I was recently having dinner with local friends at a restaurant specialising in Fujian cuisine, and it transpired that these Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers, perhaps representative of most people in Hong Kong, had little idea of the diversity of Fujian, a coastal province northeast of Guangdong with which it shares a contiguous border.
To most Hong Kong residents, people from Fujian are a monolithic entity that speak the same tongue and eat the same food. My friends were quite surprised, therefore, to discover that there are at least four groups of Fujian people, each with their own dialect and culinary culture. And this is just along the coast, before we even get to the Fujianese living in the interior.
The four groups are: the Foochow, who hail from the provincial seat of Fuzhou in the north; the Hokchia – residents of Fuqing, a county-level city located within Fuzhou, who speak a dialect that’s mutually unintelligible with the Foochow tongue; the Hinghwa, from the prefecture-level city of Putian in the central coast; and the Minnan, in the south, whose language and culture dominate many ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, as well as on the island of Taiwan.
Surrounded by mountains and forests, Fujian was considered a remote region populated by backward people who weren’t Han Chinese. It was only after it was formally incorporated into the first Chinese empire by the Qin dynasty (221-207BC) that Han Chinese began to colonise Fujian.
The dinner that provoked that little cultural and history lesson was at the Putien Restaurant, whose speciality is Hinghwa cuisine, though most people would regard it as simply Fujian food.