Classic Hakka Food


Si Wen Si Chao


Si Wen Si Chao (four braises and four stir-fries) has long been considered the main dish for entertaining guests and a gourmet favorite. Si Wen refers to four braised dishes – Pork Tripe Soup with Sour Pickled Cabbage, Hakka Braised Pork, Braised Rib and Vegetable Soup, and Fatty Braised Bamboo Shoot Soup,. Si Chao refers to four stir-fried dishes – Hakka Stir-Fried Pork, Stir-Fried Pork Intestines with Ginger Juliennes, Stir-Fried Pork Tripe with Leeks, and Stir-Fried Pork Lung and Pineapple with Agaric (nicknamed Salty, Sour and Sweet). Though these foods are not unique to the Hakka people, they are closely related to Hakka life. In the past, the Hakka created delicious foods under difficult conditions. They transformed the cheap internal organs and blood of pigs into delicious dishes that are flavorful, go well with rice, and are easy to preserve. Stir-frying and stewing skills were also derived from daily life. Initially, the Hakka simply cooked leftover vegetables and pork together to add flavor. Wen means to cook in a big wok and keep warm for a long time. Owing to the fact that Hakka families live together in large households, it was more economical to cook enough for several meals in one go. The Wen method of cooking allowed for food that was easily reheated, allowing the frugal Hakka to finish up all the food without any waste.

The Hakka use spices to stimulate appetite. For example, cilantro, which many shun, is often used in Hakka cooking. Soy Sauce-stewed Pork Shank, Hakka Pig Knuckle, and Sweet and Sour Fish all have cilantro to add flavor and kill germs. In addition to making food taste better, perilla can also eliminate gas. Basil tastes refreshing and can be found in almost every dish. These appear not just in Hakka cooking, but are utilized to greater effect to make Hakka food stand out from the rest. Spices are used by the Hakka not only for their fragrant flavors, but also according to their curative effects. In a nutshell, spices are essential to Hakka food.

 

Hakka pickles


As the Hakka live in mountainous and forested areas, they developed special skills to preserve food. Pickled vegetables have always been a Hakka specialty, enabling the preservation of various kinds of vegetables over a long period of time. As a result, many dishes have been invented. For instance, dried radish bits are used to make the stuffing of Zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves), shredded radish is used to make the stuffing of Caibao (vegetable steamed buns) or stir-fried with eggs, while radish chips are used to make soups. Some people believe dried radish bits stored for some twenty or thirty years can be ingested to reduce body heat or cure sore throat, exemplifying how thoroughly radish is used by the Hakka.

Like radish, leaf mustard is another vegetable grown by the Hakka people while rice paddies are fallow. The Hakka use their proficient pickling skill to pickle leaf mustard, creating many famous Hakka specialties. Suancai, Fucai, and Meigancai are all pickled mustard greens, differing only in their degree of dryness.

If one adds salt to leaf mustard, tread out the water and put it in a jar to ferment, it becomes Suancai. Put it under the sun for several days, it becomes Fucai. If it is put under the sun until completely dry, it becomes Meigancai.

Other pickles such as gourds, fishes, bean curd, pineapple sauce, and fermented beans are also common Hakka dishes. They can be made into soups, stir-fried and placed in lunch boxes. In addition to being a seasoning, red yeast has become a popular health food able to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.


Mi Qi Ba (Mochi)

© Tourism Bureau (Photo by Evergreen International Corp.)

Glutinous rice or millet is steamed until cooked, then put in a stone mortar and pounded with a pestle. Each chunk is divided into smaller pieces before adding sesame, peanuts, red beans as stuffing. It can also be eaten by rolling it in sesame or peanut powder. Savory stuffing such as dried radish bits and shredded pork can be used as well. As Mi Qi Ba is easy to make and convenient to eat, the Hakka always prepare it as a snack at weddings, funerals, or for when they are busy working in the rice paddies. It is customary for the Hakka to make Ba for guests to eat as a snack. In recent years, Ba is often made available to participants for free at political rallies, singing contests, or Moon Festival evening parties. Nowadays, people make Ba by grinding rice into milk, then removing the extra water and steaming Ba until it is cooked. It is then put in a container and pounded with a stick. However, Ba made with modern methods doesn’t retain the same flavor as traditional Ba.


Persimmon cakes

© Tourism Bureau (Photo by Lee Chia-lin)

Persimmon cakes are a specialty of Beipu, Hsinchu. They are made of fresh persimmons, which are compressed and put under the sun until they become flat persimmon cakes. The whitish crystallized powder formed naturally on the surface is called persimmon frost. The cakes are rich in vitamins A and C, glucose, and fructose. They have a unique taste and are considered a tonic for the lungs, good for stopping cough and removing mucus. Due to its high medicinal value, it is used to treat chronic rhinitis, mild colds, and diarrhea.