“好客山东” or Hospitable Shandong, screamed the billboard at the Yantai airport as I walked out of the terminal. It was -12˚C out there at 4pm in the afternoon. The sun was setting fast and the temperature was dropping quickly.
Shandong 山东 (“east of the mountain”) is one of the oldest inhabited area of China in a geographic region referred to in the past as 中原 Central Plains. Lu Cuisine 鲁菜 is one of the four main traditions of Chinese cuisine (the others being Huaiyang, Sichuan and Cantonese) stems from the fact that present-day Shandong belonged partly to the Lu State, whose capital was the city of Qufu 曲阜 during the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) Period of the Eastern Zhou (770-221 BC) Dynasty. Lu was also the home state of Confucius (551-479 BC).
Lu Cuisine is widely considered the most pervasive, most influential of the four great cuisine schools of China. Its cooking styles are mimicked all across northern China as it was the cuisine that was used for all ceremonies that Confucius considered to be important.
By comparison, the harbour city of Yantai is the baby of Shandong. The style of food here is Jiaodong cuisine 胶东菜, a derivative of Lu cuisine and is roughly based on the readily available seafood from the coastal cities that dot the peninsula. Since most marine seafood have a delicate taste, the seasonings used to enhance their tastes are usually light in order not to overpower the main ingredients.
Seafood restaurants in Yantai are typically divided into two main sections – cooked food and a seafood gallery showcasing the catch of the day. Like this restaurant in old Yantai city, there’s plenty of weird looking seafood on offer.
Sea intestines stir fry with chives 韭菜海肠
Urechis unicinctus, known as the fat innkeeper worm or penis fish, is a species of marine spoon worm in East Asia. It is found in Bohai Gulf of China and off the Korean and Japanese coasts. In the old days, sea intestines were dried and grounded into a powder and used as a flavour enhancer like the modern day MSG which imparted a lot of umami to the dishes it was put in. Today, sea intestines stir fry with chives 韭菜海肠 has become a classic Jiaodong dish that exemplifies the style and freshness from the sea.
Deep fried oysters 炸牡蛎
Of course there’s plenty of oysters in the surrounding seas, and deep fried oysters 炸牡蛎 are simply delicious. Served simply with salt and pepper.
鲅鱼饺 Spanish Mackerel Dumplings
鲅鱼 Spanish mackerel can be found in abundance and they can grow to a large size. Hence the innovative chefs of Shandong used the meat of mackerel as the filling of a staple – dumplings.
Simply, it can be described as fish cake in a dumpling. Fish is mixed with chives and flour and beaten into a paste that is wrapped in flour skin.
Unlike dumplings eaten in the South and East, Northern dumplings are huge and very filling, often replacing the carbs for a meal.
I had all these dishes in a nice little restaurant in the tourist district of Yantai Hill. The waitress there was really nice to remind me as a single diner I already had ordered enough, The food was substantial and delicious. I packed the extra dumplings and fried oysters back to the hotel and they tasted as good cold when I ate them for late night supper. That’s the ultimate accolade to good cooking.
Donghong Seafood Restaurant 东弘海鲜酒店
Seafood from Yangma Island 养马岛
Yangma Island 养马岛 purportedly got its name because Qin Shihuang used to raise military horses on the island. Today, the local government has capitalised on this legend and turned it into a tourist destination with by rolling hills, lush trees and, of course, horse sculptures.
But island is also famous for its seafood fish grounds. The sea in front of the island is wide and calm. The western end of the deep water has few waves, forming a good natural harbour. The island is blessed with plentiful sea cucumber, scallop, abalone, prawn, oyster, “swan egg” or purple stone clam and other seafood.
白灼本地红虾 Poached prawns
Red Prawn 红虾/中华管鞭虾 (Solenocera crassicornis) is a prawn species that is native to the waters around Yantai. The shell is sandy, the meat is firm and sweet. Moreover these prawns are usually cheaper than the farmed prawns from other provinces, making them really good eats.
白灼八蛸 Boiled octopus
八蛸 Baxiao is how Yantai locals refer to the octopus. The locals are blessed with fresh (and often live) octopuses of all sizes. These smaller ones are best boiled in water and served with a simple wasabi soy sauce. And if you do not like the chewy
韭菜海肠 Sea intestines with chives
For years the Chinese used it as fishing bait. But the Koreans have always been very fond of this creature and serve it raw with spicy paste. The Chinese started cooking with sea intestine only about forty or fifty years ago. 韭菜海肠 sea intestines with chives is now very popular around Yantai. Sea intestine is apparently abundant in the Shandong coastline and it has become so popular with the locals that they have developed aquaculture for it.
山东大葱炒腊肉 Shandong leeks with waxed meat
Shandong leeks 山东大葱 are famous throughout China, especially the ones from 章丘 Zhangqiu. They can grow to 2m tall and have a sweet taste. Therefore it is especially suited to cook with a strong tasting accompaniment like Chinese bacon or waxed meat 腊肉. Another famous Shandong leek dish is the 葱烧海参 sea cucumber with leeks – this is the representative dish for Lu cuisine 鲁菜.
三鲜焖子Triple seafood with menzi
In Yantai, almost all restaurants will have the classic dish 三鲜焖子 Triple seafood with menzi. It is supposed to be invented in Yantai, think of it as pan crispy fried cake with a thick seafood sauce.. Three types of seafood (typically prawns, squid and clams) are stir-fried with 焖子 menzi (a type of rice cake cut into cubes) using a tahini garlic sauce. The seafood can be simple or luxurious depending on budget, but the secret to its wonderful taste is the sauce and the crispy rice cake. The result is a salty, fragrant and complex flavoured main dish full of umami from the seafood.
海胆蒸蛋 Steamed sea urchin with egg
The Japanese are the connoisseur when it comes to sea urchins. But it’s the people of Shandong that first discovered the sweet umami of these spiny creatures.
Together with the sea intestines, sea urchins are believed to be aphrodisiacs. Long Island 长岛 in Yantai is a famous production ground for farmed purple sea urchin 紫海胆. And there’s no better way then to eat it as 海胆蒸蛋 Steamed sea urchin with egg, as they are not sashimi grade here.
Yinfeng is close to the industrial district and is popular among the workers there. Hence it’s value for money with decent cooking and good taste. Service was prompt and the food came quickly because everyone only had an hour for lunch.
Yinfeng Restaurant 银丰饭店
98 Gangcheng E Ave, Laishan District, Yantai, Shandong, China, 264003
This trip has changed my view of Shandong. I have always thought Shandong to be a boring industrial province, but I managed to find history, culture and lots of interesting things to see and do. And if you love seafood, Yantai is a great city to visit.
Date visited : Dec 2021