Turning over a new leaf

Tea has become more than just a beverage - some Chinese chefs are taking it to the soup pot, frying pan and mixing bowl to create many exciting and healthy dishes.

Cantonese chefs at Yu (Jade) Chinese Restaurant, Ritz-Carlton Beijing have designed a special menu for May of dishes that use tea as an ingredient. For example, green tea is made into an emerald colored, jelly-shaped chilled pudding. And Longjing (dragon well) tea leaves are used as a topping on fried cod fish. They also use oolong tea to flavor fried shrimp and match Pu'er with fried rice and barbeque pork. They even serve a popular chicken herb soup in a purple clay teapot and diners have to drink it from a traditional, covered Chinese teacup.

Green T. House Living, a concept restaurant especially popular among expats, recently invited guests to its 3rd annual spring green-tea tasting. Visitors were treated to the finest and freshest green teas, paired with green tea snacks, and a tea cuisine dinner in the evening.

Using tea in dishes goes back a long time in China. Some very basic foods are made with tea. Cha Ye Dan (tea flavored egg), a very common food in China, is made by boiling eggs in tea, along with other seasonings. Many people wonder why Bak Kut Teh, a Malaysian specialty of pork and herb soup, has no tea in it but its name does. Actually, when the dish originated in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, it was always accompanied by a separate cup of Pu'er tea to counterbalance the grease.

The local cuisine includes several classic dishes that use tea in its preparation or flavoring. One of these is Hangzhou's famous Longjing Xiaren, or Dragon Well tea with unshelled shrimp. The freshness of the seafood is enhanced by the fragrance of the green tea. Zhang Cha Ya, or Sichuan-style smoked tea duck, is smoked with a number of ingredients including jasmine tea, or sometimes black tea, to increase the flavor and reduce the grease.

Fujian and Taiwan people use Tieguanyin, a local oolong, to stew or braise chicken. In Jiangxi, chefs smoke chicken with their famous Yunwu (cloud and mist) green tea. Guangdong people eat smoked chicken with tea and Anhui people smoke herring with their Maofeng (fuzz tip) green tea.

Other typical tea dishes include Longjing and bamboo fungus soup in Beijing, Longjing chicken slices and Longjing abalone in Zhejiang, fried whitebait with Biluochun in Jiangsu, braised pork with tea in Hebei, fish slices with chicken broth and Yinzhen (silver needle) green tea in Hunan.

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