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Lu cuisine lives on long after emperors ate in style

A friend once described a luxurious Chinese dinner he was invited to. He said that it was such a waste - the cooks threw away all the expensive ingredients in the soup after it was finished. The soup had no solid food at all.

It must have been a Lu cuisine reception that he attended, and it likely belonged to the branch of Confucius dishes. Lu cuisine, one of the eight major Chinese cuisines, is known for its soups.

Confucius dishes were developed by the philosopher and his descendents. The cuisine is known to be delicate, luxurious and innovative. It was recorded in many ancient texts that such dishes had satisfied numerous emperors who had become bored of imperial cuisine.

Lu cuisine is said to cover the largest geographic area among the eight cuisines in China. It is prevalent in the Bohai Economic Rim, the economic hinterland surrounding Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang, which also includes areas in Hebei, Liaoning and Shandong provinces. Parts of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces also carry out the traditions of Lu cuisine.

The eight cuisines have developed over thousands of years and are primarily divided by different regions. Due to distinct geographic and climate features, various areas grow different vegetables and herbs and provide different fish or meat for cooking. In general, northern cuisines are saltier and spicier, to help fight the cold, while southern cuisines tend to be milder and sweeter as it gets rather hot during the summer.

Lu cuisine originated in today's Shandong Province. Its cooks are masters in adding rich soups into all kinds of dishes which enhance the flavor and add nutrition to dishes.

The other main feature is keeping the ingredients tender by stir-frying at a high temperature and little oil - a relatively healthier cooking method adopted by many other cuisines.

Lu cuisine was frequently recorded as the most influential cooking style. This influence has declined since the 1980s, due to the high entrance barrier for principals, strict and complicated cooking requirements and the traditional quest for perfection.

Contemporary Lu cuisine masters have put in a lot of effort trying to revive the system, especially through accommodating traditional cooking into modern tastes without losing authenticity.

The system consists of three distinct branches - Jiaodong cuisine along coastal areas featuring seafood, Jinan cuisine spanning inland areas surrounding the capital city of Shandong, and the unique and luxurious Confucius dishes.

Jiaodong cuisine originated in Yantai City in Shandong but more recently it has evolved in Qingdao. Qingdao is along the ocean, thus seafood plays a big part in Jiaodong dishes. The key to cooking is keeping the natural flavor as much as possible.

The Jinan culinary branch is found in Jinan City and the surrounding area. It's known for clear soups and milk soups.

Confucius dishes are the highlight and the most well-known style of Lu cuisine.

Confucius is renowned as a scholar, philosopher and spiritual leader in China, but many do not realize he was also a gourmet. He linked the art of cooking to the appreciation of life and emphasized how one can use food to delight the senses. ?

Confucius said that one can never be too meticulous about cooking. He also made detailed lists of what not to eat - when the color of the ingredient is not fresh, when it smells bad, when it's not cut the right way, when it is not matched with the proper sauce.

This appreciation of fine dining was inherited by his descendants, who developed dishes with meticulously prepared ingredients and appropriate seasonings. The dishes are light and delicate, fresh and tender, as well as soft and aromatic while keeping the natural flavor of the ingredients.

Confucius and his texts were highly respected in many dynasties. His descendants resided in a palace-like house in the city of Qufu, Shandong Province, and carried the honorary title of "Saint." The ranking is the equivalent to that of prime minister in ancient dynasties.

In ancient China, many hereditary government officials hired master cooks for official receptions at home. As time passed and dynasties changed, most of these families fell out of favor with the change in dynasty and their homemade dishes were lost.

Confucius dishes survived, however, due to the high respect given to the scholar and his descendants. The Confucius family was recorded in many ancient texts as "The First Family."

Many emperors had high respect for his descendants, possibly as a way to better control scholars and students.

Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reportedly visited the descendants of Confucius eight times, rare for an emperor in his time to do so. He even ordered one of his favorite daughters to marry into the Confucius family after a satisfying reception on his fifth visit.

Jiuzhuan (Jiuqu) Dachang


(Soy sauce intestines)

Soy sauce intestines (Jiuzhuan Dachang), literally nine-coil pig guts, is a famous dish in the Jinan branch of Lu cuisine. It uses pig's intestines as the main ingredient through a complicated process that includes frying, stir-frying and braising.

It often takes more than 40 minutes to prepare the dish and it has a sophisticated taste. This dish is rich, salty and spicy with a touch of sweetness.

Liu Huang Cai


(Egg with sea cucumber)

Egg with sea cucumber (Liu Huang Cai) is one of the most famous traditional Jiaodong cuisines. Scramble the eggs to fry quickly with various seasonings and a spoon of rich soup. Braise the cooked eggs with a dozen other ingredients including sea cucumber, Chinese ham and green beans. The eggs are soft and aromatic while the green beans are crispy, making an interesting combination of textures. It is a salty dish with rich flavors from the added soup.

Lushi Shenxian Yazi


(Lu-style God duck)

Lu-style God duck (Lushi Shenxian Yazi) is a typical Confucius dish. A whole duck and seasonings are sealed into a terrine with a paper cover on top. The terrine is steamed for an accurate period of time - the calculation depends on the size of duck and is kept secret.

The duck has to be put on the table as soon as it is finished - the time has to be accurate so that the duck is just turning soft. It's a mild dish with a rich and natural flavor.


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