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TOPICS INCLUDE: Bubble tea, Han Murals, Tea, Oysters, Sticky Rice

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Spring Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(1) pages: 5 to 7

From Maille in Midtown:
Loved the picture on the cover of bubble tea, but why no information about this beverage in that issue?
Maille: Thanks for calling us to task; shame on our not seeing that what we wrote about this tea was not included. Bubble tea was first introduced in Taiwan in the 1980s by three guys who also popularized it. Their names were Liu Han Chieh, Lin Hsui Hui, and Tu Tsong He. In this great beverage are balls used in many different flavored and colored drinks, hot and cold. They are popular and loved by the young and the young at heart. They are usually black and made of ground Manihot esculenta, better known by various names including manioc, cassava, or yucca. We were told they (not sure if the balls or the guys) came from the Phillippines, are dried, ground, and gray. After boiling, they turn black and translucent. And in one hour they look gelatinous. Newer ones now come in various colors. Commonly served in black or green tea but they can be in any other beverage, and often with condensed milk and flavorings. Their popularity is such that some call it McBubble. Others simply say ‘tapioca tea’ which in Chinese they say: zhen shu nai cai. This beverage when cold is most often served in clear dometopped plastic containers, the bubbles resting on the bottom. With a fat plastic straw poking through the hole on the dome-topped lid, big enough for those bubbles to be sucked up through the hole. We love our bubble tea with lizhi-flavored syrup or peach syrup, also pear, papaya, or yin-yang (that is half coffee half tea). This latter mixture is very popular in Taiwan, a flavor combo making its way to other countries.

Ling Ling asks:
Can you share one or more Han murals with us?
Ling Ling: We have seen pictures but are not allowed to print them. Here is what we saw in one from a tomb in Henan excavated in 1960 it was a kitchen scene showing folks working there, one was stirring meat in a ting or caulron, one carrying firewood, one with a dish of fish, two carrying a large pot or keng, one chap drawing water from a well, another holding a basin for this water. Also, there were two kinds of meat hanging in the upper left corner. We could not identify them.

Editor from Ed:
Some of your recent issues delve into the past. As an eighteen-year-old avid tea drinker, can you look back and tell me and others about teas in the past?
Ed: I was just about to pitch a batch of early tea information including one from the 1898 Original Boston Cooking School’s Fannie Merritt Farmer Cook Book that erroneously says “Orange Pekoe and Flowery Pekoe are made from the youngest leaves.” Clearly, she could not read our recent article ’‘Tea is Tea-rriffic’ in the last issue advising that pekoe and orange pekoe are tea leaf sizes “neither the smallest nor close to the largest.” Not all old tea information is correct. In an 1845 volume called: Midshipman in China, they mention bird’s nests correctly but do not have correct tea clarifications; nor does the New Household Receipt-Book written more than a hundred years ago. This book’s sub-title says “maxims, directions, and specifics” and talks about names of different teas gathered, even peculiarities in their manufacture, but nothing about these two tea-size names. It is not always right to describe ‘black tea as Chinese large tea’ (and) ‘souchong as small scarce sort pekoe.’ This book says ‘young hyson is gathered early in the season, hyson-skin the refuse or inferior portion’ which is also not correct. An 1859 book titled Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea writes about a tea recipe, saying its “ingredients are ‘boiled down to a perfect mush,” and that “rat soup is considered equal to ox-tail” but nothing about tea worth knowing is. We do not believe words or pictures including their early line-drawing of a wooden box with fire in it heating a tea pot. Why is the box not burning?

From Lizee:
I know little about; oysters in the Chinese cuisine; can you add to that?
Lizee: Oysters can be cultivated or simply raked and collected. These bivalves were once valued as aphrodisiacs and for their pearls. Now they are loved for their pristine sea-worthy taste. Most are found in brackish water, can be up to ten inches wide or long. Years back many were used to make oyster sauce, today they are loved raw, cooked, or bottled as sauce. In the past, more were dried or partially dried, and made into oyster sauce that was salted, rinsed many times, and boiled often in fresh water. These steps were repeated often, more oysters added, their liquid reduced until brown and thick, then cooled, bottled, sealed, then set aside for about a year before sale. Also in the past, few Chinese ate raw oysters; now many do, particularly young folk.

From Ted:
Some rice questions including: What makes rice sticky? Is it always a short grain and Japonica? What are black and purple rices; and how should I cook them?
Ted: Most sticky rice is short-grain rice with high levels of amylopectin and low levels of amylose; both common rice starches. Sticky rice cooks up drier than non-sticky rice; it should be rinsed well in cold water before cooking. When cooked it does get stickier and can feel tacky, can clump, also not be mushy. We like ours with distinctly plump grains, and somewhat chewy. For those never seeing black Rice, also known as ‘Precious Rice,’ ‘Forbidden Rice,’ or ‘‘Fragrant Rice.’ It was forbidden to common folk in ancient China. This rice often turns dark purple when cooked, depending upon which of the hundreds of varieties that exist. Some have white interiors that get more tinted than others. One dietitian told me that “the darker the exterior, the more nutritious it is”, and she said that “Persian rice is very nutrient dense.” As a dietitian myself, I have seen different nutrient amounts in different sources, and do not agree that “all black rice is basmati rice” as she said. Maybe it is in her country, but not everywhere. We once did read that since Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), rulers did seek out black rice and it was given to them as ‘tribute rice.’ Forbidden to commoners, it was often used as gifts for high officials, and in medicines to nourish blood, kidneys, stomach, eyesight, and the liver. On this topic, Zhang Qian, a diplomat once fell asleep by a willow tree and when he awoke his dream did instruct him to find some so he did search for it. An early unknown artist did show him doing so. Later, it was sold not as forbidden rice, but as fragrant rice as seen on this page. A few recipes using it follow.

Black Rice

½ cup black rice
1/4 cup sesame oil
½ teaspoon ground white pepper


1. Bring rice and six cups water to a boil in a large pot, cover the pan, and reduce the heat and simmer until tender and almost all the water is absorbed (about three-quarters of an hour) until the grains are separated and cooled a bit.
2. Remove the covered pot placing it off the heat source for fifteen minutes.
3. Fluff it with a fork, then stir in the sesame oil and ground white pepper, and serve.

Noodle Sheets With Black Rice Flour

½ cup black rice flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup vegetable oil or half that amount and 1/4 cup sesame oil


1. Whisk black rice flour. cornstarch, and tapioca flour, then add six cups of water slowly, another one if needed, and allow to stand for an hour.
2. Then strain through a fine strainer, it will look like thin crepe batter.
3. Using eight-inch non-stick fry-pan, add a tablespoon of oil and heat to medium. Take a paper towel and dip it in the oil wiping the pan before adding a scant onequarter cup batter. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook for one minute, then lift the lid carefully not to let any water from the cover drip on the contents. Dry the inside of the lid then recover the pan for another half minute before then lift the rice sheet with a wooden spatula and put it top-side down on a oiled baking sheet.
4. Stir the batter again and repeat until it is all used; and if they seem to stick together, oil the top surface or prepared sheet placing another on it. Cool before using and do wrap any filling you choose.

Editor, please:
Can you provide a recipe for a paste made with red bean curd. We did have some in Xian; but can find none in a Chinese market in New York nor in any book here. Help.!
Nameless: Hope this meets the taste you remember:

Red Wine Paste

1 Tablespoon mashed red bean curd
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
4 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup mixed dry sherry, red wine, and orange-flavored liquor
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons rice flour
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely minced tangerine peel


1. Mix all ingredients in a blender.
2. Transfer to a small pot and simmer for ten minutes.
3. Cool and use as needed. It can be kept for two months in a refrigerator.

From Staten Island Aldo:
Advise about yum cha; is it always the same as dim sum?
Aldo: Dim sum is Cantonese, yum cha its Northern name, both are for their snack food served in large places that can make a thousand or so varieties, only a hundred or so on any given day. Usually served mornings through lunch time, and from trays or rolling carts, their contents called out by women, then brought to your table. We never saw a man doing so, rarely found a printed menu, either. The best time to go is about eleven in the morning; and not after two p.m. Selections can be very limited before or after those times. A favorite in Hong Kong is the oldest known as Luk Yu at 24 Stanley Street in the Central District.

From Liam in PA:
Thank you for your article about snakes. I have a friend from Zhanghu in China in the Fujian Province who worships them. She says her folks, now deceased, said where they grew up they had a Snake Parade Festival. She now lives in Pennsylvania and knows no one to learn where that was.
Liam: For all who loves snakes, we think she means the city with a three-day Snake Festival from the 16th to 19th day of the first lunar month, and a Snake Parade on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. For the latter one, thousands parade and dance through the streets with one or more snakes while other snake lovers open their doors and welcome them in to see theirs. On the former one, many make boxes that look like snakes, flowers, birds, bugs, or something else, and attach them to each other looking like a very long snake, then parade around on the third night of the New Year to the Temple of the Snake King. There, they get burned sending them to heaven wishing for good luck in the coming New Year.

From Lee-Hwa:
Thanks for the article about the Allium family; any advise for their microwaving?
Re: Garlic: Put half cup peeled garlic cut as desired in a glass bowl with half cup of vegetable oil. On 100% power, cook them for five minutes, them stir well. Repeat with 100% power for two minutes, and stir again. If not golden, keep repeating in two minute cycles; then season with a little salt and/or confectioners’ sugar and serve.
Re: Shallots: Rinse, drain and cut up three shallots, put them in a glass bowl with half cup of oil, then follow instructions for garlic above, but in three then two minute cycles.
Re: Leeks: Use white par of two leeks, cut lengthwise them cut them in pieces to suit. Toss with two tablespoons flour, and follow instructions as for garlic, but in two minute cycles.

Five Spice Powder

1 Tablespoon whole cloves
3 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
5 whole star anise
1 five-inch stick of whole cinnamon broken into small pieces.


Put in a blender. Grind until fine, stir well, and store in a small glass jar in a cool dark place. Then use as needed.

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