beijing a bit later on, but this was a better, more complex version. Now that I've done this post, I can share the recipe in the near future.
The Missus reacquainted Herself with a dish that had faded from Her memory.
These cakes are made with glutinous corn meal, studded with dried dates, and steamed. Sweet and savory, it's like a moister-sweeter wo-wo tou. The fragrance is memorable, as is the density of these cakes. It was so filling I could only manage half a cake...... but no worries, the Missus finished Hers, and then put my remaining half away with no problem. The Missus later told me that these are even better the next day, when they are sliced, fried, and covered in sugar! I can only say that these were way better than anything resembling a wo-wo tou I've ever had.
There was something I learned in our time in QingDao and Jinan, it was the strength of family. You see, I was brought up in a single parent household, and my mother never did keep in really close contact with our relatives. Over the years I have come to treasure my good friends, they are like my family, and I have been blessed to know such wonderful people. But here, in a country six thousand miles away from home, the power of family was taught to me. Distance and time are just numbers, a strong sense of family supersedes all numbers..........
While sitting in the airport in Jinan, the Missus and I lamented the biggest mistake we made on this trip.....
Which was only spending one night in Jinan. We both wished that we had planned for more time. It's a mistake we won't make next time!
After a sumptuous banquet lunch, while Her Mother and Aunts socialized and rested, one of Her Jinan Uncles took us on what could only be termed as a whirlwind tour of Jinan. We made several stops, including Spring City Square.
At the center of the huge park is Daming Lake, a natural lake formed by several springs. Jinan is often called the "City of Springs" due to the number of artesian springs in the city. The park has been expanded and renovated recently, and admission to the park is free.
There are numerous islands, pavilions, and temples, including the largest Taoist temple in Jinan.
There are also a number of gardens, which made one of the Missus's uncles exclaim, "you don't need to go to Suzhou, our gardens here are beautiful enough!"
After visiting Suzhou, I'm not quite sure I agree.... though the grounds of the park are quite scenic and beautiful.
Considering Jinan's size and population (over 6 million), I was fascinated when the Missus's Uncle pointed out the old city wall. Daming Lake is pretty much in the center of Jinan.... to think that Jinan was once this small....
On the way back to meet the family, we stopped at this shop to purchase some special Jinan Shaobing for the Missus's Mother and Aunts to take back to QingDao.
There were two types, sweet and savory..... The savory version tasted almost like Lavosh......
Along the way back, we also stopped for this......of course!
Jinan has its own local beer, Baotuquan, which the locals claim is much richer and better tasting than Tsingtao (of course again). Since the temperatures were hitting the mid-nineties, this made for a perfect stop.
When we asked if we could take photos, the woman running the stand gave us an approving nod, telling the Missus, "oh yes, it's free advertising!" The second time we heard this on our trip. I really enjoyed the straightforward wholesomeness of the folks in Shandong. They always seemed to have time for a good laugh.
After a nice mug of beer, we got some beer in a bag to go, and headed off to the Missus's Grandmother's Sister's place. We drove along, holding a bag of beer aloft in the car.......
If you've ever wondered what those nails pounded into the side of tables are for....... well, it's there to hang your bag of beer of course! And the Missus's Uncles are pros at pouring beer from a bag into a glass.
Baotuquan has its own unique flavor, a bit more like a lager, a bit more "hoppish" than Tsingtao.
We noticed that everyone in the family drank their beer from unrefrigerated bottles. When the Missus asked why, we were told that drinking beer cold was not healthy, it made one cough.... room temperature beer was more healthy!
While having our beer we could smell wonderful fragrances coming from the kitchen, the two "cooks" in the family were hard at work, and we were about to have a fantastic meal! Stay tuned for that post.
We arrived in Jinan after what seemed a pretty quick 2 hours and change. My Mother In Law, Fifth Aunt, Second Aunt, Second Uncle, their Granddaughter, Fourth Aunt, the Missus and I made up the group. We were met at train station by one of the Missus's Uncles. The Missus's Grandmother's Sister had married and moved to Jinan decades ago. I have often been told that the Missus's Great-Grandfather had ensured that his children married well, and they all had fruitful lives. While the Missus recognizes the names, She has very little recollection of Her Uncles. On an interesting note, while the Missus Grandmother had six daughters, this sister had four sons! I could tell by the chatter that there was quite a bit of catching-up going on as we headed off to lunch......
And you guessed it! It was a banquet, of course! So are you ready for another banquet post?
As soon as we arrived, so did the food, at impressive speed.
The Missus's Grandmother's Sister, all of Eighty-Five years young, looked decades younger, and seemed full of energy. There was much animated discussion, and of course, laughter.
The crowning course of this banquet were the braised pig's feet. And one of the Uncles showed us how it was prepared for serving.
As luck would have it, though the entire family is really into food, we ended up sitting next to the Uncle who was the most serious "foodie" of the group. He spent much of the meal graciously telling us about the dishes, and pointed out which could be termed as traditional Jinan preparations. Truth be told, I had no idea what Jinan Cuisine was going to be like, and we were both pleasantly surprised at this arm of "Lu Cai" (Lu Cuisine). The flavors in Jinan were big, and the food hearty.
The Missus's Uncle gave us so much information, that I wish I could spend a week with him. And of course there was so much food. As with the other banquet post, I'll just comment on a few things here and there.
While the Pig's Feet we had at our Pig's Feet Banquet in QingDao was to be enjoyed for the gelatin and texture; this one was chock full of flavor.
The Missus still talks about the Cucumber Jiaozi. It was so unexpected, with the refreshing and palate cleansing flavor of cucumber coming through. According to the Missus, this restaurant is known for their dumplings, and I can see why.
My favorite dish of the meal, was of all things the kidney.
I'd never had a kidney dish I enjoyed, ever..... until this day. The flavor was like the essense of offal. Meanwhile, Uncle explained to me the short comings of this kidney; the color and sheen was wrong, by the looks and texture he could tell that this kidney had probably been refrigerated for a while. Like I said, these folks are serious about their food, not only do they know the "what", but the "why" as well!
I was told that this dish featuring tendon is a traditional Jinan preparation.
And you know how much I love tendon.
This was another traditional Lu Cai dish.
We were both surprised at the wonderful flavor of the dried red chilies in this dish.
The peppers had been stuffed with sesame seeds, and was crunchy, nutty, and floral, with just a slight bit of back of the throat spice. We were told that we'd be running into this preparation of pepper in Xi'an.
This interesting looking dish were slices of eggplant "stuffed" with shrimp, battered and deep fried.
There were three different types of Guotie (potstickers):
Shandong Guotie is very unique. The Missus told me that the ends are not pinched shut, and of coarse there's the "crust". Crunchy, light, and delicious.
I know I've missed a couple of dishes......
But I made sure to take another photo of that kidney dish.....
The amount of knowledge the Missus's Jinan family displayed made me even more sure that China was a country full of foodies! If there was one thing I learned in China; it was the importance of family. The flavors of the food may have been totally different from QingDao, but the warmth, humor, and generosity were in full display. I remember telling the Missus that I wished we were spending more than one day Jinan. To say we enjoyed the food and company would be an understatement. What an amazing family!