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Origins of a Chinese Recipe: The Story of Mo Sho Rou

by Irving Beilin Chang

Food in History

Winter Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(4) page(s): 11 and 35


In 1983, my wife and I spent Christmas in Hangzhou. It was a very different kind of a vacation. We chose to spend it by ourselves in this important and ancient city. At that time, the tourist wave had yet to hit China and this city was much less popular than it is today. We were able to stay at the Hangzhou Hotel located on the edge of West Lake.

One morning, as we were walking along the lake, we came upon Yue Fei's Tomb. History tells us he was an important general, and that he lived from 1103 to 1141 CE. As we went into the compound, we saw two simple graves. There were weeds growing all over them and no decorations on them. We were surprised because this place attracted many local tourists. We also saw two bronze figures kneeling in front of the tombs. The posted sign said that these figures were Qin Gui and his wife. They were notorious villains of the Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1279 CE). (Note: this dynastic period is spelled more than one way, and before the use of Pinyin transliterations, it was often spelled Sung).

Yue Fei was born at a time when this dynasty lost its hold on the northern plains of China to the invading Mongols. These invaders were also known as the Tartars. At that time, Gaozong, who lived from 1107 to 1187 CE (before the use of Pinyan his name was written as Gao-Tsung) was the first emperor of the Southern Song. Under Yue Fei's command, his army was able to stabilize rule south of the Yangtze River.

Yue Fei made the Mongols flee on the rivers and through the valleys of Southern China. He was very successful, so much so, that his fame grew day by day. He was, at that time, thought to be the savior of the Southern Song.

Gaozong wrote to Yue Fei thanking him for his leadership and praising him for the hardships he endured while fighting for his country. Then some time thereafter, Gaozong's Royal Court was controlled by a Premier named Qin Gui. This fellow was known for evil and sinister doings.

As Qin Gui (1090 - 1155 CE) was very jealous of Yue Fei's popularity, he commanded him to come back to the capital, which at that time was at Hangzhou. Yue Fei's men, knowing how corrupt the Royal Court was, advised him not to go. Taking that advise at that time, he stayed at the battlefield front and ignored the order.

Now for a little personal background. When Yue Fei was a little boy his father had joined the military. Seeing how mismanaged the Song Dynasty was, he joined a rebel group hoping to over-throw this dynasty. Unfortunately, his father was killed in the uprising. When Yue Fei wanted to join the military, his mother who had raised him single-handedly made him promise never to follow in his father's footsteps. To remind him often of his promise, one day she asked him to take off his shirt. With a red-hot needle dipped in vinegar, she wrote four letters on his back. They were: Jing Zhong Bao Guo and meant 'Be Loyal to Your Country.' She told him his father was not loyal to his country which was why he died in vain.

Back to our main story. Qin Gui sent a messenger every hour on the hour with the same message, commanding Yue Fei to return to the Royal Court. Yue Fei told his men he had to obey these orders and finally and very reluctantly he returned to Hangzhou with his son. Both were immediately imprisoned by Qin Gui. When one of the senior court officials questioned Qin and asked him what fault did Yue Fei have that he was treated as a common criminal, Qin answered Mo Shu You meaning 'Maybe he has.' So with that statement, Yue Fei was falsely accused of treason, and on the very next day, Qin Gui had both Yue Fei and his son executed.

Soon thereafter, the people with Yue Fei's army's help, rioted and took Qin Gui and his wife prisoner. They killed them and cut their bodies into one thousand pieces. The army, however, remained weak and though they had installed Gao Zong, his reign went downhill. He abdicated in 1162 CE in favor of a nephew, whom he called his adopted son. That son became the next ruler. When this nephew was born, he had been named Zhao Bozong. On his accession to the throne, he was known as Xiao Zong; and he ruled until 1190 CE.

Some years later, an enterprising chef came up with a dish of finely shredded pork and vegetables wrapped in a pancake. He needed a name to promote his creation, so he called it Mo Shu Rou. The Chinese word for pork is rou, and that name stuck. So when you order this dish, remember Yue Fei, the hero of the Song Dynasty. Think of the imperial order, really a personal letter of thanks for his unceasing efforts protecting his country. A bit of that letter appeared on the ahrd copy with this article. It is from an item of the Joint Administration of the National Palace and Central Museums in Taipei, and has appeared in several books and catalogues of Chinese Art treasures. It is revered by many Chinese.
Mo Shu Rou
Ingredients:
6 dried black mushrooms
2 Tablespoons cloud ear fungus
1/2 pound boneless pork chops, chopped
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon corn starch
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup sliced canned bamboo shoots, slivered
3 scallions, cut into two-inch pieces
1/2 pound cabbage, shredded
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound egg roll skins
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce, for dipping
Preparation: 1. Soak mushrooms and cloud ear fungus separately for fifteen minutes, in warm water. Then drain both of them and discard the water. Cut them into thin slices and set aside.
2. Mix the pork with soy sauce and corn-starch.
3. Heat peanut oil in a wok or a non-stick fry pan, then add the pork and stir-fry for two minutes until pork has lost all its pink color. When it has, remove the pork and set it aside, leaving any remaining oil in the pan.
4. Combine the ginger, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and scallions. Reheat the oil and stir fry this mixture for one minute. Then, add shredded cabbage, sugar, and salt, and simmer for ten minutes.
5. Add the pork and stir-fry for another five minutes. Remove, drain, and put into a pre-heated bowl.
6. Steam the egg roll skins for five minutes, then remove them to a plate and cover them with a cloth.
7. Then to serve the Mo Shu Rou oneself or have a host or hostess do it, put one egg roll skin on a plate. Add three or four tablespoons of the pork mixture in the center, then roll, folding in the ends, so that the filling remains inside. Repeat until all are made, then eat and enjoy.
Note: Hoisin sauce can be used for dipping, or spread a teaspoon of hoisin sauce on the egg roll skin before adding the pork mixture.

                                                                                                                                                       
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