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TOPICS INCLUDE: About Zheng He and his treasure ships; Early Chinese writings; Mandarin Restaurant in Bountiful, Utah says thanks; Recommended eatery in Austin Texas; Aromatic foods in Shaoxing; A Mongolian hangover cure; Health web sites

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 7, 8 and 9


From MIKHAL IN CENTRAL ASIA:
You have shared some things about Zheng He and his treasure ships; can you tell us when he lived, who he was, and more?
MIKHAL: Thank for asking, but I must advise I am no expert about the Ming Dynasty. Zheng He was a diplomat and Ming Dynasty eunuch. He had a great reputation and made seven trips to many countries in the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf from 1405 to 1433 CE. He led what were called 'Treasure Ships' and a fleet of others during the Ming Dynasty. Born in 1371, he died in 1433, and was purported to be a great explorer.

Born Ma Ha, and in the Yunnan Province, his family was from Bukhara in Central Asia in what is now known as Uzbekistan. His original tomb was in Nanjing, and in 1985 was redone on the same site which was on the outskirts of Bulls Head Hill in that city. The words “Allah is Great” are inscribed on the top of his tomb as he was a devout Muslim who had been taken captive in 1381 by the Ming Dynasty army, then castrated, and trained to be a servant for the then Imperial Court of the Prince of Yan. He did become his confidant, was renamed Zheng He, also spelled Cheng Ho, and became an important person in his army .

A friend of ours did visit his tomb some years back and said it had pictures of him as well as navigation maps of the voyages he made on the 400-foot-plus vessels. For comparison, the trip Columbus made to the United States some eighty years later was on a ship about eighty-five feet long accompanied by two other similar size vessels. Before these trips, Zheng he was director of the servants at the palace, and from 1424 to 1430 he commanded a garrison at Nanjing.

On the first voyage he commanded, he was in charge of sixty-two of these Treasure Ships, each with nine masts. There were more than two hundred other boats accompanying him on that voyage along with more than twenty-five thousand troops. They went to what is now South Vietnam, also to parts of India, Java, Malacca, and Ceylon. His last voyage was from 1431 to 1433 following the route to Hormuz. He died on this seventh voyage. After he did, China withdrew from the sea and concentrated only on land conquests.

From LOU via e-mail:
Thank you for showing those early writings. Can you tell us where and how you learned about them?
LOU: I surely can. Did read about them in a magazine called Silkroad in the October 13th issue of 2013. It showed what looked like a leg bone and some other item that we could not ascertain what it was. The bone had Chinese writing on it. It said the excavation was found was in a small town in the Henan Province where etched on animal bones and tortoise shells dating back more than 3,000 years were thee earliest known form of Chinese writing."

From Mr. SKEDROS and THE MANDARIN RESTAURANT in Bountiful, Utah:
Thank you for such an outstanding article on the Mandarin in your Flavor and Fortune publication. I have enclosed my annual donation to ISACC.
Mr. SKEDROS: Running your very appreciated eatery, one so crowded during these past holidays, and working there and elsewhere sixty plus hours each week, and starting and working for the Anthony Skedros Charitable Memorial Foundation, and all else that you do is inspiring. We appreciate your sharing the fruits of your labors with the annual donation you once again made with this magazine, as well as appreciating those of others who help us move our efforts forward. Together, we share love for and both of us do tout Chinese cuisine. We are pleased to be in your good company. May we and others continue increasing knowledge about and love for this fantastic cuisine. Its four-thousand-plus year history is a testament to its greatness. You are a great chap to recognize it! We do appreciate your so doing.

From HSI-MING on LONG ISLAND:
Seems to me I once asked about the Meyer Lemon, and do not recall the answer.
HSI-MING: the Meyer lemon originated in China. This citrus fruit is a cross between the mandarin orange and the ordinary lemon. They are less tart than any lemon, and they do have a thinner rind. As to their name, they were named for the chap who brought them to the USA, Mr. Frank Meyer. The year he did so was 1908.

FROM STEVE visiting AUSTIN TX:
Ate at Asia Café at 8650 Spicewood Springs Road in Austin TX (zip is: 78759; phone is: (512) 331-5788). The items we had were very, very good. The Whole Fish with Black Bean Sauce was spicier than the usual Cantonese version as was their Spicy Mongolian Lamb. Alas, no Hot and Sour Soup which is, as you know, my favorite. No table service either. Everyone finds a table, sits down, looks at the menu, and goes to the counter to order. They call your number when food is ready, and you need to collect it yourself and bring it to your table. One does need to know about their good food. Their menu is also at: www.asianmarketaustin.co/restaurantHome.html
STEVE: Thanks for advising even though you did not have your absolute favorite, the Hot and Sour Soup. Glad to know that one of ours, Mongolian Lamb, was spicy and very, very good and that the whole fish was, too. Thanks for sharing.

From CARLOS in MEXICO CITY:
Is it true that when you or anyone is in Shaoxing you get to smell and taste many foods with high their aroma some say is unpleasant?
CARLOS: There are some who complain about strong-smelling dishes in and around this city; others, too. We have written about smelly tofu, and Shaoxing is not the only city where this food is appreciated. Other than smelly bean curd, in this city they like the strong moldy aroma of mashed taro and other foods that some say smell moldy. Here, they say 'the stronger the smell, the tastier the dish' but not everyone agrees here or anywhere. There are those who do like this fermented aroma. Some of them do add thick chili sauce to many of their dishes, but not to cover up taste or smell. The dish I think you are referring to is called Thousand Mildew Square. Made with lots of thin sheets of dried bean milk pressed together then cut into squares, it is kept in a warm place to mold quickly. So is mashed taro steamed with amaranth juice, pickled amaranth, and other foods that have a strong smell. Please keep in mind that this city is renowned for foods that smell and others that do not. There are lots of folk who like their fish and chicken dishes without strong aromas such as their Pork and Braised Shrimp, their Fish with Snow Peas and Wood Ear Fungus, their Turtle Braised in Soy Sauce, and other dishes with no moldy aroma; no moldy taste either.

From AANDARRAAK in MONGOLIA:
Did like all your information about both Mongolias, Inner and Outer, but you did not mention Bantan, their dish that cures hangovers. People who are not from Mongolia need to know about it.
AANDARRAAK: Thank you for telling us to tell others about this creamy-textured soup of meat and crumbs that many Mongolians use to remedy a hangover. This Bantan, for those wanting to make some, here is its recipe.

From HARROW in CHANGSHA:
Can you share how Mongolians make the bland cheese they call Byaslag; I think it is made with kefir?
HARROW: You are correct, they use the fermented milk of their yaks, but you can also make it with cow's milk, with rennet, and even with yogurt.

From Hugo in Vermont:
Any chance for a list of western health websites; those for Asian locations were terrific?
Hugo: Thanks for the compliment. We are pleased to respond to your request. Here are eight of them. As eight is a lucky number to the Chinese, and because anyone and everyone can benefit from them, they are below and in alphabetical order, not order of importance. Their names make them self-explanatory.
American Academy of Family Physicians is at: familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom.html
American Academy of Pediatrics is at: healthychildren.org/english/tips-tools/symptom-checker
American Dental Association is at: mouthhealthy.org/Symptom-Checker Cleveland Clinic is at: my.clevelandclinic.org/health/mysymptomchecker.aspx
Drug information is at: drugs.com/symptom-checker
Harvard Medical School Family Health is at: health.harvard.edu/fhg/symptoms/symptoms.html
Mayo Clinic can be reached at: mayoclinic.com/health/symptom-checker/DS00671
WebMD can be reached at: symptoms.webmd.com/#introView

From BETTIE via e-mail:
Your book, Cooking from China's Fujian Province, is awesome. Have you or do you want to do a book signing event?
BETTIE: Have not, but I could when free time, nearby location, and free transportation get together. In the meantime, thank you for your kind words about the book. You join the five who tout it on its rear cover, namely: Sidney Mintz, Martin Yan, Ken Hom, E.N. Anderson, and Grace Young. They and others say it has great value. In the meantime, any reader wanting a signed copy can send us theirs. We will sign it then send it back post-paid. Copies can be purchased at www.Amazon.com and other book-sellers, and many actually discount it.

From SASHA via e-mail:
Two questions, are there any Chinese minorities that are exempt from the Chinese firearms ban? A friend said that in southern China, he did see some strange men with guns. We thought guns were now outlawed in China; what is the scoop on firearms in China?
SASHA: We did, too, but after asking at a consular office, we were told that is only partly correct. There are some Miao tribal hunters in a village of theirs in Guizhou. It is called Basha and there, they are allowed to carry rifles, but only rifles. This is the only place in China exempt from a very strict firearms prohibition. Actually, these men carry both knives and rifles, the former in a sheath at their waist, the latter over their shoulders where everyone can see them. The Miao people, at least the ones you are referring to, live in stilted houses and on the second floors. Their animals are equipment are on the first floors, and these houses are mostly in bamboo groves. They eat lots of fish in a sour soup; it is one of their food specialties. They like it with fermented glutinous rice that they make specifically for it; and they love this dish made with tomatoes. There are other dishes they adore, too. These are roast pig, fish roasted with lemon grass, pig blood diced in a salad, and fried bacon with dried bamboo shoots. Should you go to this village called Basha, do not photograph any person there without their permission, and do not touch their animals, particularly their goats and cows. These animals are considered sacred and should not be touched by outsiders.
Bantan
Ingredients:
1 pound fatty mutton, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon salt, divided in two amounts
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 cup wheat flour
Preparation:
1. Boil the meat in four to six cups of water, skimming as needed. After half an hour, add half the salt and all the onion slices and cook for another twenty minutes. Do not remove the fat on the surface.
2. Mix the flour and the second half of the salt with half cup of cold water and add it to the soup, beating it for about five minutes until the liquid is creamy.
3. Serve this liquid with its melted fat to all who have a hangover. Encourage then to drink one or two cups as hot as they can tolerate it.

Byaslag, a Mongolian Cheese
Ingredients:
4 cups yak, goat, sheep, or cow's milk
1/4 cup kefir or a tablet or two of rennet, crushed
Preparation:
1. Boil the milk and then let it cool somewhat after taking it off the heat source. While warm, add the kefir (or rennet) and stir well.
2. After it has curdled, remove the solid parts putting them into a piece of tightly woven cloth and let the watery whey drain out. Then press out as much water as you can, put the cloth and the solid part between two boards and add a heavy weight on top making the sold mass about one foot square and no more than two inches thick leaving this mass there until no more liquid is expelled from the cheese.
3. Wrap the cheese in clean cheesecloth and store, turning it daily. If it dries, use it in a soup or soften it in tea before use, or chew on it as a snack, or eat it with boortsog, a Mongolian deep-fried biscuit-like item.
Boortsog
Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons butter
2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
Preparation:
1. Mix sugar, salt, and butter with several tablespoons boiling water, and mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved, the butter, too.
2. Mix in most of the flour and knead for ten minutes or more, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is soft and smooth, and has no air bubbles.
3. Roll the dough out until close to one inch thick, and cut into two-inch squares. Cut an 'X' in each one about halfway but not all the way through the dough, then deep fry until golden and set aside on paper towels.
4. Cut a slice in each one, stuff it with some bysaglag or a slice of meat and then eat it is ready to be eaten.

                                                                                                                                                       
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