Monday, May 11, 2015


Was randomly browsing at the bookshop and picked up a book on food in the Song dynasty written by Li Kai Zhou. The title could be loosely translated into 'Eating an interesting Song Dynasty meal/banquet'. Song dynasty is split into two periods of Northern (960-1127, capital Bianjing, now Kaifeng in Henan province) and Southern (1127-1279, capital Li'an, now Hangzhou in Zhejiang province).

《南方都市報》專欄作家李開周《吃一場有趣的宋朝飯局》開場白道, “身為資深的饕客,我一向奉勸其他饕客:如果你能回到過去,最好到宋朝。假如到其他朝代,會吃不慣,甚至吃不消。”

Why Song dynasty? Aren't there good food in other dynasties? The author insisted that for foodies, it had to be Song. He did his research so that we don't have to and explained his position and beliefs in 10 chapters. I like the author's witty and snarky narrative style. His introduction was hilarious, commenting on the customs, food and cooking styles of Song dynasty and how those would be most familiar in contemporary restaurants.

Besides annotating the reference books on Song dynasty, the author also engaged loads of references to classic wu xia swordfighting/pugilistic novels, the 'Water Margin', and classical poems by renowned Chinese poets, noting the time period, food trends, etc. It's suggested that most commoners used to have two meals a day, and only the officials and ranking nobility take three meals daily. Heh. People probably eat to live rather than live to eat. I usually eat two meals a day. Am intrigued by what people consider good food and eating habits of the past. I've come across these while randomly watching cheesy sappy episodes of tv shows (not dependable), documentaries and random reads. It'll be fun to flip through it in an amalgamated edition. Heh.

Chapter 4 mentioned about how mutton or lamb, and even pork used to be eaten raw in both the Tang and Song dynasties! Also, eating raw fish is already a concept that existed. 第四章,肉食與海鮮之《蘇東坡嗜吃魚生》說:而在宋朝,無論江南還是中原,無論貴族還是平民,差不多都愛吃魚生。蘇東坡吃魚生吃得虛火不退,得了嚴重的結膜炎,大夫勸他少吃,他氣憤憤地說:「吃魚生對不起我的眼,不吃又對不起我的嘴,眼睛和嘴巴都是我身體的一部分,怎麼好意思厚此薄彼呢!」 Northern Song fished for carp in spring, cleaned them, and ate the flesh raw and thinly sliced with drops of orange juice. Poet Su Shi (Su Dongpo) wrote of how much he loved raw fish, in spite of acute conjunctivitis (likely from anisakiasis). Yeah, he's the dude who apparently inspired Sichuan's Dongpo Ink Fish (東坡墨魚) and Hangzhou's Dongpo Pork (東坡肉). However, today's Kaifeng city doesn't seem to be fond of raw fish at all. Something about the smell, apparently.


In Chapter 7, it was mentioned that during the Qing dynasty and the Republic era, tea was used to welcome guests and a second cup of tea would be served later to indicate that it was time for the guests to leave. The author wrote that Song customs were different- instead of a tea for the second round, a bowl of soup would be served to send away guests. 第七章,飲料加美酒之《迎客茶,滾蛋湯》敘,南宋大詩人陸游說過宋朝的規矩:「客至則設茶,客去則湯 」。In banquets today in Kaifeng, Henan province, food would be served from cold to hot, and salty-savory to sweet, and soup would always be the last dish. This dish of soup, would always contain an egg of sorts to provide that healthy dose. However, during Song, this soup, would likely not contain eggs and wouldn't be considered soup. It would be more of a sweet herbal drink that was just as nourishing. However, next door in Manchuria where the Jurchen Dynasty reigned (1115-1234), the customs were in reverse. The Jurchen served soup to welcome, then tea to send off guests, which probably explained the traditions held in the Qing Dynasty till now, of ending a visit or a meal with a pot of tea.

... 而且這道湯必然和雞蛋有關,不是紫菜蛋花湯,就是番茄蛋花湯,不是雞蛋菠菜湯,就是玉米羹里打雞蛋,來一碗又甜又燙又營養的雞蛋玉米湯。正是因為湯裡一定有雞蛋,所以我們稱宴席最後那道湯叫「滾蛋湯」。客人都知道只要滾蛋湯端上桌,就表示飯局到了尾聲,趕緊大吃幾口,吃完走人。 

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