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TOPICS INCLUDE: Jews in China; More about a trip to China; Missing ingredient in Eggplant Pickle recipe; Hanover Das Menu book
Letters to the Editor
Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page(s): 6 and 29
From P.M. via e-mail:
The review of the Great Wall restaurants in Jerusalem and then letter from the Netherlands made me stop and wonder about whether and when there were large numbers of Jews in China. And one more query, if they were there, did they have any influence on the cuisine or visa versa?
P.M.: You and several others mused on this and related topics. For those who want to explore the Jewish presence in ancient China, try Sidney Shapiro's expanded edition of Jews in Old China published in New York by Hippocrene Books (2001). This translated set of studies by Chinese scholars is well worth reading. As to culinary influence, you’ll learn little, but we think the answer to those last questions is: None we ever heard about. The Chinese were familiar with several groups who ate no pork, Jews and Muslims among them. They were tolerant about these and many different beliefs of others, perhaps that is why. And, until recently, little was known about the number of Jews and where they lived in China. They were called Zhuhu, or Tiao Jin Jiao or those of 'The Sinew Plucking religion,' also Lan Mao Huizi or Blue Hat Muslims. Should you want to know more about at least one of them who lived there for years and years, read about an American lawyer/translator who married a Chinese woman, and became a Chinese citizen in 1983. That book os called: I Chose China and is by the same author and publisher as the volume above, its copyright is 2000.
From IMOGENE LIM: Part Two of the e-mail about the group's trip to China. The first part is in Flavor and Fortune, Volume 8(4) on page 6.
In Beijing, a common vegetable in this northern part of China is garlic stem or stalk. People on the tour enjoyed it stir-fried. Since returning to Canada, I noticed that local supermarkets carry it. My advice for the home gardener is to save their own garlic stalks. They provide a tasty vegetable alternative while still green and tender.
Of course, there were plenty of other vegetables. When I asked what a particular one was, I was often told it was a local leafy green. Obviously, people took advantage of produce locally available and distinctive. I was pleased to see that crops cultivated and eaten were well (perhaps, even uniquely) suited to their particular environment.
At specialty dinners, the group sampled the Imperial Cuisine in Beijing, both a dumpling banquet and a hot pot dinner in Xian, and a Buddhist vegetarian dinner in Guilin. The Imperial Cuisine served at Fang Shan was memorable, so was the restaurant’s setting, within Beihai Park's part of the former Imperial City. The decor was elaborate, as was the food presentation.
Those who have had the good fortune to be invited to a Chinese banquet, especially one for a wedding or other special occasion, know the artistry exhibited in the kitchen. The dishes at Fang Shan were adorned with carved vegetables. In Xian, they molded dumpling shapes at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House that were astonishing. None of us needed to be told what each dumpling held because the shape was so precise that there was no question—walnut, chicken, duck, fish, etc. In addition to all the dumplings, we were entertained by a recreated Tang Dynasty show.
For those who liked to taste, there were opportunities other than scheduled meals. In Beijing, the best place was the Dongdan Night Food Market. This is where locals snack on foods prepared while you wait, such as noodles, Chinese sweets, egg rolls, or grilled corn and meats. The latter include foods that North Americans folk consider exotic, or perhaps do not even assign to the category of food---silkworm pupae, frogs legs, locusts, etc. Being adventuresome, I was anxious to try the silkworm pupae that I had read about in Flavor and Fortune. This, I did at a cost roughly the equivalent of a Canadian dollar; or about seventy cents American. The 'taste like chicken' response did not work. I doubt there is an equivalent to compare in the North American taste/texture context. It was chewy on the outside and, no surprise, soft on the inside.
Perhaps the rest of my companions were too full from their dinner, but I forged ahead with my foraging, sampling next, stinky tofu (also grilled). It looks like pressed tofu but is black in color. The color alone might repel the American diner without even knowing its name. As it is fermented, I was surprised that it did not have a particularly strong flavor. This time I had more of my fellow travelers willing to have a taste than with the silkworm pupae; but only the women expressed interest.
Malaspina University College and Red Dragon Travel will be hosting another ‘Taste of China' tour with a similar itinerary in May 2002. Interested folk can contact them by one of the following e-mail addresses:, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for full details and costs.
From SUSAN, via e-mail:
I love eggplant pickle, but the ones in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 8(4) on page 21 were such that my strabismos made me miss things, I think. While my eyes do play tricks sometimes, this time I think not. Did you not omit the sesame oil in the ingredient list and forget to use the coriander listed there?
SUSAN: Your eyes are better than our proof reading. We apologize to you and everyone. In the Tasty Eggplant Pickle recipe on that page, the ingredient list is missing one tablespoon of sesame oil. And as to the coriander, it and the sesame seeds should be added after shredding the eggplant but before mixing in the items in step number four. The readers and I thank you for your keen acuity. We also thank you for previously forwarding a picture of the cover from a Hannover, Klindworth’s Verlav book titled: Das Menu which was shown in the Volume 9(1) issue on page 29, and a copy of page 232 from that book. We include its menu of 'an ordinary Chinese dinner of a wealthy Chinese.'
The book, written in 1877, has the following menu:
Nine large and eight small courses.
I. Shark Flipper with Crab Meat Sauce
Roasted Pigeon eggs with Mushrooms
Sliced Snails in Chicken Soup with Ham
II. Wild Ducks and Shantung Cabbage
Fat Pork Roasted in Rice
III. Braised Lily Roots
Small Chickens in Fruits with Ham
Braised Bamboo Shoots
IV. Roasted Seafood
After the above menu is says:
Cleaning of the Table, followed by Baked Sweet Pudding and Baked Salted Pudding
V. Sweetened Ducks
VI. Slices of Chicken Roasted in Oil
VII. Cooked Fishwith Sauce
VII. Slices of Parboiled Mutton in Soup with Rice
Tea and Tabac. Opium.
In addition to the above, it adds:
For voluntary serving until the end: Sixteen Platters with Four assortments of Fresh Fruits, four of dried fruits, four of candies fruits. Also, one platter with Ham Slices, 1 platter with sardines, and one platter with cabbage.