I will be giving a talk at the University of Toronto East Asian Library this coming Friday 28th at 1pm, on using the gastronomic principles defined by Yuan Mei in the Suiyuan Shidan to develop a framework for understanding Chinese Canadian gastronomy and cuisine.
If you are in Toronto and available in the afternoon, come by and say hi! All are welcome!
Other than that, Suzhou’s Nuqi, Fuqi’s Wanzao, Xuanzhou’s Zaoerhong, are all subpar and unworthy of consideration. Like the quince1 from Yangzhou, they taste crass and vulgar.
1The Chinese term for quince is “wood melon” (木瓜). Depending on your the ancestral region of Chinese heritage, the term may indeed refer to quince as it has for many that come from more temperate regions of China. But for those of us from the tropics or diaspora overseas where quince is rare and papaya are much more common, the “wood melon” refers almost exclusively to the fruits of Carica papaya.
If one is already drinking shaojiu,1 choose the more vicious ones since they are the best. And out of all shaojiu, fenjiu is the most vicious. I have refereed to shaojiu as thugs among man and cruel officials in the counties. But for holding fights in an arena one cannot be without thugs and to rid a region of bandits one cannot be without cruel county officials, likewise, to drive out the chills and clear one’s bodily stagnation, one cannot be without shaojiu. Ranked just behind Fenjiu is Shandong Gaoliang liquor. It can be stored for ten years, where upon the liquor will turn green in colour and becomes sweet in the mouth upon drinking. Just like thugs that have aged, they lose their violent tempers, and become more amicable.
I often see Tong Ershu’s household, infusing ten jin of shaojiu with four liang of goji, two liang of cangzhu,2 one liang of bajitian,3 all wrapped in a cloth. When the jar is opened in a month’s time, the aroma is incredible. When eating pig’s head, sheep’s tail, salted pork and the like, one cannot go without shaojiu, with each component providing it own benefits.
既吃燒酒，以狠為佳。汾酒乃燒酒之至狠者。余謂燒酒者，人中之光棍，縣中之酷吏也。打擂臺，非光棍不可；除盜賊，非酷吏不可；驅風寒、消積滯， 非燒酒不可。汾酒之下，山東高粱燒次之，能藏至十年，則酒色變綠，上口轉甜，亦猶光棍做久，便無火氣，殊可交也。常見童二樹家，泡燒酒十斤，用枸杞四兩， 倉術二兩、巴戟天一兩，布紮一月開甕，甚香。如吃豬頭、羊尾、跳神肉之類，非燒酒不可，亦各有所宜也。
1Shaojiu are a Chinese distilled alcoholic drink, also known as baijiu (白酒, clear/white liquor),and distinct from other distilled spirits in that shaojiu are quite distinctive in their flavour profiles that the unaccustomed may find challenging. In West, one of the most well known shaojiu/baijiu is undoubtedly Maotai.
2Canzhu is the dried rhizome of Atractylodes lancea used in traditional Chinese medicine.
3Baijitian are the dried roots of a tree of a mulberry genus Morinda used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Jinhuan wine has the freshness of Shaoxing but it is not as astringent, it has the sweetness of Nuqi1 without the unrefined characteristics. Like other wines, it is also best when aged. All this is likely because the water running by Jinhua is clear and clean.
1女貞酒 could be translated either as “Lady’s innocence wine” or a wine flavoured with Ligustrum lucidum. While this could be herb infused wine as in the latter or the herb itself, I think this may refer to the Chinese tradition of keeping wine from when a daughter is born.
On the thirtieth year of Qianlong,1 I was in Suzhou having a drink at Su Mu-an’s house. The wine I had there was sweet and fair, and sticks to one’s lips when drunk. Even when one’s cup was full, the wine still does not spill out.2 After I have had fourteen cups of it, I still did not know what wine it was, so I asked the master of the house, who replied: ”It is a Sanbai wine that has been aged for more than ten years.” Since I loved it so much, the next day he gifted me a jar, but it was an entirely different thing.
Oh…Why must this be?! Indeed, it is hard to acquire the choice items of this world in any quantity!
In An Zhengkang’s annotation of “Zhou Guan”3, the term “Angqi” was defined: “The jar content is old and cloudy white. Similar to modern Zanbai.”4 I suspect this was the wine being referred to.
乾隆三十年，余飲於蘇州周慕庵家。酒味鮮美，上口粘唇，在杯滿而不溢。飲至十四杯，而不知是何酒，問之，主人曰︰「陳十餘年之三白酒也。」因余 愛之，次日再送一罈來，則全然不是矣。甚矣！世間尤物 之難多得也。按鄭康成《周官》注「盎齊」云︰「盎者翁翁然，如今酇白。」疑即此酒
1The year 1765CE
2From this sentence and the one before, perhaps the wine is viscous enough that it does not easy spill out.
3This is from the Rites of Zhou, in 周禮::天官::酒正
4It’s hard to figure out this sentences. I’m assuming “jar’s item” is the wine contained within. The last quoted phrase comes from the Rites of Zhou:”盎猶翁也，成而色翁翁然，蔥白色，如今酇白矣”
I almost never drink. Nevertheless, on the year of bingxu1 at the abode of Auditor Ye in Lishui, I drank sixteen cups of the black rice wine,2 which greatly shocked those around me. All of them pleaded with me to stop. Even though I was wreaking my composure, I could not control myself and put my hand down. Its colour was black with a sweet and fresh flavour that was so incredible that I cannot describe it.
It is told: By the traditions of Lishui, when a daughter is born, one must make a large jar3 of this wine using the fresh milled rice of the utmost quality. It is only on the day of the daughter’s wedding that the wine is drunk. This means that these wines have at the very least been aged for fifteen to sixteen years. When the lid is cracked open4 , there is only half a jar of the aged wine left. Its texture is sticky on one’s lips and it’s aroma can be smelled from outside of the room.
1This is the year 1766CE in the Chinese sexagenary cycle
2The “black rice” here is either the black/purple variety of glutinous rice or white glutinous rice cooked in the leaf juices of Vaccinium bracteatum, a plant from the same genus as cranberries and blueberries. The latter is is still made today.
3These jars are sold by their empty weight, with a small one around 5kg to a large on of 50kgy. A typical size one is around 25 kg, which is up to one’s thigh in height.
4 The actual term is “break the jar” since the large jars are sealed with layers of lotus leaf, an earthenware cap, and then capped with clay and plaster.
In the Tang poems there is a passage: “Lanling’s fair wine, thickly fragrant and golden bright.1 Held in a jade bowl, shimmering amber light.”2 I have travelled through Changzhou, and drank a wine aged for eight years with Liu Lun. It indeed had the brightness of amber, but its flavour was far too concentrated and no longer had that desired long-lasting refreshing flavour. Yixing has a Shu mountain wine that is similar to Lanling.
As for wine from Wuxi, it is made from the water of the second best spring under the heavens, as such it should be one of the best wines. But because it was made improperly by the city’s business-folk, it had been completely water-down and diluted in quality, which is especially regrettable. It is said that there are still good wines there but I have yet to have it.
1It’s also possible that 鬱金香 is refers to a plant with a golden hued rhisome: Curcuma wenyujin.
2One Libai’s poems 李白《客中行》”蘭陵美酒鬱金香，玉碗盛來琥珀光。但使主人能醉客，不知何處是他鄉。”