Salted eggs from Gaoyou are very good, with deep reddish yolks loaded with oil. This is Master Gao Wenduan’s favourite food. At banquets, he would honour his guests by first serving it to them with his own chopsticks.
Place the whole egg on a plate, cut it in half, and serve the shell, yolk, and whites all together. One should not remove the whites and reserve only the yolk because the flavors would be incomplete, and the oils from the yolk would leach out.
Pickle the cucumbers with salt, air-dry them, and put them into soy sauce in the same manner as soy-pickled ginger. It is not hard to make pickled cucumbers that are sweet in flavor, but it is hard to make ones that are crisp. The household of Shi Luzhen in Hangzhou makes the best pickled cucumbers. It is said that pickling them in soy sauce, drying, then pickling them in soy sauce again will make the thin skin of the cucumbers wrinkle and crisp in texture when eaten.
Young fava beans are most tender and are remarkable good when stir-fried with pickled mustard greens. It is best to eat them as soon as they have been harvested.
1Candou 蠶豆 (here translated as fava beans) literally means “silkworm beans.” The origin of this name can be traced back to the Yuan dynasty and comes from the fact that the insides of the large, flat, brown beans resemble mature silkworm pupae. Or perhaps when they are deep fried, the insides pop out like a cicada breaking out of it pupae shell? Interestingly, both fava beans and peas were erroneously lumped together as one item in this manual. This rather obvious error likely hints to when both leguminous plants were introduced into China and information about them was relatively scarce and incomplete. Like fresh peas, fresh fava beans must be cooked soon after harvesting and shelling to remain sweet and juicy, otherwise you get something that’s dry, crumbly, and even a bit bitter
Take fresh tender ginger and pickle lightly with salt. Marinate first in a coarse tasting soy sauce, then marinate in a delicate tasting soy sauce.1 Repeat this three times to complete. An old technique adds the molted carapace of the cicada to the marinade, which allows the ginger to be stored for a long time without becoming tough.2
1Since jiang 醬 generally refers to soy sauce, the differentiation here between “coarse” (粗) and “delicate” (細) is puzzling. It could refer to differences in flavor, texture, or thickness. Perhaps the first is simply there to make the ginger salty and leach out some water, while the second gives the ginger a more refined flavor.
2Cicada molt (蟬蛻), the leftover carapaces of the insect after they molt, are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to reduce inflammation, heal itchy skin, promote clear vision, and control muscle spasms. Perhaps there are some enzymes leftoer in this carapace that has some effect on the ginger?
Shrimp-roe fish are produced in Suzhou. When these little fish are born, they already contain tiny roe. When cooked while they are still raw and fresh, and eaten right after, they taste better than any dried fish.
1Xiaziyu 蝦子魚 can be read as “shrimp fish” or “shrimp-roe fish,” given the dual meaning of the term “xia zi”. Given the description of these small fish being filled with roe, the latter is the right translation here. I’m not sure what is the species this fish (the only one I can think of where the fish is eaten with lots of its eggs is Spirinchus lanceolatus). Or perhaps the “roe” mentioned here is actually the yolk sac of the newly hatched fish? If anyone has any ideas what this fish is, I would love to know.
Use tender jellyfish and soak it in sweet wine for a unique dish.1 The shiny portion of the jellyfish is known as “white skin,” which can be sliced into strips, tossed with jiu and vinegar, and served.
1I’m not sure if this is fresh or cured jellyfish. While most jellyfish eaten nowadays is cured using alum and salt, near the coast in China people can still buy fresh jellyfish to be directly made into dishes.
Mud snails are produced in Xinghua and Taixing.1 Use the newly hatched ones, which are most tender. Soak them in fermented rice jiu, add sugar, and they will spit out their oil.2 Although they are known also as “mud conchs,” they are best without any mud.
1Xinghua and Taixing are respectively a prefecture and a city in Jiangsu Province.
2It seems more likely that this “oil” is not really the greasy hydrophobic item, but a slippery mucus.
3Commonly known as the “Korean mud snail”, the tutie 吐蛈 (also written as 吐鐵) is the mollusk Bullacta exarata. This is a well-loved culinary creature lauded in various texts since the Ming dynasty. In his book Investigation of Flavours from the Sea (Haiwei suoyin 海味索隐), Ming dynasty official and food enthusiast Tu Benjun 屠本畯 devotes a section to it, named Song of the mud snail (Tutie ge 吐铁歌), that states: “Tutie is also known as ‘mud snail’, with the best ones coming from the rice paddies of the south. Harvest them during the rainy season of May. The three Wu officials were ones who adored mud snails and stated that regardless of whether they were eating a meal, drinking jiu, or having tea, it was always welcome.”