Friend yesterday pointed me to an interactive page of the DiscoverHongKong website for Fai Chun (揮春). You know, those lucky messages written on red paper people hang around their houses and offices during Chinese New Year. There're many variants of them listed in the page; some wishes fortune be with you, some a plenty of money and treasure and, some good health and so on.
While they're all music to the ears, they somehow missed to tickle the exact itching of we foodies, right? You know how we finicky foodies can be sometimes. With this in mind, I decided to pluck out some auspicious messages bespoke for no one but you in mind like I did two years ago. Do try, clutter some or all of these associative fai chuns around your domains, with which all begin with the Chinese character "食" (eat), you'll be blessed for a most ambrosial and eventful Year of the Pig ahead!
Knowing I am married, you gave me a pair of lustrous pearls. Beholden to you for your kindness, I fastened them to my red slip. My house is close to the Mingguang Palace, where my husband serves as a guard.
You intention is as lofty as the sun and the moon, I know. Having sworn to be with him in life and death, I have to return the glistening pearls to you with tears in my eyes. Oh, if we could have met before I married.
-- trans. Qiu Xiaolong
Useful introduction on Fangshan Cuisine can be found here.
It got to be because it's a film about food. One that goes around udon, from Sanuki no less. Sanuki udon is all the rage now in Tokyo and the movie is nourished in a great part because of the craze. They've many chains there selling Sanuki udon for just 100 yen (less than HKD7)! Seeing is believing, udon lover, have yourself a nymphal moment by clicking here.
Joy is you if you're into this soul food of Japan as much as I do for there're loads of xxx-rated close-up on udon-making in the movie, like how the hands nuzzleknead the dough plaything in full sensuality...
Some beauties are ostensible and some imperceptible. The first kind shrieks for attention while the second, like a girl-next-door, takes you a good deal of time before you can appreciate its inner beauty and undervalued goodnesses.
Roseheart radish or watermelon radish, whatever you term it in English; cramming gloomily in a vine basket. Beijingers love this ball-shaped radish so much that they name it in the most poetic fashion possible for a root plant: Shinremei (心里美), or beauty in the heart for you. Shin-re-mei, is again no less an indegenious eat for Beijingers than the mung bean water, this.
The flesh, in a beautiful marbling of red and white, is crispy, juicy and pleasantly sweet; mildly peppery if you pay more attention. The cutiest ingredient for salad and garnish; always the most beautiful radish for the capital.
"...He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look but
don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. Ahaha..."
~ John Milton, The Devil's Advocate (1997)
The Beijing eat I'm sharing with you today is the mung bean water (豆汁兒).
Hákarl, durian, stinky tofu and McDonald's, say hello to mung bean water. Out-of-towners, jump start your day with a grimace in pain, a torching cat-peed gum plus then a purgatory of tumultuous bowels with a bowl of this palegreen mashy mushy --
It's ugly and it smells flagrant foul (nasty enough to warrant a rejection). Some would even say it'd be ruled inhumane to feed anyone in captivity with this in the Geneva Treaty. Yet, of all Beijing eats, this is a true Beijing par excellence. One that you can only taste in the capital.
But first off, do not mix up the water with soy milk (豆漿). Though both are made of beans, soy milk is the by-product of soy beans -- milky white and tastes much better -- everything the mung bean water is not. Second, do not confuse the water with the mung bean sweet soup, or "lu dou dong shui" (綠豆糖水/綠豆沙) either. The latter is what you get when you boil up the ground mung beans with water and sugar whereas the mung bean water is something comes out from the cellophane noodle factory. After the starch of the ground mung beans be obtained to make cellophane noodles or bean powder, the soaky skins are sieved out and lidded for fermentation. The mung bean juice is the graygreen wastewater "gained" in the wake of such process.
Unlike the stinky tofu available in China ubiquitously, the mung bean water, which claimed to be invented by the Manchus in some forgotten early period, is still very much an acquired taste of the
Beijingers. It's a well known fact that Beijingers are the only people in China who drinks this.
In all other parts of China, this fermented "juice" and the dregs are sold
to pig farmers on the cheap (go figure the reek!). Check with your Beijing friends, they probably wouldn't consider you a homeboy unless and until you've tried their water.
There has been even one sarcastic remark that goes the reason why Han Chinese's burning hatred to the Manchus was not more for the sentiment of patriotism than for the awful breath from the invaders they couldn't never stand!
I also remember a story my grandma (a Manchu herself) once told me. It goes like many moons ago, the mung bean juice is sold on the street rather than in restaurants like they do now. Back then, the common practice is for the seller to give a complimentary saucer of pickles, either salty cabbages or chili radish whenever someone orders the mung bean water. One day, a "waishengren" (外省人), or literally someone from an external province (as opposite to the locals), came up to the vendor and asked him how much for a bowl of the water and the vendor told him. "How much for the pickles then?" the waishengren asked. "They're free of charge," the boss answered. "Fine, just give me the pickles please."
What a goof such as this! So next time you're in Beijing, have a taste of the mung bean juice instead. If you dare, swallow it. There in a bowl of gooey liquid with such compelling taste lies the essence of "jingweier" (Beijing-ness)! Beijing, ahaha... the capital of gastronomic China!