Three Oddities in Zhenjiang

Three Oddities in Zhenjiang
    Famous cities bring famous foods from ever since. Legend about “Three Oddities” in Zhenjiang is so ancient and full of charm. Songs of Three Oddities, which is very much like a doggerel, is spread in Zhenjiang saying that “aromatic vinegar stands long but not goes bad, Salted Pepper Pork doesn’t serve as a dish, pot cover boils at the noodle-boiling pot”, thus there is proverb telling “One who fails to reach the Great Wall is not a hero and One who fails to taste three oddities in Zhenjiang is full of pity”.
Let’s start from the first oddity: aromatic vinegar stands long but not goes bad

    Proverb says that there are seven daily necessities for household, including oil, salt, firewood, rice, sauce, vinegar and tea. Among which, vinegar is the top important condiments for sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty. Vinegar is traditional acid condiment and has been titled as “food header” since ancient time. For thousands of years, vinegar is added into different dishes during their cooking to relieve their original smell and cleanse greasiness and improve taste. Crystal pork trotter aspic and steamed dumpling filled with minced meat and gravy will be more fragrant and delicious when served with aroma vinegar and shredded ginger; as for sautéed mandarin fish with vinegar and sweet and sour spare ribs, they are both famous Jiangsu dishes and are with special flavors. Su dongpo, the eminent poet in Song dynasty as well as the famous gastronome, had once praised in his poem for the hilsa herring in Jiaoshan of Zhenjiang, the poem said: “Hilsa Herring, cooked together with ginger sprout and aroma vinegar, served in a snow-white plate, still smells the fragrance of peach flowers, thus its taste goes beyond that of perch cooked with water shield”.
    There is an old story about the processing of vinegar. It is said that vinegar is created by Heita, the son of Du Kang. One year after Du Kang discovered the rice wine brewing method, he realized that Yangtze River water in Zhenjiang location is of good quality and is good for brewing, thus he moved his whole family to Xiaoyu Lane of Zhenjiang and opened a small workshop where the front half was a shop and the back half for brewing to brew and sell wine. Heita, his son, at that time was with great strength, simple, honesty and diligent and undertook all the heavy and coarse manual labor in the family. At the beginning, he had no idea about the function of the lees. He put lees into a big vat and then poured Longwo water obtained from the Yangtze River into the vat. Once be weary, he fetched around 3.5 to 4kg of home-made rice wine to relieve thirst and then slept for a while. It seemed that an elder said in his dream: “Hi, Heita, you will create eminent condiments at the sunset of the 21st day”. Heita wake up later and realized it was just a dream and then he paid little attention to it. More than twenty days passed and a strange aroma filled the whole house which made Du Kang and Heita feel mysterious. They searched here and there and finally discovered that the lees turned to be a condiment with sweet-smelling, sour and sweet tasting. And then Du Kang asked for its name and Heita said “the lees have been soaked for twenty-one days before its starch solutions catch such a good taste at You (an ancient timing method, refer to the pm5:00 to pm7:00) time. The word combined twenty –first day  and You is vinegar, let’s call it vinegar!” thus the idea that Du Kang creates rice wine and his son creates vinegar lasts for long! And processing time for vinegar nowadays is still twenty-one day!

    Scientific testing shows that Zhenjiang aromatic vinegar contains 17 kinds of amino acid and the main organic acids are acetic acid, lactic acid, pyruvic acid, formic acid, malic acid, citric acid, succinic acid, ketoglutaric acid etc. They are generated by fermentation from plant materials and are essential to human body. What’s more, organic acids are with good functions of promoting metabolism, promoting urination in digestive tract and reduction-oxidation within cells. Rich carbohydrate and a little of alcohol are contained in Zhenjiang aromatic vinegar too. Carbohydrate, as energy and carrier as well as one of the main essence of metabolism mid-body and the regulator of proteolysis, plays great role in human physiology.
    Finish talking about vinegar, let’s pick up the second oddity of Salted Pepper Pork doesn’t serve as a dish.
    As for the cooked food pig trotters, they exist all round China. Braised pork trotter in soy sauce, stewed pork trotter in five spices, plainly braised pork trotter and pork trotter boiled in clear soup are all with their distinctions. However, to compare the strict selection of material, the fineness of processing and the fresh and delicious of taste, crystal port trotter aspic in Zhenjiang should be firstly recommended since it is beautiful in pork color, smooth and clear in pork skin, transparent in pork jelly, fresh and fragrant and pure in taste as well as its fat meat not greasy while lean meat not inserted in tooth. There is poem in recent years appraising it : “ I love Jinshan and Jiaoshan mountains for their enchanting sceneries, I love better the roasted pork in Zhenjiang, slightly crispy, fragrant and not greasy they are, and my favorite is the bright red fresh jelly—the crystal trotter aspic”. The crystal trotter aspic is a typical local dish developed from the traditional cuisine of “cooking pork” and “crystal-like aspic crafts”. Cooking method of crystal trotter aspic comes from the same origin with that of “cooking pork” and their materials are basically the same, that is, pork trotter and spiced salt, their processing method are also basically the same, old brine is used, and alums is used to clear the original juice and then press the boiled trotter. What’s different is that nitrate solution is not used in “cooking pork” but used to cooking crystal pork trotter aspic. As a result, pork processed in this way is called “salted pork trotter”, “salted pork”in some regions and called “nitrated pork” or “trotter jelly”. There is also a romantic story about it. It is said that Zhang Guolao of the Eight Immortals has once advanced for Saucer Peach Ceremony held in the honor of the Queen Mother of the West, he smells out some fragrance when he passed by Zhenjiang and then hurriedly gets off from his donkey to taste the salt trotter in the Earth and thus missed the Saucer Peach Ceremony. The outstanding taste of salted trotter can be hinted from this story. If Served with aromatic vinegar and shredded gingers, the salted trotter will be more delicious!
    There are 14 procedures to process the crystal salted trotter aspic, mainly including pork leg selection (pork front leg is the best), hair and bones removal on legs, prick the lean pork with crooked chisel for several times (don’t tear the skin), spread uniformly nitrated solution (low density) on the leg and rub with coarse salt and set the legs then one by one in a sautéing vat for 7 days (salt-demanding quantity and sautéing days differ with climate), then pick up the salted legs out and soak them in water, change water for three times to cleanse the blood and astringent of the leg. Add water, spices, onions, gingers, cooking wine, little salt into the leg soup and boil it with intense fire and then keep legs in 95℃ for four hours. Pick legs out from the boiling pot and set them in some basin one by one and flat them, using the first sautéed solution to remove the greasy brine and inject the cleared brine into the basin and the crystal trotter aspic successfully produced after the leg being cooled and frozen.
    There are some knacks for eating of salted trotters. In order to meet requirements of different customers as well as to sufficiently express the features and aromas of salted trotters’ color, fragrance, taste and appearance, different parts of salted trotters can be cut into different shapes. For example, the very pork closely above the fore-trotter is cut into sheet, just like a pair of glass, and it tastes soft, fresh and fragrant, thus it is called glasses trotter meat; pork at the very side of fore-trotter is cut into sheet, and since it is twisted, crystal, just like a jade belt hook, pork there is really soft and it is called jade belt hook trotter; those pork with fat and lean meat together, natural taste and slight fragrant, is called tri-angle trotter; a pure lean meat connecting a small rib on the back-trotter is called Tiandengbang(a stick with a ball on one end) trotter, aromatic, soft and crispy, it is the favorite to those who love lean meat. Salted trotters can be served as main dishes on the banquet, it can also served together with noodles during morning tea time; also it can be cut into sheets and served as snacks. Thus there is the old saying that Salted Pepper Pork doesn’t serve as a dish. Crystal salted pork aspic is not only a perfect dish on banquet, but also ideal selection as gift. Matching the gift crystal salted trotter with a bottle of banquet vinegar (Hengshu Vinegar of Zhenjiang) will be a good idea, it is easy to carry along and can be saved for long time and its serving method is convenient.

    Finishing talk about salted trotter, let’s start the last oddity: pot cover boils at the noodle-boiling pot.
    “Pot cover boils at the noodle-boiling pot” is an innovation of Zhenjiang eating and drinking crafts. Noodles used in Pot Cover Noodle are “jumping noodles” whose processing crafts are as follows: place the dough on the chopping board, choose a bamboo stick, then one operator sit on one end and fix the other end on the chopping board and then shake the stick, the stick then jumps up and down, just like dancing or playing acrobatics, dough on the chopping board is repeatedly pressed into thin sheet. Cut these dough sheet into noodles and these noodles are full of mini-pores and the brine juice can be inserted quickly. The noodle then is strong and with unique taste.
    As for names of noodles with soup, there are so many names, just like the knife fishes in early spring and popular noodles with soup at this time should be “noodles with knife fish”; popular noodles in summer should be “noodle with long fish” and at autumn and winter, it should be different kinds of noodles with soup and covered with different minced meats and vegetables. And the average noodle in daily life is noodles with red soup. As for the name origin of pot cover boils at the noodle-boiling pot (big pot and small pot cover, there is a nice story. It is said that Zhenjiang locals didn’t use pot cover in the past. But one day, sister Zhang in a small noodle shop use pot cover unintentionally in order that the noodle can be done more quickly, and she placed the soup pot in to the noodle pot, however, her action got unbelievable effects. And thus this method was used later. When noodles are set into the boiling water in the pot, cover the pot with a small pot cover and can reach following effects: firstly, crude noodles are placed one by one and it will not agglutinated or become disordered and is with correct specifications; secondly, it is easy to remove floating foams when the soup is boiling, keeping the noodle soup clear; thirdly, noodles will be done more easily, not too crude or overdone. According to the traditional local habits, customers will bring self-made vegetable or meat sauce for noodle-eating, such as pork sirloin, pork liver, beef, egg, fresh bamboo shoot, green pepper, ligusticum wallichii and small greens etc. These additives, after heated in the noodle pot, will serve by mixing with noodles. Some shops, in order to make things convenient for customers, prepare “Qingtou” (meat or vegetable additives) for customers. Qingtou refers to different kinds of noodle additives made of different kinds of vegetables and it can be divided into crude and cooked additives. Crude additives include chopped garlic, minced garlic, pickle greens in spring while cooked additives include small greens, ligusticum wallichii, green peppers (clean these raw materials firstly and boiled them in water and then chop or shred into small pieces). Generally speaking, different vegetables are chosen in different seasons for Qingtou. Since different kinds of minced meats or vegetables are soaked into the noodle soup, noodle tastes will be more and more fresh and delicious and will be better welcomed by customers. Then it is no strange that Qianlong emperor of Qing Dynasty praised it so highly when he enjoyed this noodle in Zhenjiang.

    At the end of Qing Dynasty, literature man Zhou Boyi of Zhenjiang said in his essay named Yangzhou Dream: Zhenjiang locals are economic, they come to teahouse or noodle courtyard in the morning, spend tens of cents and instruct servicemen there to buy top sauce, vinegar or sesame oil and place them at the bottom of noodle bowls to “plain mix” noodles, and this behavior is called “love simple”. “plain-mix” here means the special making or noodles: boil noodles at the pot firstly and then pick up noodles with specialized chopsticks into clean water to remove its soup remains and then shake the noodles with heavily to get rid of water there and finally place noodles into bowls and mix them with sesame oil, soy sauce, shelled shrimps and garlic. Noodles made in this way taste pliable but strong, refreshing and fresh. And these noodles are very popular in summer for they can be served alone or served together with porridge or served as pickles.

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