Sea­sonal de­lights to sa­vor this au­tumn

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TASTE - By XU JUNQIAN and PAULINE D LOH in Shang­hai Con­tact the writ­ers at xu­jun­qian@chi­

Ev­ery tra­di­tional hol­i­day in China is cen­tered around food. For the Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val, a day of fam­ily re­union, the fes­tive del­i­ca­cies are un­usu­ally hum­ble and homey, made from some of the most com­mon sea­sonal spe­cial­ties in a sim­plis­tic way.

If mashed pota­toes and turkey are the sig­na­ture pair­ing in the Amer­i­can Thanks­giv­ing meal, then taro and duck can be said to best rep­re­sent the Mid-Au­tumn meal in Shang­hai.

Duck and taro are com­mon enough in­gre­di­ents all over China, and in the pro­fes­sional and pri­vate kitchens, there have been count­less recipes de­vel­oped with th­ese.

The soup-lov­ing Can­tonese stew them to­gether for a slow-cooked broth, which, ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, will moisten the dry­ness of the body in au­tumn.

In east China’s Yangtze River Del- ta re­gion, this dish be­comes much sim­pler.

The taro is skinned, cut and stir­fried with scal­lion and salt be­fore it is cooked with duck. The most pop­u­lar type is the Nan­jing salted duck, whose ten­der white meat is fatty but not greasy.

The salted duck’s fame has gone far be­yond the cap­i­tal city of Jiangsu prov­ince and made it to the tables of neigh­bor­ing ci­ties like Shang­hai and Hangzhou.

Duck is con­sid­ered the best choice of meat be­cause con­nois­seurs be­lieve that they are nat­u­rally scented with the sweet aroma of os­man­thus flow­ers dur­ing au­tumn.

Shops selling ducks per­pet­u­ate this be­lief by sea­son­ing their ducks with os­man­thus as well.

In north­ern China, taro is of­ten boiled, peeled, dipped into su­gar and eaten as a sta­ple in place of rice or noo­dles. Here, the fa­mous roasted duck reigns supreme on the din­ing ta­ble.

The most com­pli­cated pair­ing can be said to be crispy duck wrapped in mashed taro, a cen­tu­ry­old recipe from Chaoshan cui­sine, an off­shoot of Can­tonese cook­ing which is fa­mous for its de­cep­tively meat-like vege­tar­ian dishes.

The best taro is be­lieved to come from the district of Lipu in Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion where the cli­mate and soil pro­duce an es­pe­cially firm but smooth tex­tured taro. It is of­ten paired with the short-necked rice duck from Guang­dong prov­ince, a bird that has plenty of meat but rel­a­tively less fat.

The se­cret in the pair­ing of th­ese two in­gre­di­ents lies in the tem­per­a­ture of the oil used to fry the taro. If the cook is skilled, the re­sult is a crispy coat of mashed taro en­velop­ing juicy duck meat.


The Chi­nese poet Han Yu (768824) once sang praises of the lo­tus root and de­scribed it to be “sweet as honey, icy as frost, a slice in the mouth heals all sick­ness”. The Qing em­peror Qian­long (1711-1799) com­pared it to “the snowy white, slen­der curved arm of a beau­ti­ful woman”.

In­deed, the hum­ble lo­tus root has of­ten been used as an ex­am­ple for moral­ity be­cause of how it rises “above the mud it grows in, un­tainted and white”.

It is most abun­dantly har­vested in au­tumn, and has nat­u­rally be­come part of the feast for the MidAutumn Fes­ti­val.

One of the rea­sons it is widely used in cook­ing of au­tumn dishes is be­cause of the Chi­nese culi­nary tra­di­tion of “eat­ing lo­cal, eat­ing sea­sonal” which was born out of the be­lief that food in sea­son is the best gift from na­ture. In the case of the lo­tus root, tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine prac­ti­tion­ers claim that the aquatic root veg­etable is best for re­liev­ing sum­mer heat and au­tumn dry­ness.

While the lo­tus root is widely used in soups, cooked with pork ribs and stir-fried sweet and sour style, it is usu­ally pre­sented as an ap­pe­tizer, or cold dish, dur­ing au­tumn. Candied lo­tus root stuffed with slow-cooked gluti­nous rice and topped with os­man­thus jam is one of the most com­mon starters.

This dish was once na­tive to the east China re­gion where din­ers liked hav­ing some­thing sweet to start the meal. Th­ese days, the dish is pop­u­lar all over the coun­try, at­tract­ing loyal fol­low­ings with the shiny lus­ter of the os­man­thus syrup, its ap­peal­ing fra­grance, and above all, the soft and sticky lo­tus root, cooked to a melt-in-the-mouth mealy tex­ture.



Sweet scented

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