Essential Knowledge 15: Cleanliness (潔淨須知)

須知單::潔淨須知
切蔥之刀,不可以切筍;搗椒之臼,不可以搗粉。聞菜有抹布氣者,由其布之不潔也;聞菜有砧板氣者,由其板之不淨也。「工欲善其事,必先利其 器。」良廚先多磨刀,多換布,多刮板,多洗手,然後治菜。至於口吸之煙灰,頭上之汗汁,灶上之蠅蟻,鍋上之煙煤,一玷入菜中,雖絕好烹庖,如西子蒙不潔,人皆掩鼻而過之矣。

List of Essential Knowledge::Cleanliness
Just as a knife used to cut green onions cannot be used to cut bamboo shoots, a mortar used to pound peppercorns cannot be used to pound flour. A dish that has the smell of a cooking towel means that the towel used was not clean, just as a dish that smells of a chopping board means that the board used was not clean. It is said: “To do good work, one needs good tools”. [1] As such, cooks must be deligent in sharpening their knives, changing their cooking towels, scraping their chopping boards, and washing their hands before preparing food. Even a well done dish would be inedible if the ashes from tobacco, a cook’s dripping sweat, flies and ants crawling on the stove, or the soot on the wok are mixed into a dish. Note, even if was Xishi [2] covered in filth, people would still cover their nose and avoid her. [3]

Random notes:

[1]: From Analects of Confucius (論語::魏靈公)
[2]: Xishi (西施), the fabled Chinese beauty
[3]: The phrase was attributed to Mencius (孟子)

Essential Knowledge 14: Quantity (多寡須知)

須知單::多寡須知
用貴物宜多,用賤物宜少。煎炒之物多,則火力不透,肉亦不鬆。故用肉不得過半斤,用雞、魚不得過六兩。或問︰「食之不足如何?」曰︰「俟食畢後另炒可也。」以多為貴者,白煮肉,非二十斤以外,則淡而無味。粥亦然,非斗米則汁漿不厚,且須扣水,水多物少,則味亦薄矣。

List of Essential Knowledge::Quantity
It is better to use more of an expensive ingredient in a dish and less of the inexpensive ones [1]. If too much of an ingredient is pan-fried or stir-fried at a time, there would be insufficient heat to cook [2] them through, meats done this way are especially tough. As such, a cooked meat dish should not have more than 300g of pork or more more than 222g of chicken and fish [3]. If one asks: “What if there isn’t enough to eat?”, I say: “If you’re not full after you’ve done, just cook-up some more”. However some foods, such as white-cooked pork, needs to be prepared in large quantities above 12kg in order to taste good, otherwise the resulting food will be light and flavour-less [4]. Congee also follows this principle.  A pot of congee made with less than 10 liters [5] of rice will not be thick enough. Thus water needs to be reduced in cooking lesser quantities of congee. Too much water with too little rice would result in a congee that is both thin in texture and flavour.

Random notes:

[1]: Don’t you hate it when there are more peanuts and onions in your Kung Pao Chicken than chicken?
[2]: Says “cook” here but from a later sentence, we can see he is really talking about stir-frying
[3]: In Qing Dynasty measurements 1斤 = 590g,1兩 = 36.9g
[4]: Also true with stewed items. I small pot of LuRou never gets the rich complexity when cooked in small quantities
[5]: In Qing Dynasty measurements 1斗 = 10000ml

Essential Knowledge 13: Seasons (時節須知)

須知單::時節須知
夏日長而熱,宰殺太早,則肉敗矣;冬日短而寒,烹飪稍遲,則物生矣。冬宜食牛羊,移之於夏,非其時也。夏宜食乾臘,移之於冬,非其時也。輔佐之 物,夏宜用芥末,冬宜用胡椒。當三伏天而得冬醃菜,賤物也,而竟成至寶矣。當秋涼時而得行鞭筍,亦賤物也,而視若珍饈矣。有先時而見好者,三月食鰣魚是 也。有後時而見好者,四月食芋艿是也。其他亦可類推。有過時而不可吃者,蘿蔔過時則心空,山筍過時則味苦,刀鱭過時則骨硬。所謂四時之序,成功者退,精華 已竭,搴裳去之也。


List of Essential Knowledge::Seasons

Summer days are long and hot, which causes meat to spoil if the animal is slaughter too soon. Winter days are short and cold, which slows the cooking process and may cause food to be undercooked. Beef and lamb (mutton) are best eaten in the winter time and are not good for consumption during summer. Cured hams and preserved meats are good for eating during summer but are not as well suited for winter. As for condiments, mustard [1] is suited for summer and black pepper for winter. If one can find preserved winter vegetables in the peak of summer, even a once lowly item becomes a treasured ingredient. When one finds tough old bamboo shoots [2] during autumn, even such a typically worthless item becomes a precious commodities. Some ingredients are at their best when eaten early during their season, such as shad [3] in March. Some ingredients are best late in their season, such as taro in April. All ingredients are similar in this manner. However, some ingredients can no longer be used when they are too old. For instance, when mature, daikon roots become hollow and dry, bamboo shoots become bitter, and anchovies [4] become bony and hard. Such is the nature of life, where a thing grows and prospers only to fade away [5], sapped of its strength and vitality [6].

Random notes:

[1]: For me, when people say 芥末 nowadays, they more often refers to ground wasabi and less to ground mustard seeds. But in this case it means the latter.
[2]: I don’t know what type of bamboo shoot 鞭筍 actually is. A Google image search of the word phrase shows older shoots that are likely fiberous and tough. I’ll go with that.
[3]: Reeve’s shad Tenualosa reevesii
[4]: Japanese Grenadier Anchovy Coilia nasus
[5]: The phrase “四時之序,成功者去” is found in 戰國策::秦策三::蔡澤見逐於趙, which translates to something like: “Like the sequence of seasons, one flourishes then fades”
[6]: Is Yuan Mei talking about himself, fading from the peak in his earlier life at a higher post?

Essential Knowledge 12: Table service (上菜須知)

須知單::上菜須知
上菜之法︰鹹者宜先,淡者宜後;濃者宜先,薄者宜後;無湯者宜先,有湯者宜後。且天下原有五味,不可以鹹之一味概之。度客食飽,則脾困矣,須用辛辣以振動之;慮客酒多,則胃疲矣,須用酸甘以提醒之。

List of Essential Knowledge::Table service
The technique for table service: salty items should be served before bland items; Thick and rich items should be served before thin and light items; Dry dishes should be served before soupy dishes. There are numerous flavours in the world [1], so one should not be limited to serving only one. When one sees their guests becoming full, one should serve dishes with spicy and hot flavours to stimulate their appetites. When one’s guest have drank too much wine and are fatigued by the alcohol, one should serve sweet and sour foods to reawaken their stomachs.

Random notes:

[1]: Literally it says: “There are 5 flavours under the heavens.”

Essential Knowledge 11: Tableware (器具須知)

須知單::器具須知
古語云︰「美食不如美器。」斯語是也。然宣、成、嘉、萬,窯器太貴,頗愁損傷,不如竟用御窯,已覺雅麗。惟是宜碗者碗,宜盤者盤,宜大者大,宜 小者小,參錯其間,方覺生色。若板板於十碗八盤之說,便嫌笨俗。大抵物貴者器宜大,物賤者器宜小。煎炒宜盤,湯羹宜碗,煎炒宜鐵鍋,煨煮宜砂罐。

List of Essential Knowledge::Tableware
The ancients said: “Good food cannot match good tableware.”, indicating the importance in choosing one’s bowls and dishes. However tableware from the reign of Xuan de, Cheng hua, Jia jing, Wan li [1] are so precious that it leaves one anxious and nervous of breaking them during use. One would rather use contemporary tableware fired from the imperial kilns, which are at once refined and beautiful. Note that foods more suited for bowls should be served in bowls, food suited for plates served in plates, large food items served in larger tableware, and smaller foods served in smaller tableware. Thus even when there are gross shortcomings in a banquet, the table’s setting would still feel coordinated and delightful [2]. If one blindly insists on adhering to the traditional “Ten bowls and eight dishes” in a banquet instead of considering how best to serve the food, others might suspect one of being dull-witted. Expensive food items should typically be served in larger tableware, while more common foods can be served on small tableware. Pan-fried or stir-fried foods are best served on plates, and soups and stews served in bowls. Pan-fried or stir-fried foods are best prepared in iron woks, while stewed foods are best prepared in clay pots.

Random notes:

[1]: In dynastic times years were dictated as the “Something-th year of Some-emperor” and the reign of an emperor used to denote a historic period. Yi de, Cheng hua, Jia jing, are Wan li were emperors during the Ming dynasty. The tableware from these Ming dynasty periods were already highly valued in Yuan Mei’s time during the Qing dynasty.

[2]: The text “參錯其間,方覺生色” literally means something like “errors and discordance in a (dining) space, the feeling of order and grace.” I’ve taken this mean that even in a bad disordered banquet, the table will still look great with the plates and bowls.

Essential Knowledge 10: Transformations (變換須知)

須知單::變換須知
一物有一物之味,不可混而同之。猶如聖人設教,因才樂育,不拘一律。所謂君子成人之美也。今見俗廚,動以雞、鴨、豬、鵝,一湯同滾,遂令千手雷同,味同嚼蠟。吾恐雞、豬、鵝、鴨有靈,必到枉死城中告狀矣。善治菜者,須多設鍋、灶、盂、缽之類,使一物各獻一性,一碗各成一味。嗜者舌本應接不暇,自覺心花頓開。

List of Essential Knowledge::Transformations[1]
An ingredient has its own unique character, and cannot be mixed without confusing its flavour. As said by Confucius: “A student must be taught according to their aptitude and not in a haphazard manner”. Such is the way to elevate oneself to become a true gentlemen. These days we see flamboyant cooks, boiling chickens, ducks, pigs, and geese together in soup, producing dishes with tastes as indistinguishable and [2] flavourful as chewing on wax. I fear the souls of the chickens, pigs, geese, and ducks seeing such injustices done, will be pressing charges in the afterlife courts. A competant cook would prepare the right cooking vessels and utensils, such that each ingredient can offer its best and each dish can show off its flavour to the fullest. This way when connoisseurs taste the food, they will be inexplicably and thoroughly delighted by the flavours.

Random notes:

[1]: In general, this section was quite hard to translate and chock full of phases such as “因才樂育”, “不拘一律”, “遂令千手雷同”, “嗜者舌本應接不暇”, which for various reasons I found difficult to untangle. This is the best I can do now, but I’m not too happy with it and I will likely be revising this translation in the future. As well, I not such how to translate “變換” in context to what the section is about, “transformations” is what I’m going with for now, but I’m not sure it fits the content.

[2]: Literally “遂令千手雷同” translates to something like “commanding a thousand hand thunder-clapper”, which indicates that one does something monotonous, similar, and repetitious under orders of some sort. I initially translated this to the cook “blindly following trends in cuisine”, but it felt more correct to translate it to “indistinguishable tastes” in respect to talking about the bland waxy taste of the dish. I have no idea if this is right.