Amorous Glances and Kitchen Ro­mances

狮子头情事

Special Focus - - Contents - Yi Bei 伊北

My great-grandma al­ways had a love af­fair with Stewed Crab and Pork Meat­balls. She longed for the dish when she was in her 70s and 80s, and even into her 90s.

Many years ago, my grand­par­ents moved to An­hui Prov­ince for work. Be­ing a na­tive of Yangzhou and very at­tached to her home­town, Great- grandma did not re­ally want to move away, yet she had no choice but to go with her son and daugh­ter-in-law. She at­tended school when she was lit­tle, and so was lit­er­ate.

Grandma had six chil­dren whom my great-grandma helped raise. Later, my grandpa died in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent and the two women lived to­gether for decades.

Grandma was not ex­actly en­dowed with much of a gift for all things culi­nary, and only started learn­ing to cook An­hui cui­sine when she moved to the area. Great-grandma never cared much for her cook­ing, com­plain­ing that it was too greasy and salty.

For years, Stewed Crab and Pork Meat­balls was a must at our fam­ily gath­er­ings. We took turns play­ing host and mak­ing the dish to please Great- grandma, or to ease Grandma’s bur­den of hav­ing to slave over a hot stove mak­ing the dish. Yet our recipe could never sat­isfy her. More of­ten than not, Great- grandma would only take a few bites and then gen­tly put the bowl aside.

Her 90th birth­day just so hap­pened to co­in­cide with Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val. Af­ter din­ner, she re­laxed in her wicker chair while I sat be­side her, play­ing with her wrin­kled hands. Sud­denly, a ques­tion popped into my head, “What kind of meatball is your fa­vorite?” She squinted, and leaned com­fort­ably on the back of the chair. Gaz­ing at the blue sky, she replied leisurely in her thick Yangzhou ac­cent.

“When I was fif­teen, I was a tai­lor’s ap­pren­tice. A young man who was a few years older than me worked in a restau­rant op­po­site to the shop I worked at asked me out sev­eral times, but I never gave him the time of day. But he was very per­sis­tent. The other girls in the shop ad­vised him to bring me a bowl of Stewed Crab and Pork Meat­balls if he re­ally wanted to woo me. The young man said, ‘ I can­not bring it to her, but I can make it for her if she comes to our kitchen.

I was in­no­cent then and fond of eat­ing so much that I couldn’t re­sist go­ing with him to the kitchen.

I re­mem­ber the mid­dle of au­tumn when he went to pick out the small crabs, each weigh­ing around 100 grams. He took them

back to the kitchen, cooked them thor­oughly and scooped the meat out of the fe­male crabs. Af­ter that, he re­moved the un­wanted parts, broke the crabs apart and plucked the meat out of the crab legs with his chop­sticks.

To make the dish the right way, the pork should be mar­bled, with more fat and less lean meat. It should be chopped into the size of pome­gran­ate seeds. He worked very care­fully blend­ing the crab and pork to­gether and fi­nally ad­ding a sprin­kling of aro­matic sea­son­ings.

He asked me to wait out­side the kitchen, say­ing it was too hot in the kitchen. But I re­fused. I stood there watch­ing him as he worked his magic. He then scooped out the stew from a huge pot with a la­dle, pour­ing it into a small clay pot filled with veg­eta­bles. Af­ter putting the other in­gre­di­ents in­side the pot, it needed a few hours to sim­mer. So we just sat there talk­ing up a storm in the cor­ri­dor be­hind the kitchen as we waited. I wanted to give him a vest as a gift, but he de­clined. Later a man came to the kitchen and he asked me to re­turn to the shop and come back when it was ready.

I was cut­ting a cloth ab­sent­mind­edly when I heard some­one call­ing me. The cloth was al­most ru­ined. I left my scis­sors be­hind and rushed into the kitchen to taste his mas­ter­piece.

The meat­balls were so soft and del­i­cate; they just melted in my mouth. Soon af­ter, the war broke out. The young man be­came a sol­dier and I have never heard from him again.

I have never eaten any meat­balls as good as those ones since.”

I in­vited a friend from Yangzhou who was a good chef to make Great- grandma some Stewed Crab and Pork Meat­balls for her 93rd birth­day. Though she had high praise for the chef, com­pli­ment­ing him on the fla­vor, she fin­ished only a half of one meatball out of the four she was given.

Great- grandma passed away at the age of 96. Even­tu­ally she never got a chance to taste again the meat­balls like the ones that young man made for her that day.

That au­tumn, the young man and the taste were stuck in her mind like an old movie on a long the­atri­cal run, but the fla­vor and the feel­ing were never to re­turn again.

(From TheNostal­giaCan­teen , Pe­tro­leum In­dus­try Press. Trans­la­tion: Yu Lan)

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