When you open a package of Dezhou braised chicken, you open a time capsule of Chinese history. Dezhoupaji or Dezhou Five-Fragrant Boneless Braised Chicken dates back to 1692 in Shandong’s Dezhou and was recognised as early as the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty as a local speciality often sent as a tribute to the emperor.
A chicken of roughly one kilogramme in weight is first deep-fried until slightly burned and then marinated for a couple of hours in a broth that features mushrooms, fennel, clove, cardamom (as well as wurbainia villosa and Chinese angelica) plus malt sugar and premium soy sauce. According to the China Daily the stewed chicken has “red glossy skin, tender texture, aromatic smell and juicy taste”.
Dezhou later became an important station on the Beijing-Shanghai rail line, and travellers passing through would stop to buy Dezhoupaji from vendors on the city’s station platform. The chicken hence carries a nostalgic flavour from the period between the 1950s and the 1990s when the iconic “green-skinned train” was once the backbone of the rail system connecting China’s major cities.
“In the 1980s, every time I passed the Dezhou station, the platform was loud with shouts,” recalls one weibo user. “The most confident voices were those of the women selling Dezhoupaji.”
“The national dish of our cultural heritage!” writes another user. “At home the smell wafts until even the bones are used up.”
Why is it in the news?
The business that became most well known for distributing the dish nationwide was created in 1953 as Dezhou City Company and was later rebranded and reorganised in 1998 as the Shandong Dezhou Braised Chicken Company. It is in private hands: Cui Guihai, its chairman, owns almost all the equity along with his wife and sons.
Salty and smoky, the flavour of the chicken brings many older generations of Chinese consumers back to the ‘flavour of their childhood’. Though the time-honoured cooking techniques to make it are designated as part of “Shandong’s Cultural Heritage”, the company’s means of distribution have been updated for modern times so that consumers often now prefer to purchase packages of the braised chicken online on Taobao or Tmall.
Today the company is planning to sell its shares to the public. On July 5, Dezhou Braised Chicken applied for an IPO on the main board of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, hoping to raise approximately Rmb758 million for new food processing facilities (these include a frozen product line) as well as marketing and for brand promotion.
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