Almost every city has its own collection of “street specialities”, but more than often, the best of street food are hidden in old allies instead of showcased along shining and new major road. A trip to those allies can be not only a great treat but also a fantastic way to learn more about the city and its characteristics. The Fu Rong Street (Water Lily Street) in Jinan is such a place from which one can get a good feel about the city in all façade. The Street used to function as the administrative, financial, commercial and cultural centre of the historical Jinan City. However, after the founding of PRC and rapid expansion of the city, it was abandoned to be etched by time and nature until the last decade, when the Jinan government renovated the street and promoted it as a food street.
With a total length of 432 metres long and a walking path of about 2 to 5 metres wide, the 2000 year-old Fu Rong Street in Jinan is crowded by restaurants, food stalls and roadside snacks. Down that narrow Street one can always find some great street specialties. Some are originated in Jinan, some are “localised” very recently. After being resident in the city for five years, I decided to take a food trip down the old street of Fu Rong.
My first stop was at a little You Xuan (油旋: oil-swirl) stall. The little round bread was made by folding and rotating dozens of very thin layers of dough seasoned by oil, salt and minced spring onion and baking it in a charcoal oven for about ten minutes. It was only good when it is eating hot, the chewy spring onion helped to strike a better balance between the crispy crust and oil-soaked and spongy inside.
Beside the You Xuan shop was a Qing Ke Bing (青稞饼： Tibetan-barley bread) place. Traditionally not a Jinan food, but the snack has gained popularity all over the city. The thin and crunchy bread was covered by white sesames and tastes milky sweet, though not very impressive in tasted, the half dollar each bread could stuff you for a whole day.
Then I went to try the Fried Stinky Tofu (chou dou fu: 臭豆腐), which is both famous and infamous. Stinky Tofu is actually fermented Tofu that gives a very strong odour similar to rotten garbage, or blue cheese, in my opinion—Many people love it, and equal amount of people find it unsavoury or detestable. However, when stinky tofu came to Jinan a few years ago, it was quickly adapted by the local: the tofu I had was less fermented and tasted rather mild, even plain. The seasoning was mostly done by the layers of Shandong Beans paste and pickles on top.
Speaking of being both stinky and tasty, nothing is better than the Crispy Durian Cake (liu lian su: 榴莲酥), a Chinese desert made by a tender mixture of fresh durian and egg yolk wrapped in layers of crispy, golden crusts. Together they give out a strong and seductive fragrance from far way. Buy a hot durian cake and eat it hot, poke it slightly with your teeth and the warmth of durian stuffing will thrust out to meet your tongue.
Walking deeper into the street I found the ShangHai Snack place very well-known among the locals. Again adapted versions by the locals, its pot-stickers (fried dumplings, guo tie: 锅贴) had nothing equal to those in Shanghai. But its fried steamed buns (Sheng jian: 生煎) were very good, in a distinctive way. The tiny teeny buns were stuffed by minced pork and filled with rich pork gravy; the skins were very thick and were fried to firm and golden on one side, while on the other side tenderness remained.
My satisfying trip ended with a Lotus Seeds Porridge (lian zi geng: 莲子羹): sticky rice, cooked with lotus seeds potage, in addition to fistfuls of raisins, peanuts, dry fruits, black sesames and white sugar. The raisins and dry fruits quickly supped from the potage and became soft and flavoury, giving out strands of sour tastes among the general sweet, jelly like porridge.