Essential Knowledge 20: Foundations (本分須知)

須知單::本分須知
滿洲菜多燒煮,漢人菜多羹湯,童而習之,故擅長也。漢請滿人,滿請漢人,各用所長之菜,轉覺入口新鮮,不失邯鄲故步。今人忘其本分,而要格外討好。漢請滿人用滿菜,滿請漢人用漢菜,反致依樣葫蘆,有名無實,畫虎不成反類犬矣。秀才下場,專作自己文字,務極其工,自有遇合。若逢一宗師而摹仿之,逢一主考而摹仿之,則掇皮無真,終身不中矣。

List of Essential Knowledge::Foundations
Manchurian dishes tend to have more roasted and stewed dishes, Han dishes tend to have more soup-based dishes. When one is exposed to a culture’s foundations and trained in its methods from a young age, one can become extremely adept in the culture’s cuisine. As such, when a Han hires a Manchurian or a Manchurian hires a Han to prepare the cuisines for which they are most adept, the resulting dishes are a delight to eat, completely devoid of the jarring, confused qualities of poor imitations [1]. Sadly, today’s people have forgotten the importance of considering the cultural roots of the host and cook when eating. Rather, they prefer to appease and humour each other at the expense of the cuisine. When a Han invites a Manchurian to eat Manchurian food, or a Manchurian invites a Han to eat Han food, what is served is a sad pastich of the other culture’s cuisine, prepared without the needed fundamental skills and techinque [2]; like a person trying to paint a majestic tiger but ending up with a mangy dog. This is the same for scholars taking their examinations, namely, each scholar should make full use of their foundational skills and experiences during the exam, writing in his own words. By consistantly following this method, favorable results will come. However, if a scholar is always trying to imitate the style of every master that he comes upon, or the calligraphy of every chief-examiner he is trying to please, this person’s knowledge will be forever only skin deep, lacking in both depth and substance. Such an individual will never acheive anything in life.

Random notes:
[1]: 邯鄲故步 comes from “學步邯鄲” in which one not only fails to learn a new skill, but ends up losing and forgeting one’s original skills. In the context of cooking, chefs who cook dishes from a cuisine they don’t understand confuse its flavours and may end up not doing anything particularly well. Reminds me of all the “Fusion” cuisines that were so popular in the early 2000s, it’s like if you can’t cook French cuisine well and you can’t cook Chinese cuisine well, just open a restaurant and say you serve fusion foods.
[2]: Most people do this with good intentions, but when Western friends takes me to the “BEST Chinese restaurant” in some city it most often ends up being a giant disappointment. I’m sure I’ve done similar for other cuisines.

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