DESIRE FOR FOOD NINE COURSES
People in the jianghu usually had the habit of promoting their health and self-cultivation in their spare time. Eating is a practical undertaking, and food is one of the pleasures of daily life.
Jin Yong wrote vivid descriptions of food and eating. Blissfully happy jianghu life involves having a full stomach, though the food that is eaten may be quite simple. A group of jianghu people like to eat together. After fighting is done and weapons have been put aside, food provides a good break and transition. It can be prepared in a delicious manner even if it is fairly simple. Chinese cuisine is also an aspect of Chinese culture. In the dishes and bowls, there is the world and missing for the hometown.
A Vegetable Dish Made with Pure Love
Linghu Chong: ‘For your safety, I won’t mind not to eat for 10 days.’
In The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, Linghu Chong was punished for his mistake at Siguo Cliff. Yue Lingshan sent food to him. Every day at dusk, she carried two pairs of bowls and chopsticks to the cliff and had meals with Linghu outside. As Linghu liked to drink very much, she hid a small gourd filled with wine in the bottom of the basket that the food was in. She promised to steal and bring “a small gourd of wine every day,” which sounded like an oath.
According to the rules of the Mount Hua Sect, when any of its members were ordered to face the wall to ponder mistakes made at Siguo Cliff, they were forbidden to eat any meat. A large bowl of green vegetables and another of bean curd were prepared. The two young people were quite romantic and believed this represented “stick[ing] with each other through thick and thin.” They enjoyed the food very much. After the meal, they chatted for half an hour. When it was snowing, Linghu became worried about the steep, mountainous path and stated, “For your safety, I won't mind not eating for ten days.”
One day, Yue Lingshan sent the pyramid-shaped glutinous dumplings she wrapped herself to Siguo Cliff. The dumplings were made of vegetable mixtures of straw mushrooms, fragrant mushrooms,
bean curd sheet, lotus seeds and dried beans. Yue explained: “The straw mushrooms were picked by Xiao Linzi and myself the other day....” Linghu was not thinking about the mushrooms at the moment though. His attention was on “Xiao Linzi.” How could his junior sister apprentice be so familiar with his junior brother apprentice? The two practiced sword fighting together while he was away. This made Linghu uncomfortable, and the fragrant dumplings were difficult for him to eat.
Magic Nutritious Porridge
The Wish of All Heroes: ‘Laba Porridge Which Makes Heroes Become Pale at the Mention of its Name’
The most legendary part of the Ode to Gallantry may be its unique specialty—laba Porridge on the Gallantry Island—as well as the main character Shi Potian.
The isolated Gallantry Island would dispatch two envoys who award the good and punished the evil to the central plain every 10 years. They would forcefully invite the chiefs of various martial sects to have Laba porridge on the island. Those who refused would be killed by the two envoys, and those who went would not be heard from anymore. Gallantry Island thus became very mysterious.
Is Laba porridge lethal?
In the novel, the frightening Laba porridge would “bubble from the bottom of the bowl. After that, the whole bowl of porridge would turn deep green, showing the untold mystery. Originally, Laba porridge was made of red dates, lotus seeds, gordon euryale seeds, dried longan and red beans. But the porridge in front of the heroes was neither vegetables nor grass. It seemed to be minced tree roots. Some seemed to be flattened cassava with a strong flavour of medicines. All the heroes understood that poisoned matter was usually green. Such a deep green porridge would reflect on people's faces and had a very stinky smell. Its toxin was obviously very strong.”
The precious herbal medicine used for preparing Laba porridge on Gallantry Island was known as “intestine-broken, bonecorroded, heart-rotten grass.” Its medical effect is extremely strong when it blossoms, which is once every 10 years. Therefore, the schedule of the invitation is aligned to the blooming cycle. Martial artists would drink a bowl to double their internal force; those who drank eight bowls were said to have eight times their original strength. The genius youngster Shi Potian, who was from the Changle Gang, accepted the invitation and drank eight bowls.
The “intestine-broken, bone-corroded, heart-rotten grass” mentioned by Mr. Long, the owner of the island, was naturally fabricated by Jin. Laba porridge is good for one's health and is now a favourite porridge amongst people. People may wonder how Laba porridge got its bad reputation in the book though. It is because the owner of the island knew the behaviours of people in the jianghu. The sects who were killed by the two envoys deserved their fate. Those who arrived on the island and never returned did not die. They studied secret martial arts manuals concealed in “The Trip of Chivalry,” a poem by the famous poet Li Bai, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). These people were unwilling to leave the island and stayed there of their own accord.
Elegant Food Prepared by a Smart Girl
Master Hongqi: ‘Tear it into three pieces, and give me the chicken butt.’
The nine-fingered, magical beggar Master Hongqi in Jin's story loves to eat. His debut in The Legend of the Condor Heroes is related to eating. When Huang Rong prepared beggar's chicken, she would turn around and say, “tear it into three pieces, and give me the chicken butt.” Huang had a special procedure for making beggar's chicken. She would first take out the viscera and keep the feathers. She used water to make mud, wrap the chicken with it and then roast it over a fire. After a while, a good fragrance would emerge. When the mud was dry, it would be peeled off. The feathers would also come off. A tempting aroma would emerge from the meat. Even Master Hongqi, who claimed to be “the original beggar,” had to admit that he was unable to cook such great chicken.
After that, Master Hongqi became confused and disoriented by the wonderful food in the southern part of the Yangtze River prepared by Huang Rong. He even joyfully taught his special 18 palm attack method of defeating dragons to her brother Jing. The “jade flute listening to a falling plum” dish and the “good pursuit” soup reveal the profound meaning and importance of food in the southern part of the Yangtze River. It is usually delicate, harmonious and elegant. The “jade flute listening to the falling plum” is a meat dish. It is not greasy though. Master Hongqi correctly guessed the ingredients during a blind taste test. These were the buttocks of a lamb, the ear of a piglet, the kidney of a bull, the leg of a river deer and the meat of a rabbit. Preparations for five servings would mean that the five ingredients were served five times, or twenty-five total, which is the number of petals that a plum has, hence the second part of the dish's name. A flute can symbolise shredded meat, which explains the first part. The dish is ready after barbecuing the meat and making the other arrangements. Every bite has a slightly different taste. It is not fatty and tender or crispy. The variations in flavour are like the various movements of a martial arts master; both are varied and unpredictable. “Good pursuit” soup involves the freshness of lotus leaves, the delicacy of bamboo shoots and sweetness of cherries. The cherries are surrounded by turtledove meat, which explains the name of the dish. It is derived from the first poem in the Book of Songs (oldest collection of Chinese poetry). It reads: “A ragged fringe is the floating-heart, left and right we trail it: that mild-mannered good girl, awake, asleep, I search for her.”
When Huang Rong first met Guo Jing at the Zuixian Mansion in Jiaxing, they talked about food. Huang lived on Peach Blossom Island in the southern part of the sea. She learned cooking techniques from her father. Huang Rong was good at cooking and had an elegant bearing. Jin Yong understood people quite well. Huang Rong was moved by the several pieces of dessert that were kept in Guo Jing's chest and broken in the wraps. Even though she had tasted various delicious foods on Peach Blossom Island, she failed to resist the loving heart of the slowminded but honest Guo Jing.
Hong Qigong: ‘Don’t drink liquor with centipedes, otherwise you’ll spoil their delicious taste.’
The magical delicacies found in the world of martial arts stories have far greater effects than merely filling up people's stomachs. Entirely natural ingredients with no preservatives, they are essential for any martial arts master. In The Legend of the Condor Heroes, Huang Yaoshi, an unorthodox and creative pharmacist, focuses on food's shape, meaning and environment. He prepares food as if he is creating a poem or a piece of art. In contrast, Hong Qigong places more emphasis on how food tastes, preparing dishes as simply as possible and often cooking up miracles with everyday ingredients.
In the extremely cold environment on Mount Hua, centipedes are considered unparalleled delicacies. Before catching these insects, Hong Qigong placed four stones around the small fire and put a small iron pot on top. Next, he grabbed two handfuls of snow and threw them into the pot before turning around and calling out to Yang Guo, the novel's protagonist, "Let's go get the centipedes.” The two men then walked for a while until they reached a huge boulder on top of the mountain. Hong dug up a dead rooster he had buried there to attract the centipedes and found that there were over a hundred of the red and black striped insects feasting on the bird.
Hong Qigong took out a sack and put the rooster carcass, together with the centipedes, inside. By now, the pot of water was already bubbling. Hong opened the bag, pulled each centipede out by its tail and threw them into the pot—the boiling water removing the poison from the bugs. Hong used a small knife to cut off the centipedes' heads and tails, and peel off their shells, revealing a tender meat which was white and firm like shrimps. He boiled two more pots of water to remove any remaining poison from the meat and then fetched several iron boxes from his backpack, which contained oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and other seasonings. Once the pot was ready, Hong placed the meat inside and a mesmerising scent rose up.
After the centipedes turned slightly yellow, Hong added the seasonings. Yang Guo, who had never eaten the bug before, praised the taste and the two men enjoyed a sumptuous meal of centipedes. They then rested for a few days before Yang started to learn martial arts skills from Hong. Hong Qigong likes to indulge himself in fine cuisine and his eating preferences reflect his unconventional nature, carefree personality and sincerity.
Hong Qigong: ‘ I want to eat a huge bowl of braised rarities prepared by the imperial chefs.’
“Braised five rarities” is the most mysterious dish in all of Jin Yong's novels. Readers are tantalised by its name which is repeated multiple times although it is never described in detail. When Hong Qigong is lying on his deathbed, he tells Guo Jing and Huang Rong, two of his martial arts students, that he only has one wish before he dies. No one expected however that this wish would be to have a huge bowl of braised five rarities, prepared by the imperial chefs.
Huang Rong decided that this should not be too difficult a task and said it would be easy to steal it from the palace. However, Hong Qigong explained that the chefs did not often make it, which he knew because he had previously hid in the palace for three months and only had the opportunity to eat it twice. Zhou Botong suggested getting the imperial chef to come to them and having him make the dish there, but Hong Qigong dismissed this as unrealistic. The kitchen utensils, charcoal fire and serving plates must all be used together since if any element was missing, the taste of the dish would be affected. For that reason, they must wait until the palace made the dish. In the end, Huang Rong and Guo Jing sent Hong Qigong and Zhou Botong to the Lin'an Palace, where they waited for their mysterious dish.
Hong Qigong ended up having the dish four times. He also feasted upon other delicacies including lychee and pig kidneys, quail soup, sheep tongue, snails with ginger and vinegar, and oyster with lamb tripe.
It is difficult to be sure what the “five rarities” are. Presumably they refer to the meat of five animals, birds or fish, but there is no way of knowing for sure.
Abi: ‘Please have some water and enjoy our southern dishes.’
In Demi-gods and Semi-devils, Jiu Mozhi kidnapped Prince Duan Yu. As the two men travelled, they came across two girls by the names of Azhu and Abi, who served them dinner in the restaurant. They led their guests to a table surrounded by water and located in a beautiful spot with outstanding views.
The men were served with exquisite southern-style dishes including vegetables with shrimp, lotus leaf and bamboo sprout soup, cherries with ham, and shredded chicken with tea sauce.
Duan Yu sampled a few of the dishes before praising them, saying: “The impressive, beautiful mountains and rivers here have nurtured the people, allowing them to make such fine dishes.” At that time, Duan Yu fell in love with southern cuisine.
When people think of Abi, an image of her sailing in a small boat on the lake, singing poetry often comes to mind. As someone who knows how to make dainty refreshments such as rose and pine nut pastries, soft cakes, emerald cakes and ham dumplings, her other dishes are undoubtedly just as refreshing and pleasant.
Jin Yong describes the southern girls well and his writings are filled with truthful depictions of the charms of the south of China.
Spicy Hunan Flavour
Hu Fei: ‘The chopsticks were extremely long, the bowls were extremely large and the dishes were all spicy.’
Jin Yong's novels A Deadly Secret and The Young Flying Fox, are both closely associated with Hunan Province in central China, which is known for its spicy food. Red peppers, monkey fruit wine, and cardamom bacon have become favourite foods of martial arts masters, who are the embodiment of
courage, loyalty and perseverance.
In The Young Flying Fox, Hu Fei travelled to Hunan where he ate in a local restaurant. The chopsticks were extremely long, the bowls were extremely large, and the dishes were all spicy and flavoursome. In A Deadly Secret, the character Qi Changfa downed strong liquor and chewed on dried red peppers. In another episode, his daughter Qi Fang slaughtered a plump chicken, picked some cabbage and spinach from the garden, and cooked them up together. Alongside, she prepared a large bowl of red pepper dipping sauce.
In A Deadly Secret, Di Yun, the young son of a farmer, is loyal, honest, resilient and caring, but not very good at martial arts. When Di Yun was framed and thrown in prison, he was overcome by injustice. Whilst there, one of his junior apprentices brought him a basket filled with bacon, fish and hard-boiled eggs. For people who come from rural areas such as Di Yun, dried bacon was incredibly comforting because it was a taste of home.
Wei Xiaobao: ‘These taste just like Huzhou sticky rice dumplings; they’re so good.’
In The Book and the Sword, when the protagonist Chen Jialuo returned to his home in Haining, the description goes: “There were two fine porcelain bowls on a silver dish: one filled with Osmanthus and mushroom lily soup, and the other with glutinous rice in lotus roots. Chen Jialuo had been away from home for 10 years in the desert and so these fine delicacies were almost like a dream to him. He tasted the soup with a silver spoon. Qinghua loosened his queue, put oil in his hair and combed it. He used chopsticks to remove the rice balls from the sugared lotus roots: one for himself and one for his beloved Qinghua.”
“Wei Xiaobao was a coarse figure, who also had delicate sentiments and greatly missed Huzhou rice dumplings. Shuang'er came with a wooden plate and gently drew back the curtain. On seeing the rice dumplings, Wei was overjoyed. He wolfed down the food and said: ‘ These taste just like Huzhou sticky rice dumplings; they're so good.'”
“The soft filling of the rice dumplings produced in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province is second to none. Every time the brothel had guests, Wei Xiaobao would be sent to get some from the dumpling shop. It was hard to steal a bite, but Wei often managed to secretly eat a few morsels.”
Jin Yong's ancestral home was Haining in Zhejiang Province. His connections with and affection for his hometown can clearly be seen in his detailed writings of the food from there.
Zhao Min: ‘A hotpot, three pounds of sliced raw lamb and two bottles of liquor.’
Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min, in The Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber, are an ideal couple whose stories have been read countless times by fans. What really brought the two together however were the three meals they shared.
On the first occasion, Zhao Min proposed taking Zhang to a restaurant. Seeing Zhao Min order a hotpot, three pounds of sliced raw lamb and two bottles of liquor, Zhang Wuji became filled with doubts. Despite being from two totally different factions, they could in fact eat and drink together in peace.
Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji drank three glasses of liquor. For each glass, Zhao took a sip of Zhang's drink to show that it was not poisoned. Zhang then drank the three cups which had traces of red lipstick on their edges, greatly moved by Zhao's charm.
The two of them met in the tavern three times and became closer, with Zhao Min giving up her privileged life for true love. The book does not offer up a lot of details about the food they had, but we can imagine that it must have fitted Zhao's temperament as a Mongolian girl.
Xiao Feng roasted tiger meat in the wilderness and fed Azi the tiger's blood; on the day of their reunion, Xiaolongnü cooked a pot of small white fish for her beloved Yang Guo; and Guo Xiang traded her golden hairpin for liquor and beef to share generously with the knights. These diverse scenes in Jin Yong's works offer profound interpretations of food, affection and morality.