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TOPICS INCLUDE: Golden Palace request; Mao tai; Chopsticks; Egg usage in Lion's Head; Flavor and Fortune's website; ISACC, our parent organization; Naming minorities; Seeds found inside apricot and peach pits

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Spring Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(1)

From LILETTE in Toronto, Canada:
Must confess, was disappointed when you discussed the Golden Palace restaurant in a recent issue. Why no picture? You usually do provide same about all books and bastions of Chinese chow.
LILETTE: Apologies to you, to the eatery, and to the many others who agreed and remained silent.

From SANDY via e-mail: You did mention Mao Tai some issues back, can you tell us a little about this alcoholic beverage?
SANDY: This liquor is produced in and named after the town with the same name in the Guizhou Province. There is an article about the province, a map too, in the last issue on page 24. The potent beverage is shown, the most famous one, on that page as well. This province had lots of expertise in wine-making, now they have it making liquors, too. This red-labeled bottle shown in that issue on page 24 originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE). It became more popular after it won a pair of gold medals in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. It was named a national liquor in 1951, and later won a pair of gold medals at the Paris International Expositions, one in 1985, the other in 1986. Mao Tai, also written Maotai, has garnered many other medals in other national and international competitions.

The Chinese use this beverage as an official gift when entertaining foreign heads of state at banquets in and outside of China. It is the only beverage presented as an official gift by Chinese embassies abroad. Sold worldwide, the Chinese consulate told us that it, cognac, and whiskey are the three best known liquors in the world. Its taste and effects are strong and considerable. We rarely drink alcohol, so we can offer no personal testament but we can advise it is fermented from sorghum and that it has a high alcohol content.

From CLYDE via e-mail:
Were chopsticks invented soon after fire to help get foods too hot to handle off hot stones or out of foods cooking with lots of water such as those three thousand BCE pots cooking on their tripod legs; also what were the first ones made of, and how were they used?
CLYDE: Good questions. Food cut into bite-sized pieces surely made chopsticks handy tools, but early on, these cookery helpers were not intended for eating hot foods and gobbling them down. According to Minister Li Chi in the Book of Rites, they were not for eating millet or rice but were to take hot foods out of their containers, the main purpose actually to remove hot vegetables in soups. The earliest ones, probably of wood, have long since rotted while some made of stone, bone, ivory, and other lasting materials have survived. Some chopsticks were found in graves circa 1200 BCE.

To bring you up to date, disposable ones were invented in Japan in 1878 by a Japanese school teacher named Todao Shimamoto. Not all Asians use chopsticks, but most do use soup spoons, both with and without holes. The Japanese do not use spoons when they use chopsticks, but the Chinese often use these two items concurrently. Using them with the left hand is considered incorrect. The Thai use spoons and forks; they push food onto their spoons with the forks.

The Chinese call chopsticks kuaizi, or 'quick boys.' Different Asian cultures use different lengths, shapes, and thicknesses of their chopsticks; and they hold them differently. Koreans scold their children if they hold them at the end. Theirs are shorter than Chinese ones, they are made of metal, and for those children who do hold them at the end, they are told they are destined to marry someone next door. The Chinese have rules for their use or misuse, and are told not to leave them crossed or upside down, not to pass them to another person, not to stand them up in a bowl as that is a sign of death in the family, and not to fumble with them in their soup bowls. The Chinese character for these sticks is 'wood,' the phonetic element says 'to press them together from both sides.' Clyde, that may be more than you wanted to know; but education is a powerful thing!

From COOKIE in the UK:
Do the Chinese use eggs in their meat when making Lion's Head or in or with other ground meats?
COOKIE: In the Guizhou Province many do, and below is one of their recipes with sour sauce. For other Guizhou dishes, see the article in the last issue about this province; it began on page 24.

From KN via e-mail:
KN: Thanks to you and a literal handful of others. We are pleased that the big problem we had but were unaware of remains history. The error was that every item longer than four thousand characters was truncated at that point. We did not see that because we do not see what everyone else does, SO, when you or anyone else sees a problem or an error, large or small, please tell us. Do not be polite, just holler. We can not fix what we do not know exists. We have no idea how long that problem existed, and do apologize to those inconvenienced by it.

From SHASTA via e-mail:
Is your organization an educational non-profit one with no paid staff?
SHASTA: ISACC is a 100% volunteer group, Flavor and Fortune is its flagship magazine. Both are run by 100% volunteers; we have no paid staff. ISACC is a recognized educational not-for-profit organization, recognized by New York State and by the IRS. Our purpose is to share knowledge about Chinese food and Chinese food history and advise how to prepare it, where to eat it, etc. The goals of ISACC, the parent organization of this magazine, are stated on page two of every issue. We want readers and other interested parties to know about Chinese cuisine, its foods, herbs, habits, health, nutrition, technology, and other scientific and culinary applications. Therefore, we do just that in this magazine and elsewhere.

From LOUIS in Kansas City, on the phone:
You have written about many minorities in China. Let me thank you for that. While this is not a food issue, I have called libraries and others inquiring but so far no answer, why do some minorities have no last names?
LOUIS: Many ethnic groups have no surnames and only a give their child a first name. Other's connect a child's given name to the father's or mother's name, even that of a grandfather or another elder relative. Others connect it to the town, the parent's occupation--particularly if they are a banker, baker, vegetable merchant, even a farmer. Still others use the place there they live as a family name. Some people, minority or otherwise, connect a child's first name to a physical feature, a personality trait, even a wish for that baby. There were cultures that forbade a second name, we read that but never read why. For example, the Dai had no second names, as many do today. Now, many of them use the last name of Dao, once forbidden to ordinary folk. Only after 1949 did Dao become a popular last name among members of this ethnic population group. Other groups that used names such as butcher and baker, reject them today not wanting to pigeon-hole their children into an occupation they might reject.

From KEEN via e-mail:
I heard that apricot and peach pit seeds can kill; it that true?
KEEN: Assume you mean the seed inside the pit or stone of these fruits. And the answer is yes and no. A large amount of the insides of these stones or pits can kill a small child, as few as fifteen or twenty could do that. There are other foods that could do that if someone ate too much of any one at any given time. Raw soybeans and other legumes contain enzyme inhibitors that prevent protein digestion and absorption of some nutrients. Cooking these legumes inactiviates these protease inhibitors making them both safe and nutritious. That said, do not eat raw soybeans, for example. There are some foods where cooking does not kill the problem part of the food. Rhubarb leaves are very poisonous and should never be eaten raw or cooked. Spinach contains some oxalate, and too much given to a small chld can be a problem, a fatal one. Nutmeg in very, very large amounts make people hallucinate. A little sprinkled on eggnog or sweet potatoes is OK. There are many foods that contain some poisons and some folks are more sensitive to them than others. Do not overdose on any new food. Only eat a little of a new item to be sure you are not someone with a sensitivity to that food. That goes for quite a few herbal medicines, too. Ephedra sinica, Valerian, goat weed, Kava pepper, Gingko biloba, even garlic come to mind. Some foods and medicines enhance sedative effects, others lower serum glucose, raise the risk of bleeding, have possible anti-hypertensive effects, raise the risk of the heart rate and/or blood pressure, etc. Foods and medications, particularly before surgery, are times when there can be additional problems; some monitored, others eliminated. Check with your doctor for interactions needing your attention.
Meatballs with Sour Sauce
2 pounds, one half ground pork, the other half hand-chopped pork
1 egg
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 scallion, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and minced
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
5 cups vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
5 Tablespoons lotus root flour
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
3 Tablespoons minced mustard green leaves
1 scallion, cut on an angle, for garnish
1. Mix both kinds of pork with a tablespoon of cold water, then add the egg, thin soy sauce, minced scallion and ginger and garlic, and the rice wine, salt and cornstarch. Stir in one direction until no longer sticky, then shape the meat mixture with wet hands into one- to two-inch meatballs and set them on a plate.
2. Next, heat the oil and fry the meatballs, stirring often until they are brown and crisp. Remove them and drain on paper towels, then put them in a pre-heated serving bowl.
3. In a medium-size pot, mix the rice vinegar, sugar, dark soy sauce, lotus root flour, sesame oil, and the fish sauce, bring to the boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the minced mustard greens, and stir continuing to simmer and stir for three minutes. Then, pour this sauce over the meatballs, and serve.

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