Would you like to taste this chicken?
Updated 20:11, 28-Oct-2023
Yin Zetian
Would you like to taste this chicken?

Editor's note: This is a letter from Yin Zetian, a trainee of the "Telling Chinese Stories Well" training course at Shandong University Weihai Campus, sharing his thoughts on popular Chinese cuisine – Dezhou Braised Chicken.

If you order takeout in China, it is believed that when you open the ordering app, most of the food options are chicken-based. Regarding the topic of consuming chicken, Wang Zengqi, a famous Chinese writer once said that Chinese people are very good at eating chicken. When it comes to Americans eating chicken, it is mainly through methods like frying, grilling, and roasting. In comparison, Dezhou Braised Chicken is seen as a fascinating culinary experience in China.

Speaking of Texas, it is often associated with Texas Hold'em Poker and Texas fried chicken. However, Dezhou Braised Chicken does not originate from Texas but from the city of Dezhou in east China's Shandong Province. Dezhou is located on the edge of Shandong Province and braised chicken is considered one of the "three treasures" of Dezhou by the locals, with Dezhou Braised Chicken being the most recognized.

The city of Dezhou gained fame due to its well-developed railway system, and Dezhou Braised Chicken became renowned nationwide with the construction of a railway that linked Beijing and Shanghai in 1912. Many braised chicken restaurants were opened on the square of the train station. The prosperity of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in the 1960s made Dezhou Port an important hub connecting the north and south.

As a popular cooked food, braised chicken gained fame among passengers traveling by ship and train. It became widely known along with the influx of customers traveling from the north to the south. Dezhou Braised Chicken has been sold at rest areas on highways and can be found on trains from green-liveried trains to high-speed trains.

The cooking technique of Dezhou Braised Chicken differs from the Western approach, as it involves a process of frying followed by simmering. The chicken is coated with a layer of honey, but instead of being baked like in the United States or the Caribbean, it is deep-fried. The high temperature allows for quick cooking, resulting in a crispy exterior while maintaining the moisture within the chicken.

Afterwards, the chicken is soaked in a broth made from spices such as nutmeg, aniseed, cinnamon, and dried tangerine peel. This process infuses the chicken with flavors from the broth, creating a tender and succulent texture. With a gentle tug, the chicken can easily separate from the bone, offering a unique and layered taste.

Initially, some American tourists may find it hard to accept this style of cuisine, but they gradually become addicted to its flavors. It is possible that you may not enjoy this particular taste, but if you visit Shandong and do not try Dezhou Braised Chicken, it will become a great regret for future conversations with friends.

Dezhou Braised Chicken started in Dezhou and expanded from east China to the entire country. Twenty years ago, most of Dezhou Braised Chicken was produced by small rural workshops and individual sellers. While it was relatively convenient to purchase within Dezhou, customers from outside Dezhou often encountered issues such as non-authentic sources and product deterioration due to transportation time.

In order to ensure the delicious and fresh taste of Dezhou Braised Chicken, the city of Dezhou began to explore the use of smart livestock farming to produce "smart Dezhou chicken." By integrating the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence technologies, real-time monitoring of herd movement, health, diseases, and environmental conditions became possible. This digitization transformation of the livestock industry, despite lacking the thrill of opening a blind box, has greatly improved the taste of Dezhou Braised Chicken purchased online. In terms of packaging, it has evolved from the initial use of lotus leaves to vacuum packaging. From small alleyway vendors to nationwide highway shelves, Dezhou Braised Chicken has come a long way.

The development of Dezhou Braised Chicken has driven the economy of Dezhou and facilitated its rapid growth, gradually forming a cultural heritage centered around Dezhou Braised Chicken. In order to promote and inherit this chicken culture and share the flavors of China with international food enthusiasts, Dezhou established the Dezhou Braised Chicken Museum in 2007, which focuses on chicken culture.

It should not be surprising, as multiple versions of statistical data have shown that Shandong Province has the highest number of museums in China. Groups of elderly travel enthusiasts are taken to witness the origin of food, which includes visiting livestock breeding bases or open production lines. They witness the vibrant lives of these animals and experience the history of the city. 

"Young people may have heard of Dezhou Braised Chicken, but they may not necessarily choose it. When it's time to have meals, they often go to KFC instead," said Zang Renfeng, director of the Department of Commerce and Trade Development of Shandong Province. He once told Business People that converting brand awareness into purchasing power is a challenge that all long-standing brands need to consider. The lack of talent is a pain point for all traditional brands, and Dezhou Braised Chicken is no exception.

Dezhou Braised Chicken is not just a delicious dish; it is a locomotive driving the development of Dezhou as a city. Despite the shortage of talent, Dezhou Braised Chicken continues to be served on the train, sincerely wanting to share Chinese cuisine with the world. Through the window of Dezhou Braised Chicken, it is hoped that people around the world can experience the traditional values and unique charm of Chinese culinary culture. It is not just a taste of China; it is a representation of Chinese culture.

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