Cookbook Profile

The Cuisines of the
Chiu Chow and the Hakka

by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Squash Pancakes


Two special cuisines of southern China, often lumped together with the Cantonese kitchen, deserve particular mention. They are the Chiu Chow and the Hakka, one native, one a cuisine of immigrants. The Chiu Chow people are indigenous to the region around the old port city of Swatow, now known as Shantou, in northeastern Guangdong. They were seafarers who sailed to Taiwan and to ports in Southeast Asia, often settling in their destinations, and they are variously known as Chiu Chow or Chiu Chao by the Cantonese, as Chaozhou elsewhere in China, and as Teochiu or Teochew in Taiwan, Singapore, and as far away as Thailand and Vietnam.

Chiu Chow cooking, once thought to be part of the Cantonese table, is unique, direct, and pungent. Diners relish shark's fin and bird's nest soups, and they dote on all manner of seafood soup. Cooks flavor their foods with a salty fermented fish sauce, a cousin to Thai nam pla and Vietnamese nuoc mam, and make sweet marmalades and preserves. They pickle and preserve cabbage, mustard greens, shallots, and ginger; bottle their own vinegar and tangerine oil; and make a sweet soy sauce by cooking it with sugar.

The Hakka, unlike the Chiu Chow, are immigrants to the south. The history of the Hakka continues to be debated, but the most common theory puts their origins in northern China, from which they first fled to the south many centuries ago. That initial flight was followed by others during the Jin, Northern Song, T'ang, and Qing Dynasties. Today, the Hakka are found primarily in Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces and in Hong Kong's New Territories. They are regarded as insular and hardworking and highly protective of their ancestral and cultural customs and are often successful in their professional lives. In Hong Kong, for example, many of the descendants of early immigrants are both wealthy and politically influential.

Because the Hakka were nomadic, they developed a cooking style on the move. They preserved foods so they could carry them; they boiled vegetables and ate them with cold sauces. The soybean has long been important: the boiled beans are eaten, the milk made from ground beans is drunk, and the curd is prepared in imaginative ways. The Hakka use wild leafy vegetables, and one of their famous dishes, salt-baked chicken, was once cooked in a hole in the ground.


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Excerpts (each excerpt provides background for a corresponding recipe below)

This page created June 2010