Things to Avoid 2: Mixed pot cookery (戒同鍋熟)

戒單::戒同鍋熟
同鍋熟之弊,已載前「變換須知」一條中。

List of Things to Avoid:: Mixed pot cookery
The offensive [1] problem of cooking by mixing everything in a pot has already been addressed previously in Section: “Transformations” [2].

Random notes:

[1]: Did someone take liberties in their translation by putting this word here? Yes.

[2]: Not mixing everything up it a dish does makes sense, but fact is, that when it is done well combining things can synthesize new and better flavours. Case in point, the famous Fujian dish Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (佛跳牆). Beyond translation for fun, life has been super crazy; moving, job stuff, more moving, income tax, previous work stuff…it really adds up and eats away any free time one has. This short translation is a good way to get back into things. Stay tuned.

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Things to Avoid 1: Dousing with oil (戒外加油)

戒單::戒外加油
俗廚製菜,動熬豬油一鍋,臨上菜時,勺取而分澆之,以為肥膩。甚至燕窩至清之物,亦復受此玷污。而俗人不知,長吞大嚼,以為得油水入腹。故知前生是餓鬼投來。

List of Things to Avoid::Dousing with oil
When preparing a dish, a vulgar cook will typically have a simmering pot of lard readied to douse on the finished dish before serving, just to impart some richness to it.[1] Even something as light and delicate as bird’s-nest would not be spared this polluting offense. Then there are those vulgar ignorant people, with their long greedy tongues and teeth, who would gladly gulp down these dishes doused with liquid grease. Perhaps they were reincarnated from a bunch of hungry ghosts.

Random notes:
[1]: I’m not sure if this is always bad. For example, when a fish has been steamed to perfection and garnished with shredded green onions, it’s quite nice to top it with a bit of sizzling hot sesame oil mixed with cooking oil to finish it. No doubt, Yuan Mei would consider such an act (and proponents of it) vulgar.

Things to Avoid: Introduction (戒單:開篇)

戒單::開篇
為政者興一利,不如除一弊,能除飲食之弊,則思過半矣。

List of Things to Avoid [1]::Introduction
Politicians like to boast of the fabulous things they have created. Truth be told, it would be better if they could just just resolve preexisting problems [2]. Likewise, if one can eliminate undesirable cuilinary habits, one would have already made much headways into understanding cuisine [3].

Random notes:
[1]: 戒 is such an elegant word, something of a mix between “Taboos” and “Things to quit doing”. However at the end I felt “Things to Avoid” is an okay compromise.
[2]: In Montreal, the politicians boast of the the miles of granite that they’ve used to pave curbs and sidewalks. In all honesty, I would rather they just replace the rotting asphalt [i,ii] and fix the leaking sewer systems [iii,iv,v]. This line really resonates with me.
[3]: The last phrase comes from a work commenting on the Book of Changes, known at the “Ten Wings” 十翼:繫辭下:9 “知者觀其彖辭,則思過半矣” which goes something like: “A wise person through studying the commentaries on the Yi-Jing (I-Ching) divinatory symbols, would have already gained understanding of a significant part of the Dao.”

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.

Essential knowledge 19: Rescuing Dishes (補救須知)

須知單::補救須知
名手調羹,鹹淡合宜,老嫩如式,原無需補救。不得已,為中人說法則:調味者,寧淡毋鹹;淡可加鹽以救之,鹹則不能使之再淡矣。烹魚者,寧嫩毋老,嫩可加火候以補之,老則不能強之再嫩矣。此中消息,於一切下作料時,靜觀火色便可參詳。

List of Essential Knowledge::Rescuing Dishes
A chef of the utmost calibre can create a dish with every element seasoned and cooked to perfection, never needing to rescue any dish from failure. However for the sake of the common cook, we shall speak about how to save a failing dish. When seasoning a dish, one prefers to fail on making it too bland rather than too salty. A bland dish can be rescued by adding more salt, but an overly salty dish cannot be made less salty.[1] When cooking fish, one rather that it be undercooked than overcooked. An undercooked fish can further cooked to doneness, while an overcooked fish cannot be made less cooked. In regards to how to figure this out, one simply needs to carefully watch one’s cooking technique when preparing a dish.[2]

Random notes:
[1]: Actually, this is not completely true. For stuff like stews and soups you can just add more stock and ingredients.

[2]: I think the term “此中”, is probably comes from the term “此中三昧”. This this case it means roughly to either “reveal the truth” or “to figure out”. Is this right?

Essential Knowledge 18: Thresholds (疑似須知)

須知單::疑似須知
味要濃厚,不可油膩;味要清鮮,不可淡薄。此疑似之間,差之毫厘,失以千里。濃厚者,取精多而糟粕去之謂也;若徒貪肥膩,不如專食豬油矣。清鮮者,真味出而俗塵無之謂也;若徒貪淡薄,則不如飲水矣。

List of Essential Knowledge::Thresholds[1]
A dish that should be thick and rich, should not be so rich that it becomes greasy. A dish that is supposed to be umami and light, must not be so light as to taste insipid. When trying to find the thresholds for these criterion, missing by the breath of a hair can result in the complete failure of a dish. To bring out the essense of a rich dish, one should only clarify the dish to the point of removing just the sediment. If one enjoys a dish simply for its rich oiliness, one might as well eat lard. To bring out the true flavours of a light dish, one should refine the dish only to the extent that distracting flavours are removed. If one demands utterly light flavours, drinking water may be the better choice.

Random notes:
[1]: Originally this was called “distinctions”, as in, distinguishing the boundaries where good flavours become bad. But I think “threshold” works better.