Appetizers 8: Thin Bing (薄餅)

The household of Provincial Officier1 Kong of Shandong makes thin bing that are thin as cicada wings, as big as a tea dish, and unsurpassed its pliancy, softness, and smoothness. My household tried to replicate this recipe, but the results were not up to par and we have no idea why it is so.
The people of Qin2 made small tins out of pewter, each of them holding thirty thin bing. Each guest was given a tin. The bing were each as small as the width of tangerines. The tins had lids and thus they can be stocked and stored.
Fill the bing with stir-fried shreds of pork, sliced as thin as hairs. The green onions should also be prepared in similar manner. They can also be wrapped with pork and mutton in equal parts, which are known as “Western bing”.3

薄餅4

山東孔藩台家制薄餅,薄若蟬翼,大若茶盤,柔膩絕倫。家人如其法為之,卒不能及,不知何故。秦人制小錫罐,裝餅三十張。每客一罐。餅小如柑。罐有蓋,可以貯。餡用炒肉絲,其細如髮。蔥亦如之。豬、羊並用,號曰「西餅」。

Note:

1A fantai (藩台) is a dynastic provincial official in charge of civil and fiscal matters in a province.

2This is a literal translation of qinren (秦人), the term is used in modern times to describe people from Shanxi but I’m unsure if this was used in the same manner in Qing Dynasty.

3Western, because the large Muslim population in the region, unlike the Chinese, are major consumers of mutton and lamb. Interestingly pork is added here, which perhaps hint at this being something of a Chines-i-fied version of an original dish. Perhaps something like a Moroccan warqa (ouarka)? Or the South Asian dosa?

4Also known as popiah.

Appetizers 7: Shrimp Bing (蝦餅)

Combine raw shelled shrimp, green onions and salt, Szechuan pepper, and a small amount of sweet wine. Add water and flour, then sear in sesame oil until done.

蝦餅

生蝦肉,蔥鹽、花椒、甜酒腳少許,加水和面,香油灼透。

Note:

*What is a “Bing” (餅)? It’s been translated variously as cookie, biscuit, cake, bread, etc., but this Chinese term does not really have a good English equivalent. Basically a bing could be any flattened, disk-like starchy food that is typically dry and crisp, though not exclusively so. The French word galette is actually pretty good translation, but I don’t think it has been well adopted enough into English to use it here. As such, I’ve decided to use it as the transliterate word here and for the rest of this chapter.

Appetizers 6: Straw Cape Cake (簑衣餅)

Mix cold water into dry flour, but not too much. Knead the dough and roll it flat, then roll-up the flattened dough. Roll it flat again, then spread lard and white sugar evenly on it. Roll the dough up again, then roll it flat into a thin bing, and sear in lard until golden brown. If one wants a salty version, one can use green onions, Szechuan pepper, and salt instead.

簑衣餅

乾麵用冷水調,不可多,揉擀薄後捲攏,再擀薄了,用豬油、白糖鋪勻,再捲攏,,擀成薄餅,用豬油烙黃。如要鹹的,用蔥椒鹽亦可。

Note:
  • This name could come from the loose flaky layered texture of the bing, or “cake”, which would have roughly resembles that of the traditional straw cape used as rain coats in East Asia before the introduction of synthetic cloth.

It’s been a while! Let’s see if the second quarter of this year brings with it more free time.

Appetizers 5: Vegetarian Noodles (素麵)

First, simmer the mushrooms for one day to extract its juices and allow it to settle and clarify.1 The next day, simmer bamboo shoots for its juices and boil the noodles in it. This technique is from the monks of Yangzhou’s Dinghui temple, who makes it very well but refuse to transmit the recipe to others. However, one can approximate it to a certain extent. The dish has a pure dark colour, which some say is from secretly added shrimp broth. As for the original juice from the mushroom, simply let the dirt and sand settle but do not change the water. If the water is changed, its original flavours would become diluted.

素麵

先一日將蘑菇熬汁,澄清;次日將筍熬汁,加麵滾上。此法揚州定慧庵僧人製之極精,不肯傳人。然其大概亦可仿求。其純黑色的,或云暗用蝦汁、蘑菇原汁,只宜澄去泥沙,不重換水;一換水,則原味薄矣。

Notes:

1This is the trick of making edible vegetarian food before MSG: mushrooms mushrooms, more mushrooms.

Appetizers 4: Skirt Sash Noodles (裙帶麵)

Take a small knife and cut the dough into strips that are somewhat broad. These are known as “skirt sash noodles”. In general, when preparing this noodle dish, it is best when there is a lot of soup in the bowl such that the noodles cannot be seen. One prefers to wait until the noodles have been finished before adding more, this way it hooks people in to keep eating.1 This is common practice in Yangzhou, and it completely makes sense.

裙帶麵

以小刀截麵成條,微寬,則號裙帶麵。大概作麵,總以湯多為佳,在碗中望不見麵為妙。寧使食畢再加,以便引人入勝。此法揚州盛行,恰甚有道理。

Notes:

1The sentence in Chinese is a bit vague, without mentioning how serving a minimum of noodles makes people keep eating them. However, this seems like the most accurate and rational interpretation.

*Some sources indicate this dish is a version of the famous “Biang biang noodle“. Whether this is true I can’t say.