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TOPICS INCLUDE: Burial Suit, Five Spice Lamb, Uncle Tai, Japan Food, Wowotuer, Pu-Er, Stony Brook Library, Origins, General Zuo, Tree Oil

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(2) pages: 5 to 9

From Deena on Long Island:
Read about a burial suit made of Jade. Can you tell us something about it and what it looked like?

We did see one at a Staten Island NY museum, forgot from when but our picture is dated August 2000. Called yu yi in Chinese, royal family members were buried in them. This one, my notes say, may have been dated from the Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE). I did make a note that each jade piece was held together with gold thread and it was probably for a Duke or Prince. If all the threads were silk or ribbon, then that person was of a lower status. The folks there knew nothing about what he ate but did tell me he was not a large person.

We did read elsewhere that King Zhao Mo’s jade pieces were attached with silk threads as were jade suits found from later times. One found in 1968 came from the tomb of Dou Wan in Guangzhou. Another was from the tomb of Liu Sheng with more than two thousand pieces of jade. I was told that one had more than two grams of gold holding its some one thousand pieces of jade sewn corner to corner. Some were square, others were rectangular.

From Li Hui and Jolo, both from Hangzhou:
Did appreciate your article titled: Lamb Revisited. Do you have a Five-spice Lamb recipe to share and any other great lamb recipes? My friend Jolo asks: Why no roast lamb, boiled lamb, or lamb hot pot recipes? He also wonders do you have a round Chinese zodiac picture?

To all with Questions Botanically, lamb is ovis and the Chinese believe it is a ‘tonic meat.’ Do read Volume 17(1) on pages 19 - 21 in the article titled: Lamb: A Ritual, Revered, and Reviled Food for many answers. Below are four recipes requested; also here is a round Chinese zodiac, but note the one animal is ‘ram’ not lamb.

Boiled Lamb

4 or 5 pounds lamb meat, skin removed, bones, too
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon coarse salt


1. Cut lamb into chunks to be skewered later, and in a large pot, stir-fry them for one minute, then add six cups water or enough to cover the meat, and simmer for half an hour.
2. Toss flour, chili, cumin, and ginger powder and the salt, and coat the meat with it. Then skewer it, preferably on metal skewers.
3. Heat a grill until embers are white, then grill it turning often until done as you like. However, the meat will be more tender if not over-cooked.

Lamb Meatballs

2 pounds mixed lamb liver, lungs, stomach, spleen, and their kidneys with their veins removed, minced
2 Tablespoons flour
1 scallion, minced fine
1/4 teaspoon each until one and a half teaspoons are measured out of ground spices such as: Sichuan pepper, salt, ginger, cumin, and black pepper
1/4 yard cheesecloth and string
2 Tablespoons chicken fat
one sprig cilantro for garnish or coarsely chopped and used that way


1. Toss all meat and spice ingredients together and shape like a long sausage. Next roll it in the cheesecloth and tie every few inches.
2. Simmer for twenty minutes covered with boiling water, then unroll and slice into thin rounds.
3. Heat fat in a wok or fry pan, and fry the slices on both sides, garnish, and then serve.

Five-Spice Lamb

2 Tablespoons five spice powder
2 teaspoons sugar
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 four-pound piece of breast of lamb, the bones left at four-inches long, all visible fat cut away and discarded
1 carrot, peeled and angle-cut in one-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and cut in quarters
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with the same amount of cool water
1 zucchini, cut in half, then angle-cut in one-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable oil


1. Make a marinade of the five-spice powder, sugar, and both soy sauces and rub the lamb with this, and put it in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight in a bowl.
2. Put lamb, the carrots, and the onions in a pot with two cups of water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for one hour and fifteen minutes, then remove and dry the meat with paper towels, then cut the ribs apart and set them aside.
3. Add cornstarch to the marinade in the pot with the carrots and the onion pieces, bring to the boil and when thickened, put the zucchini pieces into the pot and turn the heat off.
4. Heat the oil in a deep pot, add the lamb ribs and deep fry them for two minutes, then remove them and drain them on paper towels. Put the vegetable mixture into a serving dish. Then add the lamb ribs, and serve.

Spicy Cumin Lamb

½ pound thick noodle, cooked until almost soft
3/4 pound ground lamb
2 Tablespoon s vegetable oil
2 Tablespoon s rice vinegar
2 teaspoon s hoisin sauce
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon five-spice powder
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or hot pepper paste
5 ounces chicken broth
1 cup broccoli pieces
1 cup cauliflower pieces
10 baby carrots, each angle-cut in half


1. Heat wok, add the oil and then the ground lamb and stir until almost browned, then drain and set it aside leaving oil in the wok or pan and add the vinegar, hoisin sauce, and the garlic, and stir in the cumin and the crushed pepper or its sauce into the wok and stir-fry for one minute, then add the broth and stir for one minute until it is hot.
2. Then add the vegetables and boil for one minute, then return the ground lamb to the pan and fry for two minutes. Then serve.

From Henry on long Island:
Is there really an Uncle Tai in the Hunan Kitchen restaurant? Does he own that restaurant named for him?

Henry: Yes. there really is an Uncle Tai. His name is Wen Dah Tai. He and his partner, Norman Chi, own that restaurant, and they have for many years. We have seen his photograph but not the actual man. We once did cut out a picture of him from an early New York Times issue, and I d id not date it; shame on me!

From Amiko in Brooklyn:
Did enjoy Zhengyu’s article in the Volume 23(3) issue. I came to the US as a child and have a Chinese mother and Japanese father. I often wonder about Chinese food in my Dad’s birth country. Have you been there and eaten any Chinese food there?

Amiko: Yes, but only to Tokyo and Kyoto. The Chinatown in Tokyo is known as Yokahama. Sidney Cheung at The Chinese University of Hong Kong is more expert than I, and he has written about it so I suggest you look him up on a computer or read some of his writings. He says Chinese food is now popular among Japanese at home and has been since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. He sees four phases of development, and early on it was limited to the upper class or American tourists. In the 1960s and 1970s more Japanese went to these restaurants. In the 1980s, many Japanese did travel and do business abroad, so there was greater interest, also more Chinese restaurants in Japan. He writes that Cantonese dim sum is now popular and many more Chinese restaurants can be found in almost every major city in the world and that Japanese tourists do frequent them. With more Chinese restaurants in Japan now, they have expanded Japanese tastes and desires for them. In the 1990s and more recently with TV programs, comic books, and newer Chinese restaurants in Japan, the Japanese are eating more Chinese food. We think you need to get to Japan and learn for yourself.

Wang Wang writes from the Bronx: Why no corn ‘wowotuer’ recipe with your article about Tianjin? I do miss having it here in the US., and I did try to make my own but it was not as good as we had in Tianjin where I grew up.

Wang Wang: Sorry, but we knew nothing about it. A friend sent me her recipe; hope you will make it and like it.

WoWo Tu-Er

1 cup yellow corn meal
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt


1. Dip a wicker steamer basket in water, shake out the excess, and wring out a twelve-inch square of fabric. Put these in the bottom of a steamer over boiling water for fifteen minutes so they will be warm and wet.
2. Mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt with seven tablespoons of cold water.
3. Take a walnut-size piece of this dough and make it into a flat-topped cone, and with your thumb, make an indent on the bottom and press it together firmly. Repeat until all dough is shaped this way, then put them on the warm fabric,
4. Cover the steamer basket with its top, and steam over boiling water for half an hour, Cut one in half if you think they are not thoroughly steamed. Serve them or freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Transfer when frozen into a thick plastic bag and reheat when needed.

From Hibby in Montana:
Why has Pu-er tea sky-rocketed in price? Is it really very special?

Hibby: Over the years many have asked questions about this staple tea from the Yunnan. Province. Growing in popularity among sophisticated tea drinkers; they value its taste. Its tea leaves are heated to reduce moisture and are oxidized, which some incorrectly call fermented. All tea is Camellia sinensis, this variety is assamica and it does change color from green to brown. A fine English book is a 2013 publication called Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic. Written by Jinghong Zhang, it speaks to its complexities, controversies, and contradictions.

Many tell us this tea is often packaged, sometimes counterfeited by brand because middlemen sell some not from Yunnan, not picked by hand, not withered correctly, not rolled right, compressed by huge hydraulic presses, and aged in large humid leaf piles that artificially speed this up. The most common shapes are as a cake called cha bing, a bowl called tuo cha, a brick called cha zhuan, or looking like a mushroom and called jin cha. Most labels do not give its age, some with numbers on them whose first two digits tell the year this particular blend was introduced, not when it was picked, pressed, or blended.

Flavor and Fortune Editor:
Does good dumpling dough have any egg as a component? Also, can you provide an excellent recipe and a fine filling, too? dumpling dough We have not made dumplings recently, but when we did, we used two cups of flour, one large egg white, a pinch of coarse salt, and three-quarters of a cup of warm water. This we did stir and then kneaded for three minutes until smooth. We let it rest half an hour while making its filling and did roll some about the size of an egg yolk into thin circles of dough. Then we tossed them with a little flour, filled them with about a tablespoon of a filling, folded the dough in half, wet its edges and pleated or pinched the dough closed getting all air out. We did cover the dumplings with a dry cloth until cooking them or froze them on a baking sheet for three or four hours, then sealed them in a thick plastic bag.

Fillings and Cooking Dumplings:
Use half pound of ground pork, beef, or lamb mixed with two tablespoons Chinese rice wine, two of minced ginger, two teaspoons thin soy sauce or oyster sauce, and quarter-cup of minced scallions, garlic chives, or other greens.

To Boil or Fry Them: Boil for two minutes, added a cup of warm water and boil for two minutes more; if frozen do this again for two more minutes. When they come to the surface, take them out with a strainer. If wanting them steamed, fry them in two tablespoons of oil or chicken fat on both sides. Then add half cup of boiling water, cover the pan and reduce heat to simmer doing so for eight minutes until all water is absorbed. Serve them with one or more dipping sauces.

From Pete in Oregon:
You did write about donating thousands of English-language Chinese cookbooks to Stony Brook University’s library, Why did you collect so many; who really uses them, and are there other important university Chinese cookbook collections?

Pete: Cookbooks have more value and interest than most realize. They are more than just recipes, many are historical markers of eating habits and ingredients used by different generations and cultures. They show technical advances, equipment used, food and society knowledge during the times they were written. For example, confectionary cookbooks were often used for fund raising, processing cookbooks indicating surplus fruits and vegetables, baking cookbooks used for entertaining, individual food or company cookbooks what food their manufacturers wanted to market, beverage cookbooks what society was drinking, etc. In China, old culinary material often refers to foods or cooking techniques lost to posterity. One example, foods from the Zhou Dynasty (11th century to 221 BCE) rarely exists as few if any recipes have survived from then. The Book of Food by Cui Hao, a Prime Minister of the Wei Dynasty (386 - 534 CE) no longer exists in its entirety. Essential Skills for Daily Life by Jia Sixie (circa 533 - 544 CE) was not lost and it tells how an aristocrat, the Prefect of Gaoyang in Shandong, made his soy sauce. It was not made commercially until Han Dynasty times and early home made records are scarce. Jia says to ferment the beans, soak and cook them, steam them, add salt and starter. His ‘how to’ is one of the very earliest known. A sixth century recipe in Qimin Yaoshu discusses what may be the first stirfried dish; it is for duck. Dr. Neige Todhunter did die a few years ago and before she did donated her fourteen hundred cookbooks to the Vanderbilt Medical Center library saying “they are a rich source of information about people, customs, and social life.” She also said with humor, “cookbooks are joyous reading for all without putting on weight or adding a single calorie.” Hundreds before and since saved cookbooks, some donating them to assorted places. There are none with Chinese recipes as are the numbers of my collection. There are very early cookbooks from Katherine Golden Bitting, Arnold Whitaker Oxford, Andre Louis Simon, Georges Vicare, and others, and for those who want to know something about early foods, do consult: A Short-Title Catalogue of Household & Cookery Books Published in the English Tongue 1700 - 1800.

Don’t Use My Name:
Your web site often raises my curiosity; and I love it! However, you never say anything about the origins of Chinese cooking, can you address that?

Sir: That is a great question, one to be proud of but as we are neither archeologists nor anthropologists, we refer you to: The Cambridge Encyclopedia, Volume 3, 1991 edition. It says the development of this cuisine is one where: “People regard food as the most important thing in life. It then lists four stages as the
1) Embryonic Period from Pre-historic times to the Yin Dynasty to the 16th century BCE when cooking utensils made of metal and pottery came into being; and instead of burning or roasting on an open fire, techniques of boiling and steaming developed.
2) Formative Period followed from the Yin to the Qing Dynasty or the 16th century BCE to 206 BCE. Then cooking rapidly improved including sharp instruments for cutting, copperware to conduct heat and melt animal fat, various methods of cooking, and the appearance of professional chefs.
3) Developing Period from the Han Dynasty to the Sui and Tang Dynasties,that is from 206 BCE to 907 CE. Then cooking was both knowledge and technique, there were works on gastronomy published; by the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), teahouses and restaurants everywhere, and cooked food and dishes satisfying people’s color, taste, smell, and shape needs.
4) Mature Period from Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qng Dynasties to modern times or 907 CE to the present. This was when Chinese gastronomy became fully mature, rare delicacies were main courses, food marketers thrived, there were a variety of local flavors, Chinese restaurants found all over the world, and Chinese food enjoying favor among people everywhere.

From Du Zhou in Pejing:
Just returned from the United States and almost every Chinese Restaurant there had a General Zuo dish (spelled many ways). Most were made with chicken. Do Americans really know any thing about this general or the recipes named after him? Many of these dishes were made with different ingredients other than chicken. The ones I saw or tasted all looked different; why is this so?

Du Zhou: You are very observant. We are willing to bet most never heard of him. This general, Zuo Cung Tong, lived from 1812 to 1885, and his military career took him to many parts of China. Readers may know he loved meat. Locals he came in contact with did want to cultivate his favor so they did prepare special dishes and feasts for him. In 1875, Dowager Empress, Zi Xi promoted him to the royal court and made a banquet for him with large servings of meat. He said: I am lucky that I enjoy meat. This chicken recipe named for him is said to be a favorite, and one chef did name it after him, the only one we know of.

General Zuo’s Chicken

6 chicken thighs, each cut in two-inch pieces
1 egg white
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup peanut of vegetable oil
2 scallions, minced coarsely
3 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, slivered
5 red hot peppers, seeded and slivered
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons each thin and dark soy sauces
2 Tablespoons fermented rice wine
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons chicken broth


1. Mix thighs with egg white, cornstarch, flour, and salt, and set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Heat a wok or deep fry pan, and lift the chicken out of the batter and deep fry it for two minutes per side. Then drain and set aside on paper towels for two minutes before putting them in a pre-heated serving bowl. Discard but one to two tablespoons of the oil or set the rest aside for another purpose,
3. Reheat the tablespoons of oil in a wok or pan and stir-fry the scallions, garlic, ginger, and hot peppers for one minute, then add the sugar, soy sauces, rice wine, sesame oil, and the vinegar, and finally the cornstarch and broth mixture and stir into the scallion mixture and stir until thickened, then pour this over the chicken pieces and serve.

A Question from Sy:
What is tree oil?

Sy: There are many tea trees in the mountains of the Hunan Province. Their seeds can produce tree oil which is used lots there. It is light yellow and somewhat sweet. The Chinese believe it cools the body; they call it a health tonic.

From Helene in Boston:
Wonder if you are planning more issues if no one steps up to the plate replacing you?

To Helene: We just returned from a grueling trip to Prague and Israel, and did find one restaurant in the former city worth reviewing and sharing. This part of the trip was grueling as there was an eight-hour lay-over using LOT, the Polish Airline. More about that when our jet lag disappears. That was not true on a previous visit. We did throughly enjoy this, our second visit there. And, by the way, we are feeling great, visited a new museum in Beer Sheva, which stands for the seven wells in this city. We did eat some fine food in one Israeli city, but no great Chinese food on this visit. We did have great seafood in Ashdot, not Chinese food though. It was our second visit in this very fine restaurant, one of three by the same owner. Did not try his other two, one Kosher, the other mostly Israeli fin fish. We heard about them, but did not eat in either one, no time and no wheels. We would prefer several volunteers, but will settle with one. Are you stepping up to the plate?

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