by Kurt Ganapathy
@ 30 Jun 2017
Located in eastern Fujian province and bordered by mountains, rivers and the South China Sea, Putian developed a cuisine of its own driven by simple, balanced, home-made flavours.
With access to only basic or affordable ingredients in days gone by, Putian (also known as Heng Hwa or Xing Hua) cuisine was built around making a little go a long way with no effort spared. In short, it is cooking with a lot of heart. In terms of produce, Putian is known for its fruits, abalone and seaweed as well as for its hand-made noodles and beancurd.
Putien Restaurant is dedicated to maintaining the time-honoured Putian approach to food, utilising the same techniques in their central kitchen and importing many of its ingredients direct from Putian. Interestingly, Putien Restaurant, which started out in Singapore, currently has plans to open an outlet in Shanghai; they have been told that their take on Putian cuisine is even more authentic than anything that can be found in Putian itself today.
We begin with the drunken cockles. Marinated in wine and served cold with a mountain of fresh garlic and sliced red and green chillies, it is a familiar spicy-sour taste of the seaside.
Next, we tuck into the braised pig intestine, a dish that calls for plenty of skill and lots of hard work from a chef. Before braising, the intestine is rolled in on itself nine times, giving it a spongy texture and allowing it to really soak up the flavours of the broth.
A straightforward dish to savour the flavours of one of Putian's proudest exports, the seaweed with mini shrimps is a highlight for anyone with fond childhood memories of eating strips of nori.
Part sweet, part savoury with a beautiful aroma, the stir-fried yam is another dish that requires plenty of diligence. The yams, sourced from Guangxi, go through 15 steps of preparation before reaching the plate, from selecting the best yams to carving out the most desirable sections, steaming and frying with onions.
Next, a dish that requires you to put on a glove before you contend with it, the deep fried pig's trotter with salt and pepper. First braised to remove most of their oil content, the trotters are fried to a crisp with a simple seasoning which includes a hint of cinnamon and fall apart as you pick out the pieces of collagen-rich tendon.
The braised beancurd with Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) is perhaps the epitome of what Putian cuisine is all about. The firm, dense beancurd made according to traditional specifications is memorably different from most other type of tofu. The broth has an almost creamy body and color to it, derived from boiling chicken and pork bones for six hours. The medley is completed with bamboo clams, scallops and shrimp. Superb.
Finally, we enjoy the Heng Hwa bee hoon (vermicelli), made with very thin, sun-dried noodles brought in from Putiam, fried with ten ingredients. It is light airy, almost like angel hair pasta, and offers yet another experience unique to Putian cuisine. KG