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Shandong cuisine (simplified Chinese: 山东菜; traditional Chinese: 山東菜; pinyin: Shāndōng cài), more commonly known in Chinese as Lu cuisine (simplified Chinese: 鲁菜; traditional Chinese: 魯菜; pinyin: lǔ cài), is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions (八大菜系) of Chinese cuisine and is also ranked among the Four Great Traditions (四大菜系). It is derived from the native cooking styles of Shandong, a northern coastal province of China.
Shandong cuisine consists of 2 major styles:
- Jiaodong style, encompassing dishes from Fushan, Qingdao and Yantai. It is characterised by seafood dishes with light tastes.
- Jinan style, comprising dishes from Jinan, Dezhou and Tai'an. One of its features is the use of soup in its dishes.
Although less available in overseas Chinese restaurants, which are usually operated by migrants from southern China, Shandong cuisine is considered one of the most influential and even the foundational school in Chinese cuisine, with the majority of the culinary styles in China having developed from it. Modern cuisines in Northern China - Beijing, Tianjin and the northeastern regions - are all branches of Shandong cuisine. In addition, the typical dishes in most Northern Chinese households meals are prepared using simplified Shandong methods.
During the Spring and Autumn Period, more than 3,000 years ago, Shandong was territory of Qi and Lu. Both states were economically and culturally developed, and had mountains and fertile plains, they had abundant aquatic products and grains as well as sea salt. Some of the first descriptions of Chinese culinary methods come from these two states. Yi Ya, who was a retainer of Duke Huan of Qi, was renowned for his culinary skill. Confucius, who was born in Lu, mentioned in the Analects that "One should not indulge overly in fine flour, or in kuai (a dish akin to carpaccio) that is sliced too thinly"; about food, he also mentions that "do not consume food which looks spoiled, smells spoiled, is out of season, is improperly butchered, or is not made with its proper seasoning", showing that a certain level of refinement in food preparation methods was already present in Shandong at the time.
Shandong cuisine as it is known today was created during the Yuan Dynasty. It gradually spread to north China, Beijing, Tianjin, northeast China, and the palace where it influenced the imperial food. The Shandong cuisine comprises mainly eastern Shandong and Jinan dishes.
Although modern transport has greatly increased the availability of ingredients throughout China, Shandong cuisine remains rooted in its ancient traditions. Most notable is the staggering array of seafood, including scallops, prawns, clams, sea cucumbers, and squid.
Beyond the use of seafood, Shandong is somewhat unique for its wide use of maize, a local cash crop that is not widely cultivated in northern China. Unlike the sweetcorn of North America, Shandong maize is chewy and starchy, often with a grassy aroma. It is often served simply as steamed or boiled cobs, or removed from the cob and lightly fried.
Shandong is also well known for its peanut crops, which are fragrant and naturally sweet. It is common at meals in Shandong, both formal and casual, to see large platters of peanuts, either roasted in the shell, or shelled and stir-fried with salt. Peanuts are also served raw in a number of cold dishes that hail from the region.
Shandong is also distinct from most of China's other culinary traditions in its wide use of a variety of small grains. Millet, wheat, oat and barley can be found in the local diet, often eaten as congee, or milled and cooked into one of the many varieties of steamed and fried breads eaten in Shandong. More so than anywhere else in China, Shandong people are known for their tendency to eat steamed breads rather than rice as the staple food in a meal.
Despite its rich agricultural output, Shandong has not traditionally used the wide variety of vegetables seen in many southern styles of Chinese cooking. Potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggplants make up the staple vegetables in the Shandong diet. Grassy greens, sea grasses, and bell peppers are also not uncommon. The large, sweet cabbages grown in central Shandong are renowned for their delicate flavor and hardiness. As has been the case for generations, these cabbages are a staple of the winter diet throughout much of the province, and are featured in a great number of dishes.
Shandong's possible greatest contribution to Chinese cuisine has been in the area of brewing vinegars. Hundreds of years of experience combined with unique local methods have led to Shandong's prominence as one of the premier regions for vinegar production in China. Unlike the lighter flavoured, sharper vinegars popular in the southern regions, Shandong vinegar has a rich, complex flavor which, among some connoisseurs, is considered fine enough to be enjoyed on its own merits.