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TOPICS: Table and chair use; Chinese restaurant sales; Cookbook trickery; Fried bean sprouts and fried cabbage; Kiangche cuisine; Oyster sauce

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Spring Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(1) page(s): 8, 9, and 30


TABLE and CHAIRS in early China are discussed in the 2006 Chinese Dietary Culture Foundation Journal in Volume 2(2). This foundation holds a meeting every other year and publishes the above-named journal twice a year. In addition, they publish a magazine about Chinese food four times a year. One or two articles in the journal can be in English, most are in Chinese. The magazine is only in Chinese. In the journal, a fascinating article discusses East Asian families and their dining tables. Written by Ishige Naomichi, Professor Emeritus of Japan's National Museum of Ethnology in Kyoto Japan, it entrances and provides information about daily habits at dining tables in China, Korea, and Japan, and discusses families, dining patterns, attitudes, utensils, table settings, and meal formats.

With reference to China, Ishige reports that according to the Sijiyuan of Zhouli or the Rites of Zhou, coarse matting called yan was put on the floor and a xi placed on top of it. People sat on this yan-xi to eat. He writes about dining tables that are depicted in ancient murals called an and pan. They come with or without legs. Four square and five round an were found depicted on ancient murals at the Liaoyang Bangtaizi grave in the Liaoning Province. These were in use during Eastern Han dynasty times (25 - 220 CE).

Chairs did not exist then; they came later. They were common among nobility during early Tang dynasty times circa 618 CE. Later, in the middle of this dynasty, they were found in the homes of upper and middle class folk. Today, urban families do sit on chairs and around tables, for most of their meals. Rural families more commonly squat and hold their bowls of food or they use stools and hold their bowl when eating.

For more information about this and other articles in these publications, and to learn about the books they review, to subscribe to one or both of them, contact their web site or contact them via e-mail at: fcdc@mercuries.com.tw

CHINESE RESTAURANT SALES in the United States, reports Chinese Restaurant News, have reached seventeen plus billion dollars. This magazine reports about them, their standards, and promotes their excellence. For the third year in a row, they granted 'Top 100 Chinese Restaurant' awards at the Los Angeles All Asia Food Expo. The award-wining restaurants for this year are listed in this very issue. We visit as many as we can when in their cities, and hope yo will do likewise.

CHINESE RESTAURANT NEWS and its sister publication, Asian Restaurant News, report there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than all the McDonald’s (13,000+), Burger King’s (11,000+), and Wendy’s (6,900+) in the United States, combined. Participants in the 'Top 100 Chinese Restaurants' competition are selected from their list of the forty-three thousand-plus Chinese restaurants nationwide. Every one of them is eligible to enter this event if more than forty percent of their menu is Chinese dishes, they are in business at least three years, have garnered at least two local awards or recognitions of excellence, and apply to enter the competition. Five hundred nominees made the final ranking and were entered on the web or by snail-mail. These ratings enhance their ability to win, somewhat akin to the Zagat rating system. In this competition, selected judges vote only after their applications and customer votes are counted.

This year, the final list of 'Top 100 Chinese Chinese Restaurants' needed excellence in six aspects. This year, for the first time, in addition to recognition for their food and flavor, there were awards of excellence in sanitation/cleanliness, service, convenience. and value be they takeouts, buffets, family and fine dining eateries. As in the past, there was an award ceremony at the expo and a gala dinner. The 'Top 100 Chinese Restaurants' are also featured at http://top100.c-r-n.com and listed in this issue of Flavor and Fortune.

COOKBOOK TRICKERY was discovered in an early Chinese-Japanese culinary volume. It has been reprinted; see its new cover on this page. You may recall that this is a 1914 book that was discussed in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 10(4) on pages 25 and 33. The original and very early volume was printed by Rand McNally and Company and written by two American sisters, Sara Bosse and Onota Watanna (a pen-name). For this new edition, thanks go to Applewood Books of Bedford, Massachusetts who reprinted it in 2006 in cooperation with the Culinary Trust, a philanthropic arm of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

This magazine's editor wrote a lengthy introduction highlighting many of the tricks and other information in this cultural gem that has more Chinese than Japanese recipes. The tricks were originally discussed by Yuko Matsukawa in a book called Triksterism in Turn-of-the-Century American Literature. Thanks to this reprint, everyone can now read and learn about them. Everyone can also enjoy their cookery hints and try their recipes. Test yourself by reading the introduction after you peruse the rest of the book. See how many tricks you locate.

No tricks intended, below are some recipe examples. They are exactly as they were in the original Bosse Watanna book. Not all ingredients came with exact amounts; therefore, at the end of this article are two related and more modern recipes from the Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking by Wonona W. and Irving B. Chang and Helene W. and Austin H. Kutscher (New York: Crown Publishers, 1970). Comparing old and new recipes tells lots about how Chinese recipes and recipe writing has developed; and see if you see some tricks in the older ones, which are as follows:

FRIED BEAN SPROUTS: Into a hot iron pan put a quarter of a pound of fresh pork fat, and fry brown. Drain all water from a pound of bean sprouts, put into the hot fat, and fry uncovered for five minutes, stirring to keep from burning. Now add to the three tablespoons of syou, salt and pepper. Cover tightly, and let simmer for fifteen minutes. (Note: syou is their spelling of and is intended to be soy sauce.)

FRIED CABBAGE: Wash and dry the cabbage, then cut in long, slender strips, and throw into a deep frying pan containing two tablespoons of hot fat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and fry, stirring for five minutes, shaking the pan to keep cabbage from burning. This is very good with rice, and is used by the poor Chinese as a substitute for fish.

KIANGCHE CUISINE also written as Jiangsu Cuisine, incorporates the foods of Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Ningpo (also written as Lingpo), and Shanghai. Others define this culinary region with minor variations; some list six distinctions adding the foods of Wuxi.

This Southeastern region is sometimes called: The Land of Fish and Rice because the Yangtze River and ancient imperial canals traverse the area. While each of these cities has its own personality, together as a region, they do lots of stir-frying, emphasize cooking with high heat, and deep-fry many dishes. All Kiangche culinary communities use lots of scallops, sea cucumber, eel, abalone, shark’s fins, jellyfish, frogs, and fish. They feature bamboo fungus, lotus in all forms, many kinds of mushrooms, and lots of low-land herbals.

Hangzhou, well-known for its beautiful East Lake, includes many crunchy and crispy dishes along with many fish and other sea foods. Yangzhou poaches, stews, boils, and simmers many of its foods, those from the sea included. Suzhou foods are sweet and delicate, many coming from the sea. Ningpo cookery concentrates on roasting, stewing and steaming and incorporates salt to preserve their dishes. Shanghai foods can be dry-fried, stewed, steamed, or deep-fried, and they are light, salty, and slightly sweet. Many use considerable dark soy sauce and are called: red-cooked, Wuxi foods are rich and sweet and feature fancy cutting incorporating shrimp, crabs, and lotus roots from nearby Lake Ta.

This region was home to China's capital starting at the beginning of the Six Dynasties period (222 CE) and continued until the end of the Song Dynasty (1129 CE). Specifically, the southern six dynasties were Wu, Ding Jin, Song, Qi, Liang, and Chen; so grouped with their capital in Nanjing. There were also the six northern dynasties of: Wei, Xijin, Beiwei, Beiqi, Beizhou, and Sui.

The regional topography of this area, generally flat, has many lakes dotting the area, lots of seacoast, and considerable agriculture and aquaculture. These assure a lot of good fresh food. Among the many popular dishes: Wine Crab, Crispy Fish with Olive Nuts, Chicken and Shredded Tofu, Wuxi Crispy Eel, Dungpo Pork, Stir-fried Shrimp with Eel, Steamed Meat Buns, Date-filled Pot Stickers, Ningpo Rice Ball Soup, and Eight Treasure Glutinous Rice. Some of these are found in Tony Hsu’s book reviewed in this issue on page 18.

OYSTER SAUCE is a major Cantonese condiment. There are many legends about its origin, the most respected one told by an originator. That tale is in the Lee Kum Kee booklet, pictured on this page, explaining that its discovery was purely accidental. The booklet advises that farmer Lee Kan Sheung was the one who founded this sauce. He lived in Qibao, Xinhui, in the Guangdong province. Some time thereafter, he left his hometown and moved to Nanshui, Zhuha, where he opened a tiny eatery that sold cooked oysters. One day when he lost track of time, his oysters overcooked. He began to smell them and when he took a look, he saw a brown sauce with a strong aroma. As it had a delicious taste, he started to sell this overcooked sauce. In 1888, he began mass producing it, formed a company, and called it Lee Kum Kee.

In 1902, his oyster sauce plant was ruined in a fire. Thereafter, he moved to Macao to rebuild his business. In 1932, he was succeeded by a second generation, namely Lee Shui Nan and Lee Shui Dag. They soon relocated to Hong Kong and developed an overseas Chinese market for the sauce. The third generation, led by Lee Man Tat, continued to make it and they began to make a more affordable product named Panda Brand Oyster Flavored Sauce.

The booklet advises that the mollusks are harvested, opened, cleaned, and boiled for two hours, then simmered for ten more hours until they produce a highly concentrated brown extract. The sauce undergoes many quality tests for taste, viscosity, salt level, and acidity before it is mixed and boiled with other ingredients. After that, it is bottled, sealed, labeled, and packed in cartons, all automatically.

Lee Kum Kee now makes many different types of oyster flavored sauce. The Premium Grade is the one originated in 1888. They consider it their best and richest. They make Panda Brand, second only in quality to their premium product. Choy Sun is another Lee Kum Kee brand, it is made with no MSG. They make other sauces including ones that add dry scallops and oysters and they make a vegetarian flavored oyster sauce. It has absolutely no fish or seafood in it and gets it rich flavor from its shiitake mushrooms.

This company's booklet about their oyster sauces includes several recipes including one of those below, slightly rewritten in the style of recipes in this magazine. It also includes others by Martin Yan, of Yan Can Cook fame.
One-minute Bean Sprouts
Ingredients:
3 Tablespoons peanut oil
4 slices fresh ginger, shredded
1 scallion, cut into one-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 pound bean sprouts, their tails removed
Preparation:
1. Heat wok, add oil, then the ginger and the scallion, and stir-fry a few seconds, before adding the bean sprouts. Stir-fry them for half a minute.
2. Add salt and sugar and stir well several times. They are ready to serve in one minute and will be crisp.
Stir-fried Chinese Cabbage
Ingredients:
1 pound Chinese cabbage
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Preparation:
1. Cut leaves and stems into one-inch pieces, keeping white stems separate from the leaf parts.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil and the salt and garlic and stir-fry about fifteen seconds before adding white cabbage parts and stir-frying them for two minutes. Then add leaf parts and stir-fry another minute.
3. While that is cooking, mix stock, both soy sauces, sugar, ginger, rice wine and cornstarch and add to the wok, mix well, and serve.
Fried Pork in Oyster Sauce
Ingredients:
1/4 pound pork loin, thinly sliced and cut in strips
1 Tablespoon Premium oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon Shaoxing wine
7 Tablespoons flour
3 and 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced scallion
3 Tablespoons Premium Oyster Sauce
2 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 to 2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a like amount of cold water
1 Tablespoon dried cloud ear fungus, soaked, then minced
5 water chestnuts, sliced
Preparation:
1. Mix pork with the one tablespoon of oyster sauce and the one tablespoon of the wine. Set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Make batter of flour, cornstarch, egg, and one-third cup cold water. Mix well, then let rest for five minutes before mixing in the pork.
3. Heat a wok or pan, add the oil, and deep-fry the pork for two minutes until it is no longer pink. Drain and leave one tablespoon of the oil in the wok or pan, discard the rest.
4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the ginger ad scallion pieces for half minute before adding the three tablespoons of oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and thetwo tablespoons of wine. Stir well, then add the cornstarch solution and stir well before adding the pork, cloud ear fungus, and the water chestnuts. Stir-fry half minute, ten add fried pork, cloud ear fungus, water chestnuts. Serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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