I have not been back to this Hui cuisine restaurant for quite some time, and since I was back in Shanghai, we held one company lunch in Wan Yuan.
Origin of Hui Cuisine
皖 “Wan” is the short form of Anhui Province. The restaurant specialised in Hui Cuisine 徽系菜, which is one of the eight main cuisine specialisation of China coming from Anhui. Hui cuisine originated in the Southern Song Dynasty in ancient Huizhou (now the region of Shexian County in Anhui) and it was previously the local flavour of Huizhou’s mountainous area.
Traditional farming was not enough to support a family in the mountainous region, so enterprising Huizhou men became sales merchants. With the spread of Anhui merchants across the country, Hui cuisine gained popularity. In particular, it was part of Huizhou business culture to gather together over a Huizhou style meal to show their respect for their guests. As a result, Huizhou restaurants began springing up all over China to accommodate the Huizhou merchants’ preferences. Anhui cuisine has been considered one of the major cuisines ever since.
Anhui cuisine chefs excel at roasting, stewing and braising; they seldom fry. Wild and farmed pig is also widely available, so Anhui cuisine has many popular pork and ham dishes. Mushrooms of every kind are hand gathered, including a tasty shiitake-style fungi found on trees called tea-tree fungus. Dates, tea leaves and bamboo shoots are other local ingredients essential to recreating the flavours of Anhui cuisine.
谷雨笋炒五城香干刀板香 Wucheng Dried Beancurd with Preserved Pork and Dried Bamboo Shoots
This dish is a classic Anhui using three ingredients that made Anhui famous. 谷雨 Grain rain is one of the 24 season variations (24 节气) in the Chinese calendar that is characterised by the rainy season. Farmers would rush to propagate before this period so that the rainfall will help with growth. And during this time, bamboo shoots are abundant. Anhui folks will take the excess and dry them for later use. 五城 Wucheng is an Anhui city that is famous for its dried beancurd 香干. 刀板香 “Fragrance from the chopping board” refers to salted pork belly. The ingredients are all cut to strips and then stir-fried together with garlic, chilli and Chinese celery. A farmer’s dish but absolutely delicious.
黄山臭鳜鱼 Huang Mountain Stinky Mandarin Fish
One of Northern Anhui province’s most famous dishes is stinky mandarin fish 臭鳜鱼. Despite the name, the fermented and cured fish dish is a flavour bomb, but not smelly at all. The origin of this dish can be traced back to more than 200 years ago.
At that time, after winter every year, fish traders along the river put the mandarin fish in wooden buckets and transported them into the mountainous areas of Huizhou. In order to prevent the fish from going bad, fish vendors sprinkled a layer of salt on a layer of fish, and often turned the fish along the way. The journey took about seven or eight days, and the fish arrived salted and gave out a rather bad smell. However, the salting process dehydrated the fish and made the flesh of the fish tighter, at the same time removed all fishy smell, making the salted fish tastes better than fresh ones.
黄山竹林脆皮鸡 Huang Mountain Crispy Skin Chicken
After those dazzling delicacies, Huangshan Forest Bamboo Crispy Chicken looked simple and out of place. However when you sank your teeth into the chicken, you can immediately felt the crispiness of the skin, the tenderness of the flesh and smokiness from the firewood. A really simple and lovely treat.
吴山老卤贡鹅拼盘 Wushan Imperial Braised Goose
Wushan town 吴山镇 in Hefei is famous for its goose. Like my hometown Chaozhou, they too braise their goose in a traditional secret braising liquid which they would add more liquid to it and not discard the original batch. Hence the “old braise” 老卤 will differentiate between the different shops. This version was just average, and the goose used was rather skinny.
胡适一品锅 Hu Shi’s Casserole
Originally known as 绩溪一品锅 Jixi’s casserole, it is a local specialty of Jixi County of Anhui Province. Anhui merchants used to travel across the country and only came home during the important Chinese New Year’s eve dinner. As such, family members would take many ingredients and placed them in circles in a casserole signifying reunion 团圆, and cooked them together for a really complex taste profile. After he tasted it, Chinese writer Liang Shiqiu 梁实秋 wrote, “一只大铁锅，口径差不多二尺，热腾腾地端上来，里面还在滚沸，一层鸡、一层鸭、一层肉、一层油豆腐，点缀着一些蛋饺，紧底下是萝卜、青菜，味道好极”.
Another famous writer, local boy Hu Shi 胡适 brought this simple dish to US when he was appointed the Ambassador to US and served it for the New Year dinner in the embassy. It was well received and to commemorate this occasion, they renamed it Hu Shi’s special casserole, because 一品 also means highest ranking official in Chinese and Hu Shi remained their highest ranking official forever.
豆腐鱼汤 Tofu Fish Soup
In the mountains, soy beans grow effortlessly, giving rise to the unproven legend that tofu originated in the Anhui province. Whether it’s true or not, the region is famous for tofu specialities like fresh tofu made in the morning to be eaten later in the day, and hairy tofu, which is fermented tofu with mould growing on them. This is one classic way in Anhui to cook tofu, by incorporating them into a fish soup.
The fish used is freshwater carp that can grow quite big. The meat is taken out and beaten into fish balls. And then the fish head, fish balls and tofu are all cooked in a large claypot over small fire to extract every bit of goodness into the creamy white soup.
2021 Summer Selections
And every so often, they would come up with seasonal specials. But usually these are not exactly related to Anhui cuisine.
清炒天堂寨丝瓜 Sautéed Loofah with Shrimp Skin
Heaven’s Gorge 天堂寨 is a waterfall attraction in Huang Mountain area. How is it related to loofahs, I have no idea, but this was a simple stir-fry with dried shrimp skins.
Hongcun 宏村 is a UNESCO certified site that looked like a Chinese watercolour painting. This dessert was served with dry ice and much effort was put in the plating. Again, I don’t think there’s any association with Hongcun.
九华素鹅卷 Jiuhua Vegetarian Goose
Jiuhuashan 九华山 is a famous Buddhist holy site. So the vegetarian fried bean curd skin with mushroom fillings was named after this mountain in Anhui. A very simple appetiser, similar to the Shanghai vegetarian goose.
十里花雕醉小龙虾 Crayfish in Chinese Huadiao Wine
Another popular dish that has nothing to do with Anhui. Crayfish 小龙虾 is an invasive species in China, but the Chinese has found a way to keep them in control – by eating them.
金丝牛肉炒饭 Beef Fried Rice
No story for this course, but just a fried rice to round up lunch.
A really nice restaurant that we have made our canteen for the office. Inexpensive and good food make it rather popular with the office crowd in Raffles City Changning. Recommend to stick to the classics.
Wan Yuan 皖荟·徽菜（来福士广场店）
Date Visited : Jun 2021