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TOPICS INCLUDE: Jews in China, Methods of Heating, God on Food, Licorice, Rhubarb, Yang Bu Wei, Soy Sprouts, Chrysanthemum Tea, Symbolic Foods

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(2) pages: 8 to 11

From Jacob:
You have had some letters and articles about Jews; can you say something about the Jews in China?
Jacob: Read the article about Jews in China in this issue. Also go to Wikipedia and other resources for more information about this population and the one about Kaifeng Jews.

Leon in Los Angeles Asks:
Can you expand on Benita Wong‘s methods of heating foods?
Leon: The ancient Chinese delineated them in the order she does. Her list is forty, many minimally used. Here are those most used:
Chu, the earliest and probably simplest, is cooking in well-controlled, well-timed boiling water.
Tang is quick boiling. a variation of the previous one but with sliced or thin-cut foods dipped in hot liquid sealing and cooking them quickly.
Shuan is cooking food pieces in boiled liquid on a charcoal or spirit-heated pot at the table.
Chin is cooking in boiled liquid, immediately reducing the heat or removing it from the heat.
Chuan is bringing water or stock to a rolling boil, adding all food, reheating to the rolling boil, and removing the food when done.
Pao is deep-boiling, like deep-frying, but the liquid is three to four times greater than the food in it.
Men is frying the main ingredient in little oil, adding some liquid and bringing that to the boil, then longcooking it.
Lu is to boil, reduce the heat, and cook in strong aromatic soy-herbal stock; adding herbs as needed.
Cha Shao is marinated meat cut in strips, heated over a fire or in an oven, then roasted hanging, brushed with marinade at regular intervals.
Cheng is steaming in an open a large container, the liquid at a rolling boil.
Tun is steaming in a closed container, often sealed with paper or topped with a lid.
Peng is frying on both sides until brown, adding a limited amount of liquid, cooking it until almost dry.
Hui is cooking in thickened liquid, adding a drop or two of sesame oil stirred into this thickened gravy.
Pan, also called ‘hot toss and scramble’, is similar to hui but in flavor-impregnated oil.
Pao, also called ‘flash-frying’, with the food suspended above oil, ladle splashing it with oil.
Chien is cooking in a small amount of oil, the pieces large and cooked until done.

Do the Chinese believe there is a God; and what does he/she say about food?
Mindy: Your questions can best be answered quoting the first sentence in The Great Tao by Stephen T, Chang; it was published in Tao Publishing, at 2700 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco CA 94132. It begins saying: “Tao is God, according to the Chinese. To translates the Gospel according to John 1:1 saying “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God”... then goes on for pages.

How long and why has licorice been used as a medicine by the Chinese?
Wing WANG Wang: For more than four thousand years in China and the rest of Asia, most often for relieving stomach inflammations and digestion. Not everyone should ingest this herbal because it can impact those with hypertension and those with cardiac and renal issues, the latter the most. Adverse effects are from the glycyrrhizic acid in licorice. It causes sodium retention, exacerbates the effects of a diet high in sodium, if one ingests more than three and a half ounces a day. The amount does differ for each person about its adverse effects, but it does take several years to see any subclinical conditions and these most often promote retaining sodium.

Can you share information about Canarium alba, the Chinese olive and about rhubarb use in China?
Mary Louise: China uses both of these food items mostly in the south of their country, and as fruits, but the olives are also used for varnish and for printing. Archeologists think this variety of olive originated in Indochina, is now popular throughout China as a fruit, and on Hainan Island used as a final coat of varnish on boats there. Both foods are now popular all over China. The olive was once a tribute food at the palace when Han Emperor Wu Ti reigned about 111 BCE while rhubarb was always both a food and medicine in China and in Tibet. It was loved when used as a sweet and has been since antiquity. As a medicine, rhubarb was used to relieve constipation, balance the digestive system, and as a tonic. Some did use it to relieve mental disorders, but that was not a popular use. Anthropologists believe it native to China, Tibet, and to Russia. It was once a luxury item, and probably came to Europe from Asia on the Silk Road. Everyone learned quickly that one should only consume the stems and roots, never the leaves because they are toxic loaded with oxalic acid. There are many kinds of rhubarb, the Chinese variety considered best; it is botanically known as Rha barbarum and The Chinese call it da huang, its very large leaves reminding of its Chinese name as da means big or large in their language. The stems, seen on page 8, are eaten in many countries, and not new to China, they were mentioned by Shen Nung in 2838 BCE. The stems were eaten raw in China in the 7th century CE, and then they grew wild in and around Beijing. The Mongols did eat them often in the 10th century, and Marco Polo does mention them in the 12th, and many missionaries did so then, too. This hardy plant grows nine feet in height, and is used in China in stews, bakery products, and many sweet and stewed dishes there. Some did say that the Chinese did use their leaves, but only as a purgative to cleanse the blood and purify the system when other medicines did not do these jobs successfully.

Can you tell us some things about the lady who wrote ‘How to Cook and Eat in Chinese’?
Ren Ren: When asked about the benefits of educating girls, she replied: “Women are the mothers of all citizens.” She was born in Nanjing as Yang Bu Wei and was raised by an aunt and uncle; her early schooling there. After that education, she went to Medical School in Tokyo and found “Japanese food inedible” so she became interested in cooking. She married linguist Yuen R. Chao, married him in 1922, they had four daughters, the eldest, Rulan Chao who helped correct her English when she began book writing: She said “I speak little English and write less; I cooked my dishes in Chinese, my daughter Rulan put my Chinese into English.” In this book, she invents the terms ‘stir-frying’ and ‘pot stickers.’ Her second book is not a cookbook; both are published by the John Day Company owned by Pearl S. Buck.

Can you provide a Chinese stew for my new slowcooker; and a recipe for soy sprouts?
J. K. Lee: Here are both for you to enjoy. The soy sprout recipe is on page 10.

Beef Noodles, Slow-Cooked

1½ to 2 pounds chuck steak, cut into two-inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon garlic chili paste
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
2 star anise (each 4 to 6 points)
½ pound dried flat noodles
2 to 3 cups cilantro or watercress leaves
3 angle-sliced scallions


1. Mix steak cubes, salt and pepper, and cornstarch.
2. Heat oil in a slow-cooker, and when hot, add the meat, hoisin and soy sauces, the chili and tomato pastes, minced or slivered ginger and garlic, and the star anise pods , stir, and cover the slow cooker,
3. After four hors, stir well, and remove and discard the star anise, and cover this once again and let it cook about three more hours until the meat is tender..
4. Boil the noodles about eight minutes less than their package instructs, drain them and toss them into the slow cooker, stir and recover once again..
5. Top with the cilantro and/or the watercress, sprinkle on the scallion slices, and serve.

Catfish and Soy Sprout Soup

2-pound catfish, scales, bones and insides removed, then cut into two-inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt
2 whole tomatoes, base end removed
3 cups soy sprouts
½ cup pickled Sichuan vegetables, coarsely chopped
3 cloves whole garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3 cups hot chicken broth


1. Mix fish pieces and the salt and put them in a colander to drain for half an hour. Then rinse and dry them with paper towels.
2. Blanch the tomatoes and immediately dip them in ice water, then remove their skin, and mash them.
3. Put a quart of water in a pot, bring it to the boil, add the soy sprouts and blanch them for two minutes, drain, and then discard their water.
4. Put the pickled vegetables in another pot with one cup of hot water, add the mashed tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chili powder, and the sugar, and bring this to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, then add the sprouts for three more minutes, stir. Then drain putting all in a pre-heated bowl, the fish pieces on top.
5. Add the lime juice and stir gently, then serve the pieces of fish and soy sprouts gently mixed with the sesame oil-soy sauce and the hot broth.

Harriet asks:
You have written lots about tea, but nothing about Chrysanthemum Tea or about Squash Blossoms. I love tea and flowers, please provide these recipes.
Harriet: I did drink this tea as a teen and in my early twenties, but never ate squash blossoms, and would love to. The tea was popular in my home and still is in Hangzhou, but in the US it was unavailable for a few years as they claimed it brought bugs into the country in its flowers. Once brewed, it does keep its aroma, and many adore it.

Chrysanthemum Tea

½ cup dried chrysanthemum flowers
rock sugar or honey, to taste (optional)


1. Put these flowers in a teapot, cover them with freshly boiled water, stir, and after one minute, discard the water.
2. Refill the teapot with fresh water steeping the flowers for five minutes. Enjoy the tea hot, cool or cold; and one can brew it a second time after that, but after that it will lose its flavor and aroma.

Stuffed Squash Flowers

10 fresh squash flowers, rinsed then carefully dried with paper towels
½ cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft, then drained, stems discarded, caps finely minced
1 cup minced fresh pork
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
3 scallions, coarsely chopped
1 large egg, beaten
3 Tablespoons mixed light and dark soy sauce
1 piquant pepper, seeds discarded, then minced
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar


1. Cut away and discard stamens and the green calyx.
2. Mix mushroom, pork, garlic, scallions, beaten egg, soy sauces, minced hot pepper, and one tablespoon of the oil, and stuff the flowers, most of the meat mixture toward their bottoms.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add the rest of the oil, and put flowers into the hot oil bottoms down, petals up, and fry until golden. Near the end of the frying put the petal part into the oil and fry them until the entire flower is crisp.
4. Remove them to a small plate, petal parts toward the center, base of the flowers around the plate’s edge.
5. Mix one tablespoon of the thin soy sauce with two teaspoons of sugar and one tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar, and pour over the stuffed flowers, and serve.

Lee Kim Wonders:
I heard that drunken immortals in a dish always means fermented rice in it; is this true?
Lee: Often named after these tipsy immortals, but not always with alcohol in it, here is a popular one.

Drunken Fruits

3 Tablespoons cooked barley
½ cup goji berries
3 Tablespoons soaked and drained goji berries
3 canned water chestnuts, cut into slices around each one
1 Tablespoon water chestnut flour
2 cups white rock sugar
dash of pink Himalayan sea salt
1 cup sliced banana the long way and each slice cut in half
Big blueberries
A ripe melon cut into small balls
A ripe mango cut into balls
½ cup red raspberries
1 cup fermented rice with its liquid


1. Mix cooked barley, drained goji berries, circularly cut water chestnut pieces, water chestnut flour, rock sugar, sea salt, and the four fruit pieces in a pot, add 3 cups cold water, and bring this to the boil, add the fermented rice but not its liquid. Bring this to the boil and when thickened, remove the fruit and let the liquid cool.
2. Return the fruit to the liquid, and serve hot, at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cold.

Never saw Bunun minorities; have you; and what is their staple grain?
Folks: They are Taiwanese aboriginese people. We never saw them either except in a magazine picture above, but we know not from where as we never labeled it.

Ge Gao asks:
Do share some important symbolic foods many Chinese love and use often:
Ge Gao: Eight is an important and lucky number, so we share that many often spoken about with a few of their symbolic meanings; the foods in alphabetic order, not their order of importance.

Chicken means unity to most. It is a wish for families to be together for New Year’s Eve dinner and many other times, too. This togetherness can include their eating a whole fish, chicken feet, and lobster.

Duck, is loved as Peking Duck and Roast Duck these animals show and mean fidelity for life. They can be found at New Year’s banquets; sometimes at weddings, and if red, this is a wish for happiness.

Eggs signify and symbolize fertility. A new baby is why they have a red egg party, and if male there will be an odd number of eggs, if a girl it will be an even number.

Fish represents prosperity. Every family wants that for their family members and a whole fish is often on their table to wish for that; and not cutting into their luck.

Fruit, preferably gold-colored ones, including oranges, grapefruits, and pomelos are symbolic of good luck and much wealth, and seen at many New Year events.

Noodles are symbols of longevity, served as long as possible, and found at birthday events as wishes for the long life of the one celebrating that birthday.

Seeds be they lotus, watermelon, or any other, symbolize wishes for many children and are popular often repeating this wish. Vegetables have various meanings, garlic chives symbolize eternity, bamboo shoots stand for wealth, sticky rice cakes for a long sweet life, and many round items wishing for family togetherness.

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