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Residents see world as their oyster

By QIU QUANLIN in Jieyang, Guangdong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-04 09:37
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Chen Hanzhong has been dubbed "oyster grandpa" in Jieyang, a coastal city in the east of Guangdong province, as he has specialized in cooking the delicacy for more than two decades.

"In the past, local farmers usually harvested fresh oysters. Now, I am training them how to cook more delicious varieties at home to attract more visitors," said the 52-year-old, who recently opened a training center in Chenzhou, a village in Jieyang that is widely recognized as China's home of fresh oysters.

"After training, the students will become more adept at cooking fresh oysters, and villagers will be able to make delicious food at home or start their own businesses," he said.

According to Chen, a growing number of local cooks and villagers have willingly taken part in the training.

"Rather than simply visiting the beaches and scenic spots, visitors will stay in the village if they can eat delicious food here," he said.

The training program has helped to accelerate local production of oysters, which has led more people from cities in the nearby Pearl River Delta region to visit the village, Chen said.

"My job is to bring more delicious food made from fresh oysters to each household so they can provide more services for visitors," he added.

At his training center, a number of new items-such as oysters with pickled vegetables and pigs' feet, crispy fried oysters, steamed oysters with rice noodles and oysters braised in ginger and onion-have been added to the menu.

"They are more like home-cooked meals. As a result, visitors will be able to sample delicious food," Chen said.

The human resources department of Shanwei said production of fresh oysters in Chenzhou village has risen dramatically in recent years, hitting about 15,000 metric tons with a value of 310 million yuan ($48.5 million), in 2019.

Having cooked the delicacy for so many years, Chen has been making efforts to develop more uses, such as putting pickled oysters into mooncakes, zongzi-a traditional sticky rice dumpling-and sausages.

"The new dishes will help the villagers expand their farming of oysters and raise incomes," Chen said. His efforts are part of a provincewide program that trains cooks to prepare Cantonese-style food. The provincial government launched the program in late 2018 as a way of boosting employment and fighting poverty.

So far, 154,000 people across the province have received the training, which has benefited 391,000 people who have found related jobs or opened catering businesses, according to the Guangdong Human Resources and Social Security Department.

"The Cantonese chef training program has proved to be an efficient way of raising the incomes of people in rural areas by accelerating the development of the farming, catering and tourism industries," said Yang Shifang, director of the Shanwei Human Resources and Social Security Bureau.

In Shanwei, the training program has helped train 4,222 chefs, thus benefiting more than 11,677 people who have found jobs, according to Yang.

The city has also developed a number of scenic routes featuring local food and Red tourism resources, according to Yang.

"Cantonese, or Guangdong, cuisine is not just about food and ingredients, but is also a path to fortune, helping local farmers improve the quality of their lives," Yang said.

In late 2019, He Jingyi spent two weeks in nearby Shantou city, learning to prepare and cook goose marinated in soybean sauce.

Since then, the 45-year-old has opened six restaurants featuring the dish, each of which makes an average monthly revenue of more than 40,000 yuan.

"I plan to open 20 restaurants within two years and train more people to specialize in marinated goose," she said.

Xiao Weizhong, director of the Shantou Nanyue Chiu Chow Cuisine Training School, said that in the wake of the Cantonese chef training program the local human resources and social security authority issued a cooking standard for marinated goose and helped train hundreds of cooks.

"The training has helped boost employment and expand local farming of geese," Xiao said.

Wan Zhong, deputy director and a researcher with the Guangdong Institute for Rural Studies, said the Cantonese chef training program mirrors efforts in the province in recent decades to fight poverty and boost employment prospects.

The province, an economic powerhouse in South China, has introduced a series of measures including industrial development and modern agriculture to help fight poverty in its rural areas, according to Wan.

"We need a high-quality system of poverty alleviation through the development of modern industries to guide the development of rural areas," Wan said.

Local government sources said that by the end of last year, the province had implemented 48,000 special poverty alleviation projects based on the development of industries in rural areas, thus helping to boost incomes for 628,000 people.

More than 4 million people across Guangdong have been lifted out of poverty since 2009, according to local rural vitalization authorities.

For example, after quitting her job at a shoe manufacturer in the Pearl River Delta in 2017, Feng Caixia has been working at a toy factory in Lianzhang village in Qingyuan, a mountainous city in the north of Guangdong.

"The toy factory is one of the best ways to boost farmers' incomes," she said, adding that locals can make about 3,000 yuan a month without having to leave their hometowns to seek work in large cities.

During the peak season, the factory employs more than 100 workers, mostly from Lianzhang, a formerly impoverished village, and nearby settlements, she added.

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