Sampling makgeolli or Korean rice wine with friends from the academic community in Seoul, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is transported back in time to the world of ancient literati in China and Korea — would they also have exchanged a story or two over a bowl of makgeolli?
Even as China talks of a “dual circulation” system and building a “super-sized domestic market”, it seems that its population of 1.4 billion has yet to translate into a strong consumer market. Zaobao correspondent Yang Danxu looks into what it will take for the Chinese government’s plan to work.
Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is lucky to have tried all ten of the most highly rated noodle dishes in China. Among them, Kunshan Aozao noodles from Suzhou stands out. Best consumed piping hot, this noodle soup served with smoked fish or braised duck leg is steeped in folklore.
In today’s era, we get instant gratification through a swipe of the phone or a flick of the switch. Could we have done what Tang dynasty wife Wang Baochuan did and waited 18 long years — without phone, wifi or video apps — for her husband Xue Pinggui to return home? Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun knows his army wife mother could. It was she who taught him about “Baochuan vegetables”: the stubborn weed of Taiwanese purslane that won’t be stamped out; the pure love that asks for neither company nor reward.
Chinese cuisine is far from the sweet and sour pork or fortune cookies found in the Chinatowns of the West. From the familiar flavours of Cantonese cuisine to the spicy notes in Sichuan fare and the clean flavours of Jiangsu cuisine, every taste has a place in the rich tapestry of China’s food heritage. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao traces how the Chinese and their food — complete with an entire culture — travelled in history beyond Asia into the wider world.
Northern Chinese mutton soup is rich, hearty and bold-flavoured, standing in sharp contrast to the delicate cuisine of the south. The dish is an emblem of the gruff and big-hearted heroism of civil wars past and the grandeur of the Han and Tang dynasties. Indeed, traces of history are left behind in every drop of a good bowl of mutton soup.
Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls the very first time he tasted Yangcheng Lake’s famed hairy crabs, not in China, but in New York. Since then, he has been smitten with the Chinese mitten crab, and is in no doubt as to why this delicacy takes pride of place in China’s food heritage.
Chiang Hsun marvels at the way a chive sauce made with Taiwan-grown produce brings out the flavours of a street stall scallion pancake so well. No question about it — this dish would win hands down against any Michelin-starred restaurant’s version. When will we learn to appreciate the natural and the down-to-earth, and eschew the shiny bright lights of the material and the shallow?
Visitors to Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake are often awed by the hulking mountains and pristine waters. But notice a tiny pavilion on the water’s edge and you’d be reminded of the immense history this lake holds as a quiet retreat for the colourful leader Chiang Kai-shek — both to ponder the weighty political affairs and to reminisce about his hometown in mainland China’s Jiangnan region.