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 being. One prefers to wait until the noodles have been finished before adding more, this way it hooks people in to keep eating.1

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 a mentioning the noodles to make them keep eating. 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.

Appetizers 2: Warm Noodles (溫麵)

Take thin noodles, boil them in broth, strain dry, and put them into a bowl. Combine with chicken and concentrated savoury shiitake mushroom broth when one is ready to eat. Each person ladles the sauce on the noodles themselves.

溫麵
將細麵下湯瀝乾,放碗中,用雞肉、香蕈濃鹵,臨吃,各自取瓢加上。

Note:
Similar in concept to eating cold Japanese somen and soba during blazing hot summer days or when you just want your meals to consist of things that are relatively cool. Except for this recipe, you’re straddling the fence since you don’t like the idea of eating cold noodles but the thought of having anything hot is unbearable considering the weather.

Appetizers 1: Eel Noodles (鰻麵)

Take a large eel and steam it until soft. Pull off its flesh and discard the bones, add it to wheat flour, combine with clear chicken broth1, and knead the dough.2 Roll the dough flat and slice into thin strips, then boil in chicken broth, ham broth, and mushroom broth.

鰻麵
大鰻一條蒸爛,拆肉去骨,和入麵中,入雞湯清揉之,擀成麵皮,小刀劃成細條,入雞汁、火腿汁、蘑菇汁滾。

Notes:
1Jitangqing (雞湯清) means “clear (part) of chicken broth” but the use of the word “qing” is somewhat odd. I wonder in Yuan Mei actually wrote the other thing while meaning to actually w rite down Jidanqing (雞蛋清), which mean “clear (part) of chicken egg”, or rather egg whites. This is a guess on my part since using egg whites for making Chinese noodles is quite common and chicken broth less, and the phrase here is strange.
2If you have been paying attention this is not a dish of eel on noodles or noodles served with eel. It is literally eel noodles, where the flesh of the eel is incorporated directly into the structure of the noodle’s dough itself. There are actually quite a few of these meat-based dough in Chinese cuisine, from the famous pork-based yanpi 燕皮 to the bouncy tender wrapper of yujiao 魚餃. I’ve made stuff like this is the past and it’s quite tasty and fun using commercial fresh fish paste you can buy at any good Chinese supermarket. This is how you do it:

  1. Empty the (small) tub of fish paste onto a flat surface generously powder with a thick layer of some starch (like potato starch)
  2. Add a generous spoonful on to of the pile of fish paste and press it down until well flattened.
  3. Roll it flat and thin, sprinkling well with more starch as needed to prevent sticking, then fold the flatten fish paste over against itself.
  4. Cover the top of the folded fish paste with a generously sprinkling of starch and then cut everything into noodles.
  5. Boil and eat with a sprinkle of green onions and a spoon of rendered lard. It’s heaven in a bowl.

Appetizers (點心單)

Liang Zhaoming ate appetizers for small meals, likewise aunt Zheng Xiu advised uncle to “have1 appetizers”. Appetizers certainly have a long history, thus the following is called “List of Appetizers”

梁昭明以點心為小食,鄭修嫂勸叔「且點心」,由來久矣。作《點心單》2

Notes:
1Qie (且) usually has a meaning of a time period or eventuality. Not sure what it means exactly in this case, maybe “Take time for appetizers/snacks”?

2I was feeling a bit conflicted between translating 點心 dian xin to either the more common “dim sum” or the somewhat more accurate term “appetizer”. While the former is actually an English transliteration of the exact same term in Cantonese, it is used in the Western context to describe the Cantonese dim sum/yum cha tradition and does not encompass the more general meaning of a small appetizer that quells hunger while “touching” one’s heart. I think a quintessential equivalent for dian xin in the Western traditions would be the little sandwiches eaten in afternoon tea since it does both of the above, though things served for antipasti, tapas, or hor d’oeuvres could also work. So Appetizer it is.

SO BUSY

Since my last post on my talk (which went awesome), life in North America had been flipped upside down by the ongoing global pandemic. With everything changed and me staying at home, life is now even busier and crazier than before. Which of course means the semi-regular posting I have done since the beginning of the year have come to an abrupt screeching halt.

A month later, now that I’ve gotten a bit more on top of the new routines, I will begin slowing posting the final bits of translation for the Suiyuan Shidan. I can’t promise regular posts, but I can promise I will get to them more often.

Stick around!