Busy busy busy

Things have been insanely busy of late. So much so that getting enough sleep, much less posting translations, has been next to impossible.

Worry not, next post is coming soon. Hopefully before the new year!


Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 13: Shrimp Balls (蝦圓)

Shrimp ball are made in the same way as fish balls. They can be either braised in chicken broth or stir-fried dry. When pounding the shrimp to a paste, be sure to not pound it too fine otherwise its original flavours and textures would be lost. This is the same with fish balls.1 The shrimp can also be peeled in whole then mixed with laver, which is excellent.2


1 This is somewhat surprising since modern fishballs tends to be rather homogenous and fine in texture.
2 It’s not clear exactly how this is prepared. However, whole shrimp that has been semi-butterflied and fried until it just curls into a round form is also know as “shrimp balls” (蝦球), so it’s likely junh that. Mixing in chopped laver with shrimp prepared thus, either before or after frying, will undoubtedly result in excellent dishes.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 12: Rice-Eel Segments (段鱔)

Cut the rice-eel into inch long pieces and braise them in the same manner as eel. It can also be first fried in oil to firm up its flesh, then cooked together1 with winter melon, fresh bamboo shoots, and shitake. Use only a small amount of diluted soy sauce, and larger amounts of ginger extract.


1The words used here are actually zuopei (作配) or “match up”, which does not actually tell one how to prepare the dish. Hence the use here of the equally ambiguous term “cooked together”.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 10: Shredded Rice Eel Geng (鱔絲羹)

Boil the rice eel1 until it is half done, then slice it into thin shreds and remove its bones. Braise in wine and autumn sauce. Add a small amount of starch powder along with day-lily flowers,2 winter melon and long green onions to finish the geng3. The cooks in Nanjing like to grill rice eels until they are charred, which leaves one completely incredulous.


1Monopterus albus, also known by the less than savoury name, the swamp eel.
2Hemerocallis fulva, the Orange Day-Lily, is often sold dried and reconstituted before cooking. The fresh version, if it can be found should be preferred for this dish.
3Geng (羹) is a clear soup thickened with starch. Thick Chinese soups are technically all geng.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 9: Whole-Shelled Soft-Shelled Turtle (全殼甲魚)

In the household of General1 Yang from Shandong, they prepare soft-shelled turtle by removing its head and tail, portioning off its meat and the turtle’s soft “skirt”2 to braise with seasonings, and then covering everything with the turtle shell.

At the banquet, each guest would be served a small plate each with a single turtle cooked in this manner. Those presented with the turtle would be completely startled by the its appearance,3 concerned if they had been served something still alive and moving. Sadly the method for the dish’s preparation is lost.


1Sanjiang (參將) is probably something like a major general. Perhaps.
2The “skirt” of the soft-shelled turtle is the flap of skin and flesh at the edge of the turtle’s skin covered shell.
3I wonder if the guest are startled because they are not used to seeing the turtle apparently whole and not pre-chopped into chopstick friendly pieces.

So… I’m Publishing a Book

To longtime readers of this blog, you will likely have noticed since last year the pace of translations here slowing to a crawl. Family and other real-life responsibilities aside, the posts have been this slow because I’ve been going forwards with completing the translation of the entire Suiyuan Shidan. Now it’s all finished up and I’m am publishing everything as a book.

That’s right, I have finished translating the entire 18th century Chinese gastronomic manual. All that’s left to do is go through the draft and pick out residual errors. Believe it or not, what started as a frazzle of text is now, amazingly, in publishable shape.

The fantastic book, which you will inexplicably wish to acquire in multitudes, is called “Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy” and will be published by the Berkshire Publishing Group. On top of being completely reworked, error-checked, packed with improved footnotes, glossaries, and relevant biographies, I have completely re-transcribed the book’s Chinese text faithfully from the original 1792 edition of the Suiyuan Shidan and retranslated everything based on it. This is something I don’ think any publication had done in the longest while, Chinese or otherwise. So if you’re a Chinese cuisine purist nerd, this should float your boat.


Many thanks to Karen Christensen and Marjolijn Kaiser of Berkshire Publishing, who have guided this project through. It’s a lot to do: putting up with my blah writing, my slowness, and the unending stream of inane comments spouting from my cranium. The translation and notes were edited with help from two esteemed scholars: the author of the classic seminal work “The Food of China”, Prof. E. N. “Gene” Anderson, and serial star of multiple BBC Chinese history docs, Prof. Jeffrey Riegel. Needless to say, both of them have been tremendously helpful and provided much insight in the translation process. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with them, and even now I’m still glowing from getting their thumbs-up.

That’s all for now. The posts will continue, but there will be more news of the book to come!

P.S. All that said, the translations on this blog are already quite good, if I may say so myself, and I’ll continue posting all the chapters for everybody. But in all earnestness, the amount of effort put into refining and polishing the text made it truly shine. Think of it like this: While I do enjoy eating raw sauerkraut piled high on streetmeat like everyone else in this city, it is nothing compared to a expertly prepared plate of choucroute garnie at La Strasbourgeoise.