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Part 1- Dalian Delights: Seafood and the Wine Scene off China’s North-East Coast

Editor’s Note: After reading the title of this post, you may be pondering why Catavino has an article on North-East Chinese cuisine, which is a very good question. Edward Ragg, our Chinese correspondent, has been sharing his experiences living in Beijing as a wine consultant, which have included very detailed and descriptive articles on the state of Spanish wine in east Asia, as well as his experience with pairing traditional Chinese foods with Iberian wine. Considering that Edward is magically finding time to share his knowledge with us, between wine fairs and teaching WSET courses, we are clearly very appreciative. And if you have any questions for Edward, please don’t hesistate to put them in the comments.

It’s now almost two years since my wife, Fongyee, and I moved to China to begin work as wine consultants, a profession that barely exists in a country that only really began importing wine some fifteen years ago and whose own wine industry is dominated by massive government corporations.

Much of that time has, of course, been devoted to setting up a company – no easy thing in the PRC – getting to know the wine importers and fledgling wine magazines as well as becoming more and more familiar with the different national wine markets – Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and further a field – the extent of wine knowledge at consumer and trade levels, people’s expectations of wine in general and what myths v. facts abide in an emergent wine culture.

Trying myriad Chinese wines, judging at Chinese wine competitions and the teething pains of setting up a website and blog – ever works in progress – have had their own challenges. But we can hardly complain: this invaluable experience, by turns exciting, frustrating and occasionally downright baffling, has whetted our appetites and got our palates salivating. We’ll definitely be here for the long-haul, if we can.

But just as I was planning a series of posts entitled, “Confessions of a Chinese Wine Consultant’, going right back to January 2007 when we first landed in Beijing, I had the opportunity to go to Dalian, a popular tourist city about an hour’s flight to the north-east of China’s capital, on the attractive peninsula of Liaoning Province (which borders Hebei and Jilin Provinces, Inner Mongolia and North Korea).

As well as having a quick holiday peep at the wine scene there, Fongyee and I, at the behest of her Chinese relatives, were subjected to a two-day eating spree – Chinese entertaining is beyond bountiful – gaining some insights into how a typical middle class family sees eating and drinking and how the older and younger generations view Chinese and international wines.

Dalian is a good place to be fed to death. Our local Beijing market boasts fresh seafood from Dalian – fresh because, as in all proper Chinese markets and restaurants, everything is still alive before purchase. So we were keen to see how local Dalian folk treat their seafood and other fish on their own turf.

Fresh off our morning plane, lunch was served (the Chinese generally rise early, eat lunch around 11.30-1 p.m. and consume dinner between 5.30-8 p.m., something Mediterranean visitors find intolerable). Fongyee’s cousin had already been to the main Dalian fish market at 5 a.m. that morning and was, I’m not kidding, plating up the following feast, ingeniously prepared from one of the smallest kitchens I have ever seen (even by domestic Chinese standards). The French talk about mise-en-place, the Chinese invented it:

steamed crabs (two types – see below)
steamed abalone
steamed scallops
steamed razor clams
poached flat-fish: of Chinese origin (similar to a meaty version of sole or plaice)
stir-fried prawns with green onion and garlic
stir-fried squid with carrot, green onion, garlic and chilli
deep-fried oysters (in a very delicate batter dipped in white pepper and salt at table)
deep-fried fish in a chilli glaze: the fish was of Chinese origin (similar to perch)
braised red-cooked pork spare ribs (simmered in rice wine, dark and light soy sauce, ginger, star anise, green onion)
preserved pork gelatine salad (flavoured with star-anise and garlic)
salad of preserved pork with julienned cucumber, carrot and green onion in a garlic-soy sauce dressing
prawn soup in a delicate broth (de-shelled prawns, shaped into ovals a bit like French quenelles, with Chinese chives in a clear soup – i.e. not fish stock)
fried buns with pork and onion filling (known as xia bing)

The two types of crab were “flower crab’ (hua xie), seen on the right above, with flower-like patterns on their shells, and “flying crab’ (fei xie), the bigger beasts to the above left whose shells look something like sting-rays.

Each crab was eaten with a special dipping sauce – see middle above – comprised of minced garlic, soy sauce and ginger. But there was plentiful pickled garlic on hand just in case anyone felt their daily intake of the herb was lacking. Fortunately, we eat everything and just about anything. And who could have trouble tucking into this?

To be Continued: What did they drink in Dalian?…


Edward Ragg

Edward Ragg & Fongyee Walker write for us from Beijing, and you can get more information on their website, Dragon Phoenix Fine Wine Consulting

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