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Ancient China, Young Tasters

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Personal Perspectives

Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page(s): 25 and 26

In order to experience different times through food, a parent of a student taking Social Studies (at the Oak Middle School in Los Alamitos, California) used the web to help locate recipes they might taste. She came upon, then inquired at www.flavorandfortune.com requesting help. Her needs and the reasons for it fascinated, so rather than send her to appropriate sources, the editor sent a dozen or more recipes of foods eaten thousands of years ago that early teens might enjoy. Every recipe was classic among the hundreds or maybe even the thousands the Chinese ate centuries and centuries ago. All were not too complex, and all used readily available ingredients. We, at Flavor and Fortune, could hardly wait for this caring parent to make them and provide what we asked for, namely, what did the students think about them and what theywere learning.

Some time later, we heard via e-mail that the meal was a great success, but no further details. Many weeks after that, fifty-two letters arrived from some very grateful students. They were probably from two classes that partook of them. From these notes, we were unsure of exactly who dined on the foods the mother and her friend prepared. Some of them indicated the name of one teacher, some implied they were guests in that classroom. Most did not even mention who taught the Social Studies class. We want to share parts of the letters so that you get a taste of the meal made and brought to school. It sounded like a great culmination to a unit about Ancient China. Maybe you and others should try such an activity.

As two students put it: Food was a fantastic way instead of just using our eyes and reading a text book. We used our mouths by eating, our noses by smelling, and our hands by feeling the food. Yet others wrote: We ate like the ancient Chinese people did, and we now know that they ate tasty food because we did.

The recipes selected that this parent and her kind friend made included what the students referred to as: War and Wonton and Rice Dumpling Soup, Pickled Radishes in Some Sauce, Red-cooked Beef Shank, Really Good-tasting Rice, Rose-petal Steamy Cakes, and Great Green Tea. The following are comments from their letters, put together, recipe by recipe, a paragraph for each of them.

To thank them, we are sending copies of this issue of Flavor and Fortune to all of them. That makes sense as about half of the young authors asked for more recipes. Several of them said that they wanted to take cooking lessons, one said: Particular old Chinese cooking lessons. Their exact quotes, pieced together from one sentence per child, are composited (both above and below) into these paragraphs, quotation marks omitted. The sentence winning as the one most repeated was: The food was excellent.

I liked the dumpling soup which I had thirds of. With no ideas about Ancient Chinese food, it was interesting to taste their old soup and see how food traditions in China have grown. You expanded my knowledge about soup and other ancient Chinese foods after we studied the Silk Road and before we will study Ancient Rome. The seaweed in the soup was a different taste for me. It was a little sophisticated, but not much. The soup was good and the entire class, including our teacher, went back for seconds, some for thirds. The soup’s rice patties, which someone called War and Wonton, were heavenly---but is that its real name? Even though I am a picky eater I did try everything else.

I am Korean and all the recipes tasted good to me, especially the one with radishes dipped in a special sauce; I think I liked them because they tasted like kimchee. I have had Chinese food before but this was the best even though the radishes were crispy. Those radishes were refreshing yet a little unusual for my taste. The radishes had an interesting flavor I was not used to. We ate them and everything with chopsticks. Using chopsticks was hard but made the radishes and all the food taste tasty. The radish recipe had an interesting flavor that helped me understand aspects of Daoism where there is sweet and sour.

The rice was the best I ever tasted. It was Really Good-tasting Rice. The red-cooked beef recipe was awesome in that really good liquid sauce. We all had our beef shank meat over the rice. Thank you, it was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. The beef recipe and all of the different recipe dishes helped me understand what it was like to experience life in ancient China. I was glad that the beef was very tender and very tasty.

I liked the Rose-petal and Steamy Cake. The cake showed me that the Chinese used natural things to flavor their foods instead of spices. I still can not believe that the Chinese can use chopsticks fluently and eat cake with them, too. The Rose Petal Cakes were so fragrant. Their being not cooked, but steamed, was fascinating. The rose cake and the other recipes helped me expand my knowledge of Chinese culture and cuisine. I even liked the smelly rose cake, it had a good aroma.

Some general comments included: You know, I usually think of Chinese food in those to-go boxes, but yours was so much better. Before trying your recipes, I did not like Chinese food. Your food was tantalizing and so good. I haven’t had a lot of Chinese food because my mother is Japanese, but now I would like to try more. Your food was a way to learn about and understand Ancient China better. When I get older, I want to learn to cook and take lessons cooking Chinese food. This was my first time tasting Chinese food, it was delicious. Your recipes were a wonderful experience for me. Tasting China’s ancient food was great. What made you collect ancient Chinese recipes? I only collect rocks and shells because we live near the beach. I collect state quarters but now I think I’ll start to collect new and ancient recipes. Thank you for my new hobby. I hope you know that your ancient recipes and my having a hands-on chance to taste ancient food was so much better than reading about it. I learned that the ancient Chinese ate very interesting food, now I need to go to a Chinese restaurant and see what the modern Chinese eat. I learned what it was like to experience life in ancient China. I am one of the grateful students from the lucky class who enjoyed a superb meal provided by your recipes. The class, the teachers, and I all experienced a different time and lifestyle through the food. We enjoyed the ancient Chinese recipes so now I am thanking you.

Those comments from the many, many letters show that food is a fine way to learn about culture. Food is an important aspect of life. Would that more schools would have creative caring cooking parents who helped their children’s teachers in this way.

Thanks Mrs. Spindler, thanks to your cooking buddy, and thanks to the Social Studies teacher(s) in this California school. They supported and encouraged this. We are sure that this and other events broaden people’s horizons; and we were glad to offer some small modicum of help before the event. Now, we send congratulations to the parents who cooked these ancient Chinese recipes, to their teachers who were so supportive, and last but not least, to the students for those fine letters, and for appreciating fine ancient Chinese food, much of which is still in use today.

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