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TOPICS: 14th Century eating/drinking rules and recipes; Book awards; Upcoming Chinese New Year dates

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Summer Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(2) page(s): 26 and 27

RULES for DRINKING and EATING in the 14th CENTURY: Teresa Wang and E.N. Anderson, undergraduate student and professor, respectively, at University of California, Riverside have done a service for all who study China’s culinary history. Theirs is the first English-language translation of Ni Zan’s Yun Lintang Yinshi Zhidu Ji. You can find it in Petits Propos Culinaires' Volume 60 on pages 24-41. We are also grateful for the additional clarifications by Francoise Sabban in Volume 61 on pages 38-41.

This important 14th century tome was previously translated by Thomas Gwinner into German; his not from the original, but from China’s Government Commercial Publishing House (Beijing) updated Chinese translation (1984). We welcome these versions of Cloud Forest Hall Collection of Rules for Eating and Drinking, and say thanks to all who made them possible. If you want to read the English-language translation, Petit Propos Culinaire can be accessed using interlibrary loan services at your local library or you can contact them at 45 Lamont Road, London SW10 0HU, England.

Wang and Anderson struggled with some monumentally non-standard usage and thanks to Sabban’s additional comments and suggested corrections, we are the wiser about these Chinese food preparations of seven hundred years ago. The English version, as the original, is quite usable even without exact measures. This may be because of the free translation rather than the exact, pedantic, and precise original. Though there were no measures in the original version or in this translation, a Chinese chef, even an experienced or knowledgeable cook can prepare many of the recipes.

Ni Zan (1302 - 1374 CE), a famous painter and perhaps one of the greatest masters of Chinese art, probably wrote this tome for his household help. He offers about fifty recipes, most for foods, a few for non-food items such as preparing incense, washing ink slabs, and preparing fragrant ashes to wash the very brush slabs he no doubt used. The recipes include ways to make salt cakes and how to make soy sauce; include one soup, seven wheat product recipes, sixteen for fish and other sea creatures, eleven for meat and poultry, eight using fruits and vegetables, and five for various brews, teas or wine. The following translated recipes (copied exactly thanks to permission from Dr. Anderson) and the comments he provided for them in that Petit Propos Culinaire spark interest to get the originals and learn more about Chinese cookery of that period. Now to the recipes:

HONEY STUFFED CRABS: Cook in salted water. When the color begins to change (to red), take out. Break up the crab and extract the meat from claws and legs. Cut this into small pieces and stuff into shell. Combine egg with a small amount honey and mix with meat in the shell. Spread some fat on the egg. Steam until the egg has just solidified. Do not overcook. For eating, it can be dipped into ground orange peel and vinegar. Note that the kind of crab (yuo mou or ch’iu-mou) is specified, but impossible to identify scientifically at this time. Crab is still dipped in vinegar dips, to cut the fattiness and fishy flavor and to drive away the ‘cold’. This is not cold temperature, but the cold qi that could injure an eater’s health.

YELLOW-BIRD BUNS: Take yellow birds and chop up the wing and chest meat with spring onions, brown pepper and salt. Stuff into stomach (ie, probably, body cavity). Use leavened dough to wrap it. Make long small rolls, flattening and rounding down the ends. Put into bamboo container and steam them. After steaming they can perhaps be treated like ‘lees buns’: use brewing lees and fragrant oil and fry them. Yellow birds or yellow sparrows are, focally, Chinese yellow buntings (Emberiza spp.), but the name is generally for any small yellowish or brownish bird. Brewing lees are a common pickling, marinating, coating and flavoring agent in China, especially the central east where Ni dwelt. ‘Fragrant oil’ is probably sesame oil. The word translated ‘buns’, here as elsewhere, is man-t’ou, probably a borrowing from Turkic manty or mantu (borrowing may have gone the other way, but this is unlikely on several counts; Buell et al, MS). Today, Man-t’ou are unstuffed, but in medieval China they had fillings, as their cognates still do in Korea and the Altaic world.

QUICK-COOKED MEAT STEW: Use meat from the backbone (ie tenderloin), remove the tendons, and cut into pieces an inch long. Slightly score the meat, so it looks like lychees. Marinate in spring onions, Chinese pepper, salt, and wine. Put into boiling water, slightly stir, then take the meat and broth and put into a bowl to soak. Take some clear meat broth, combine with ginger or mountain medicine pieces, or bamboo shoot pieces and eat. Use the original broth. Lychee shells are rough and ridged; the direction means that one should score the meat with shallow criss-cross cuts, to make the marinade. And, 'Mountain medicine’ is the Chinese yam (Dioscorea spp.).

BARBECUED PORK: Wash the meat. Rub spring onion, Chinese pepper, honey, a little salt, and wine on it. Hang the meat on bamboo sticks in the saucepan. In the pan put a cup of water and a cup of wine. Cover. Use moist paper to seal the pan. If the paper dries out, moisten it. Heat the pan with grass bunches; when one is burned up, light another. Then stop the fire and leave for the time it takes to eat a meal. Touch the cover of the pan; if it is cold, remove the cover and turn the meat over. Cover it again and seal again with the moist paper. Heat again with one bunch of grass. It will be cooked when the pan cools again.
(As noted above, this is a version of the modern Cantonese cha sui.)

REMARKS about the TRANSLATIONS by Francois Sabban in a later issue, includes a few about ones given. She reports that the Honey Stuffed Crabs are you mou or Charibdys japonica, a rather common species in China especially in the South Sea (as written in the pharmacopia dating from the same time as Ni Zan). She also points out that in the Yellow-Bird Buns recipe, there is no chest meat but one should 'chop up the brain and the wings.' Do read both of these articles; there is much to be learned from them.

CURRENT BOOK AWARDS you should be aware of:
At the cookbook fair in Perigord France, Martin Yan’s Feast won in the Best Promotion of Asian Cuisine in the West. And, at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook awards, Grace Young’s The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen garnered her first place in the International category. Another Chinese cookbook winner at IACP was A Spoonful of Ginger by Nina Simonds. It took first in the Health and Special Diet category. Our congratulations to the three winners! We are justly proud and do love your books. Both The Yan and Young books were reviewed in Flavor and Fortune, Volume 6(2) on pages 14-15 and 16, respectively, the Simonds book reviewed in Volume 6(3) on page 23.

In the fall and early winter, the most frequently asked question is: When is Chinese News Year. The following list of upcoming ones are provided to help readers plan some glorious banquets in the years ahead. Here are the next twelve animal years, a Chinese year cycle:

Snake: January 24th, 2001
Horse: February 12th, 2002
Sheep: February 1st, 2003
Monkey: January 22nd, 2004
Rooster: February 9th, 2005
Dog: January 29th, 2006
Pig: February 18th, 2007
Rat: February 7th, 2008
Ox: January 26th, 2009
Tiger: February 14th, 2010
Rabbit: February 3rd, 2011

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