Human Geography of Hainan: The Diet Culture of Hainanese


 Qing Bu Liang

Among the major cuisines in China, Cantonese Cuisine sometimes is assumed superficially pleasant, but it can fetch a good price.The cooking of Hainanese cuisine is the closest to the nature, delicious and cheap. Hunan Cuisine features the bacon, which lingers some hint of preparation for war or natural disasters. Sichuan cuisine and Hunan cuisine often add too heavy sauces, which seems “alien” from the main course. No matter in meat dishes or in vegetable ones, adding too much sauces will make the main course lose its original quality and taste.


The cuisines in Yunnan and Guizhou are similar to Sichuan cuisine, almost all the meals adding peppers. Sometimes, abuse of peppers will make the sauce take the lead instead of the main dish. Such kind of cuisines will inextricably be thought to be just good in taste but bad for health. But people in the Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces are used to enjoying the meals with peppers.  


In comparison, food materials in Yunnan and Guizhou are not as rich as Hainan. And in the aspect of the food available to eat on land, including fruits, Yunnan may not be inferior to Hainan. But Hainan is surrounded by the sea, where there are many delicious seafood. I have been to Yunnan for a few days, and tasted the rare and expensive fungi in Yunnan. A plate of spicy chickens was serving out, there being too many peppers but little chickens, which superseded the main theme. So I missed the food in Hainan very much. When I returned to Hainan from Yunnan or Guizhou, I always felt greedy for it has been a long time since I ate the authentic Hainan food. Thus I went to the local restaurant to have a adequate and nutritious meal, which make me acquire much relief.

Lightness is the main tone

Wenchang Chicken

It needs credibility for a place to serve the light and fresh food. A lady born with natural beauty dosen't need any cosmetics to show her charm. And the rich ingredients and fresh food give Hainan this credibility, which makes Hainanese picky about food. On putting the foods into their mouths, they can tell whether it is fresh enough or not immediately.


Lightness is the main tone of Hainan foods. Objectively, Hainanese prefer to eat the low-calorie and low-fat food, which is good for their health and nutritious, such as Hainan Tangfen (rice noodle soup). In winter, people in northern China need to eat some delicious things to against coldness. But it is more difficult to against hotness for the people in Southern China, who also need to eat some delicious food. So Hainan Tangfen should be made delicately.


Hainan Tangfen sounds simple, but the flavors differ with various approaches. In Hainan, some splendid restaurants also provide Hainan Tangfen, with watery broth, which can be easily figured out to be unauthentic Hainan Tangfen. There was an ordinary shop of Hainan Tangfen near Jinpan Avenue, which had a good reputation of its breakfast for a long time. Its secret was that the boss made the soup with pork bones since midnight, so every bowl of Hainan Tangfen coming out in the morning boasted such kind of soup with much essence, which was quite different from those shops randomly dealing with the soup for the consumers. It was not surprising that the shop had a thriving business.

Lingao Roast Sucking Pig

I ever ate such kind of Hainan Tangfen with the pork soup, and felt refreshed in working or life in the day. As for the Hou’an Fen from Wanning, which has a new development on the basis of bone soup, adding pepper, onion and other ingredients as well as some pork and chitterlings, people enjoy it very much.


However, people in Lingao county tend to have a different breakfast, which is with the main theme of roast suckling pig. Lingao people are so smart to eat the meat, conscious to add some sour flavor, such as pickles, sour bamboo shoots and vegetables, with the aim of neutralization. 


In a nutshell, Hainan specialty foods have its own inner stress, which is implicit and not easy to be found.

Fresh Food is good for health

It is the lightness and pureness that are quite good for the health of local people. Drinking Daddy Tea in the day time and eating Qingbuliang at night, Hainan people live a leisurely and comfortable life.


Hainan people prefer the original flavor. For example, the specialty such as coconut juice and coconut chicken claim for their original flavor without adding any essence and preservatives. Few food material in this tropical island can withstand long-term preservation, so that Hainan people would like to taste the fresh and original flavor while eating everything. Or they are not reconciled to it and would rather dispose of those stale foods.


Fishermen like to steam or boil when cooking fish, and just sprinkle some salt and peanut oil, without any MSG, let alone other seasoning, in order to taste its essence. As for the dried turnip processed by farmers, people tend to eat it on washing it up, crisp and fragrant.


The diet culture of Hainanese also features the temperance. In some other places, in order to express the hospitality, the hosts tend to urge the guests to eat or drink too much, eventually all being so full to enjoy the feast. However, at the feast of Hainan, the guests would not be urged to drink so much, while they are encouraged to help themselves to taste the delicious. It is the misunderstanding that Hainanese are not very hospitable to the guests for that.


In a winter, I went to Qiaotou town in Chengmai county, and had meals at an ordinary restaurant. All it served was the wild flavors, which consist of some things from the nature instead of artificial feeding. Each wild shrimp weights more than 100g, the carp was stewed with its original flavor and the crab was quite fat, all was luscious in the mouth.


In addition, the seahorse wine preserved the fishy smell of seahorse, which evoked a sense of hot. This meal was very impressive. Local people often eat such kind of wild foods, which maybe contribute to their brilliance.


According to some documents, Hainan people generally have a long life. The reasons for their longevity contain several respects, such as heredity, mentality and diet. People living on the mountain drink spring water, eat simple food, vegetables the most. People living at the sea like to drink coconut water, which is much cheaper than most of drinks. 


Hainan people living by the sea eat more nutritious seafood than meat from four-legged animals. As far as the place of residence is concerned, people living by the sea and the mountain boast a comparative longevity.


The Nanshan Mountain of Sanya, Hainan, which nears both the sea and the mountain, and people living there benefit both from the sea and the mountains. It is a place where there are many longevity, which has something to do with their ability to eat fresh food for years.

Diet culture of Hainan to be improved

Many people enjoy Cantonese cuisine. So it is, however, there seems something missing when people just enjoy the cuisine for doing something. While I was in Xi’an, there was something exquisite in its diet culture. When you were eating at some restaurants in Xi’an, the waiters would introduce something about culture of each dish, making you have a comprehensive understanding about what you eat.


For example, the familiar duck on the table was introduced to be the “famous duck” by the waiter, for many big names have ever had this kind of duck. This may make some ordinary people satisfy their vanity.


In Xi’an, even in some ordinary restaurants, calligraphy and paintings seem to play an important role. Some luxury hotels even also hang some calligraphy and paintings of famous people on the walls. Such kind of moves seem to embody the “cultural heritage” of the place.


Also in Guizhou, such kind of presentation of calligraphy and paintings can be seen at the very ordinary restaurants. In Xiamen, whether the foods are sold in the restaurants or packaged to sell, they bear some promotional appearance and cultural connotation, which is worth learning by Hainanese food industry. 


Some hotels in Haikou also make efforts on this trend at the beginning, hanging some famous calligraphy and paintings on the pillars and walls, only to find that it is not so attractive to the consumers. Many consumers like to go into the box to play poker and Mahjong. So as to cater the consumer, few calligraphy and well-known paintings as well as distinctive creation and design of packaging can be seen in most restaurants in Hainan, let alone the waiter’s introduction of the history of the dishes.


Hainan will have a promising future, and the philosophy and culture of diet should be continuously upgraded, to add the cultural connotation to Hainanese Cuisine.

Responsible editor: 劉娉
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