The Preface (序)

隨園食單::序
詩人美周公而曰:「籩豆有踐」,惡凡伯而曰「彼疏斯稗」。古之於飲食也,若是重乎!他若《易》 稱鼎烹,《書》稱鹽梅,《鄉黨》、《內則》瑣瑣言之,孟子雖 賤飲食之人,而又言飢渴未能得飲食之正。可見凡事須求一是處,都非易言。《中庸》曰:「人莫不飲食也,鮮能知味也」;《典論》曰:「一世長者知居處,三世 長者知服食」。古人進鬐離肺,皆有法焉,未嘗苟且。子與人歌而善,必使反之,而後和之。聖人於一藝之微,其善取於人也如是。余雅慕此旨,每食於某氏而飽, 必使家廚往彼灶觚,執弟子之禮。四十年來,頗集眾美。有學就者,有十分中得六七者,有僅得二三者,亦有竟失傳者。余都問其方略,集而存之,雖不甚省記,亦 載某家某味,以志景行。自覺好學之心,理宜如是。雖死法不足以限生廚,名手作書亦多有出入,未可專求之於故紙;然能率由舊章,終無大謬,臨時治具,亦易指 名。或曰:「人心不同,各如其面,子能必天下之口皆子口乎?」曰:「執柯以伐柯,其則不遠。吾雖不能強天下之口與吾同嗜,而姑且推己及物。則飲食雖微,而 吾於忠恕之道則已盡矣,吾何憾哉!」若夫《說郛》所載飲食之書三十餘種,眉公、笠翁亦有陳言;曾親試之,皆閼(音惡)於鼻而蜇於口,大半陋儒附會,吾無取 焉。

Suiyuan Shidan::Preface
Poets of the past praised the founding Duke of Zhou dynasty, stating: “His tableware was arranged in an straight and orderly fashion” [1] to describe his methodical and effective governing methods. Ministers criticized the King You of Zhou, stating: “Coarse grains of the past, Delicate grains of the present”, angered by his indulgent and ostentatious lifestyle and lamenting the end of the Dynasty. From these verses, we can clearly see how cuisine was something of great importance even to the Ancients!

Indeed, matters pertaining to the cuisine are well represented in the ancient Classics; Yi-Jing (易經) touched upon cooking techniques, Shang-Shu (尚書) touched upon flavouring food and seasoning, and brief discussions on the matter of cuisine are scattered throughout Xiang-Dang (論語:鄉黨) and Nei-Ze (禮記:内則). Even Mencius, who relegated cuisine as something frivolous nevertheless opined that it is not possible to properly savour ones food and drink in abject hunger and thirst [2]. As can be seen, trying to cover such broad subject as cuisine will not be an easy feat.

In Zhong -Yong (中庸), the Sage said: “Everyone eats and drinks, but those who can understand and discern their flavours are few in between.” In Dian-Lun (典論) it is said: “It takes an Elder [3] a lifetime to appreciate how to lodge and live, but it would take him three to fully appreciate eating”. The Ancients always meticulously prepared food sacrifices [4] for the rites and ceremonies in accordance to the decree, and was never negligent when performing these duties. It was said that when Confucius was touched in hearing someone’s singing, he would ask them to repeat their song and then try to accompany it with his own voice. By this method, the Sage shows how one can improve oneself and acquire the the skills of others. I admire this drive to continually improve oneself and I too seek to emulate it at all times. When ever I have eaten well and was inspired by the meal I have had at someone’s place, I would later send my cook to them to note down the dishes’ recipes and the techniques of their preparation.

It is in this manner, over the last forty years, that I have managed to compile and assemble the recipes of these delectable dishes together into a manual. Some of the techniques and recipes for the recorded dishes are complete in entirety, some are mostly complete, some have been learned and recorded in fragments, while others can only be described superficially or named.  I have sincerely asked each house for their recipes in order to gather them here. Thus, despite of the fact that some of the recipes and techniques are not quite detailed, I nevertheless recorded the dishes’ taste and originating houses as a show of gratitude to their generosity and for the sake of prosperity. Such is the nature of one with an inquisitive mind.

We should note that statically written recipes cannot match the capabilities of a living cook. Even the most capable writer cannot produce an error-less work. As such there is no need to attempt to exert oneself in trying to distill complete bodies of knowledge from old yellowing texts. If someone asks: “Each person has their own preferences, much like they all have different faces, how can you be so sure that their tastes will match your own in any way?” To that, I say: “Like arranging a marriage and chopping wood for an axe handle [6], if things are done in an orderly and practical manner then the results will not be too far off the expected norm. I cannot guarantee that everyone in the world will have the same tastes as I do, but I can still tentatively introduce them to dishes and recipes that I fancy.” Although the matters of food and drink are can be consider somewhat trivial, I have earnestly said all that I wish to said from my heart and for that I regret nothing! [7]

As for the book Shuo-Fu, which listed 30 types of food and drink, as well as the works of Mei Gong and Li Li-Weng, I have personally tested all their recipes. However, this has resulted in nothing but offensive and noxious dishes. I conclude that for the most part, these works are the results of the overextended imaginations of mediocre scholars, and as such I have cited nothing from them


Random notes:

[1]: It’s like saying “He has his ducks in a row” in modern parlance. In the case of the Duke the ducks were likely also literal. Peking ducks in a row! Haha.

[2]: Mencius’ full statement points to the idea that hunger and thirst robs people of their ability to savouring of food and in can damage the integrity of their being. Or something like that.

[3]: 長者 typically means a high ranking dignitary, but to me that makes less sense. So I’m going with “elder”.

[4]: It literally says: “Reserving the sharks fin and the animal lungs“. The line was taken from the Book of Rites 儀禮, which at this part is of a never-ending list of stuff about what to do with people, animals, and alcohol for various veneration rites. It is about as fun to read as that ancestry part of the Old Testament.

[5]: It literally says something like: “To ask in a formal custom to be taken in as a disciple.” This is clear an exaggeration, probably for the sake of humour. We KNOW he likely won’t want to lose his cook for several years in apprenticeship.

[6]: This is in reference to a poem from the “Making axe handles” (詩經‧國風‧豳‧伐柯) Which badly translated goes something like: “How does one make/chop an axe handle? It is not possible without an axe. How does one get a wife? It is not possible without a matchmaker. Oh making axe handles, making axe handles, the produced isn’t too far off the expected. And when I’m wish to be married? All the tableware will be lined up in a row.” (伐柯如何?匪斧不克。取妻如何?匪媒不得。伐柯伐柯,其則不遠。我覯之子?籩豆有踐。). Note the last line of them poem about the tableware (籩豆有踐) circularly refers to the first line of this preface about the Duke of Zhou. So in using this poetic reference to tie-up and conclude the preface, Yuan Mei is showing how smart scholarly, crafty, and smart he is. Yay.

[7]: Non! Rien de rien!

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