DE­SIRE FOR FOOD NINE COUR­SES

Beijing (English) - - FEATURE -

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.

Odd Del­i­ca­cies

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.

Mys­te­ri­ous Del­i­ca­cies

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.

South­ern Charm

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.

Home­sick­ness

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.

Mon­go­lian Pride

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.

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