Essential Knowledge 1 : Basic Nature (先天須知)

須知單::先天須知
凡物各有先天,如人各有資稟。人性下愚,雖孔、孟教之,無益也;物性不良,雖易牙烹之,亦無味也。指其大略︰豬宜皮薄,不可腥臊;雞宜騸嫩,不可老稚;鯽魚以扁身白肚為佳,烏背者,必倔強於盤中;鰻魚以湖溪游泳為貴,江生者,必槎枒其骨節;穀餵之鴨,其膘肥而白色;壅土之筍,其節少而甘鮮;同一火腿也,而好醜判若天淵;同一台鯗也,而美惡分為冰炭。其他雜物,可以類推。大抵一席佳餚,司廚之功居其六,買辦之功居其四。

List of Essential knowledge::Basic Nature
All things have their basic nature, just like each person has their own qualities. If a person is by nature dim-witted, it would be pointless even if they were taught by Confucius or Mencius. Similarly, if the starting ingredients are of low quality, even the extraordinary culinary skills of Yi-ya [1] would produce an mediocre dish. As a brief overview on the qualities of ingredients:

  • Good pork should have thin skin and lack any strong or foul smells [2].
  • Good chicken should be tender and neither too old (tough) or too young (under-developed).
  • Quality carp [3] should have flat bodies with white bellies. Carp with darker backs will prove less edible.
  • Eel taken from the lakes and streams are exquisite, while those who have lived in the large rivers tend to be scrawny and full of spines and bone.
  • Grain-fed ducks should be round and fat such that their flesh is pale.
  • Cultivated bamboo shoots with less segments taste fresher and sweeter [4].

The difference between a quality of a good ham and a bad one is miles apart. As for the xiang [5] of Taizhou, one cannot even begin to measure the difference between a good and bad. The same sort of reasoning applies to other food-stuffs. For the quality of of a banquet’s dishes, 60% of the credit goes to the cook, but 40% goes to the person who selected the ingredients.


Random notes:

[1]: A famous chef of great cooking prowess from the Spring and Autumn period of China’s tumultuous history. Infamous for allegedly cooking his infant son in soup after his king expressed interest in tasting meat from human babies. Go state-sponsored cannibalism!

[2]: Literally fishy/raw meat smells (腥) and foul urine-like smells (臊)

[3]: The Crucian carp

[4]: How does one translate “甘鮮”? Sweet and umami? Sweet and fresh? Sweet and delectable?

[5]: A dried salted fish usually made from Yellow croaker

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2 thoughts on “Essential Knowledge 1 : Basic Nature (先天須知)”

    1. It interesting to read these old translations, some of them leave much to be desired but this one isn’t half bad. Sometimes the literal translation is not the best way to do it, though in this case I think it’s quite accurate! Thanks!

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