Cuisine's rich celebration of the ocean

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am


Xiamen's most momentous contribution to world cuisine began as a ubiquitous fish brine sauce, used by locals as a must-have additive to classic seafood and meat dishes.

As Xiamen's Minnan traders extended their influence towards the Indonesian islands and even further afar, the simple fish brine sauce collected new and more flavourful ingredients.

In Malaysia, anise, ginger and brown sugar are added, while the Indonesians added cinnamon and cloves. But it wasn't until the English passed their tomato-based version on to the Americans that the fish brine sauce took on global proportions as ketchup, the condiment every Western restaurant has in stock.

Today's Xiamen restaurateurs stick to the original fish sauce, especially in the seafood establishments that ring the city and the port, but ketchup in its modern form also exists throughout this modern and bustling city.

The red sauce should be the furthest thing from your mind, however, if you are headed to Xiamen on business or for leisure.

The Minnan cuisine of southern Fujian, based in Xiamen, is a rich and colourful celebration of the ocean, which is never far away, no matter where you stand in this city of more than 5 million people.

Most of the staple dishes of the city are seafood-based, such as grilled shrimps and clams doused in fish sauce, or deep fried squid served with bamboo shoots and scallions.

The outdoor grills on the southern tip of Xiamen and the night market lanes along the coast serve every possible sea creature you can imagine, and many that most Westerners have never seen before, such as the popular snack of tuosundong, Xiamen-style jelly sea worm.

Other adventures for the average palette include Tong'an wrapped pork, a dish that relies on heavy marinating to create a mouthwatering morsel; local Fujian pies, either salty or sweet, but always a great snack while on a stroll; and peanut sauce with fried dough strips that make up the staple breakfast.