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TOPICS INCLUDE: Chinese sandwiches; Covered teacups; Oyster sauce; Jinhua ham

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(3) page(s): 6

We print as many letters as space allows, reserve the right to edit them, and encourage you to send your queries.

There have been a plethora of queries about the hamburger, many wondering if there is such a Chinese sandwich. Do not know why the sudden interest, perhaps the Chow Mein Sandwich sparked this interest.
IN RESPONSE to those who asked: Yes, China does have a sandwich that some might call by that name, and we do not mean anything sold by an American or other western franchisee or mimic thereof. And yes, it is served on what might pass for a bun, but the baked product is rather flat. The outside looks a little different and the inside tastes a lot different. It is meat-stuffed, hardly new, and filled with exceptionally soft meat simmered for hours until very tender. One shop’s owner said he thinks it does not have a long history, perhaps only back into the mid 1600's. We did say the 1600's!

A story is told that this bun food came into being in Xian (then called Chang’an) during the overthrow of the Ming Dynasty. Called 'Old Bun' by some, it is still available in many restaurants in that city. However, if truth be told, we never saw or tasted this dish but did read recently that a lawsuit is pending about a restaurant in that city that maybe using the name of one of the three older ones known to have served this dish. Readers, can you add to the little already known about the Old Bun?

I have a soup bowl with saucer and cover that is very small and looks rather old and has a Chinese character under the bowl and the saucer. A friend said that this is not for soup but is a teacup. We measured, it holds just a little more than four ounces of liquid. Incidentally, the exterior has brownish spider web lines all over it. What is it used for?
To IDA and her friend: From your description, you have a covered teacup called, in Chinese, a gai wan. It sounds as though yours is an older one made with a greenish pottery known as celedon. The customary usage, is to put green tea leaves in the bowl and then to pour hot, not boiling water down the side of it. Then cover the bowl and wait about five to eight minutes until the tea infuses and the liquid is a yellow-green color. For a second or third cup, pour the additional water directly on the leaves. The cover remains almost totally on top, somewhat tilted when drinking. It is a means of assuring that the tea leaves do not reach your mouth and get ingested. The purpose of the saucer is to keep drips off the table and reduce the bowl’s heat and save the finish of the table. If you prefer oolong tea made in this ancient tea set, use boiling or nearly boiling water poured over the leaves. In Xian, a special tea mix called San Po Tai is always served in this three-piece tea cup. San Po Tai has tea leaves, rock sugar, and three longans with the outer shell or peel left on, set into the bowl before any water is added. It, too, gets several refills of water allowing enjoyment of several cups of tea.

Have you heard or read anything about carcinogens in oyster sauce? A friend advised via e-mail about this.
IMOGENE: Your message arrived months ago and we could find nothing and assumed it a hoax or scare. However, in the February/March issue of A Magazine on page 11 they advise that “late last year, U.K. and Canadian health officials found that some soy sauces and oyster sauces-mainly those imported from Asia–contained unacceptable amounts of a potential carcinogen.” That article advises that no products were recalled and that steps have been taken to lower the level of the compound in question: 3-monochloropropane-1, 2-diol, within the year. And, it sounds as though this is a small problem already fixed because, a food biologist employed at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who did part of this research is quoted as saying “Even with the results we found in our survey, we felt confident that existing sauces out on the shelves are okay to consume.” Manufacturers were to lower their levels to one part per million by April 1 of this year. We all hope that they did.

Is the use of Jinhua Ham referring to a type of ham or ham from a region in China, or is it a recipe that I can’t seem to find?
HARRY: How can we not respond to someone who calls the editor dear? No, this is not a ham recipe, but a ham from a particular region of China. Jinhua hams come from many cities and towns including Dongyang, perhaps the most famous, and from Lanxi, Yiwu, and elsewhere. They are yellow-tan on the outside and quite red on the inside and considered some of China’s finest, along with the most famous of hams from Yunnan. Jinhua ham was listed during Song Dynasty times (960 - 1279 CE) among the food items used to pay tribute to the emperor. Actually, there are many types of this ham, some treated with sugar, some prepared with a red sauce before curing and some smoked with tea leaves or the leaves of the bamboo. It is a dry cured ham with a thin layer of fat. You find them hanging in markets, foot up.

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