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Hui style blends salt, spices

SALTY, spicy and sometimes a little sweet, Hui cuisine, one of the eight famous culinary styles in China, perfectly blends all these tastes.

Boasting massive lush forests and mountainous terrain, Anhui Province that is the genesis of the style is noted for its wild herbs, river fish and livestock.

The preparation methods that are a hallmark of the style are quite simple and common, consisting mainly of braising and stewing, with less frequent use of frying and stir-frying. Colorful presentation is a pride of Anhui kitchens.

Hui style was adapted from the name of Huizhou in southern parts of Anhui Province and had a history of more than 2,200 years. The region's food basket is in southern areas near Huangshan Mountain where the climate is wet and humid and the terrain covered with ample, uncultivated fields and forests where wild herbs and a variety of plants with medicinal value abound.

These include dozens of different species of edible wild mushrooms growing on trees, between rocks and cultivated in fields, and almost 20 varieties of bamboo shoots that can be sliced, diced and pounded for combining with hundreds of local sauces and ingredients.

A wide range of flower petals, leaves, stalks, stems and roots are usually seen on an Anhui menu. Tofu, or bean curd, can be preserved, fermented or pickled.

The area was once home to about 370 kinds of animals, including wild rabbits, pangolin, deer, otter, bears, leopards, giant salamander and a special local fish, named the "flying fish" because it can jump up to trees.

The numbers of these animals have been reduced over the decades by killing for food but in recent years many have been listed as protected and people are forbidden to hunt them.

The vast mountainous terrain covered with abundant wild herbs also makes the region a mecca for people seeking medicinally adaptable ingredients. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, more than 700 traditional Chinese medicine doctors wrote over 600 reference bibles that benefited today's generations.

Some famous Hui dishes beneficial to health include black-bone chicken braised with lyceum, white lily soup stewed with rock sugar, and lean pork fried with purple perilla leaves.

A sustained tradition of the Hui culinary method is the wide use of soy sauce brewed from high-quality soy beans and heavy oil extracted from rape flowers.

Strong flavors are another feature of Hui cuisine and ham is a staple meat, its treatment a common skill in almost every household.

The length of cooking time and amount of heat - the method of controlling heat called "huo hou" in Chinese - are highly stressed. Wood is the preferred fuel to cook most dishes.

A charcoal fire is advised for long hours of stewing, light firewood is opted for quick stir-frying and tree logs are employed to fire slow braising.

Although Hui cuisine has been sought after and praised by gourmets from around the country - and the ages-old cooking disciplines adapted to suit circumstances - the old methods have survived in traditional restaurants and family homes.


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