Have you ever noticed that one of the topics that we all like to converse about in a dinner is film? I guess it's reciprocal because in one way or the other movie is about the life and somehow the cast inevitably need to eat in the course of the movie. Another reason I guess could be the fact that they both touch our heart like no other form of art so it is easy for us to jump from one to the other.
So what am I suggesting here? A movie to talk about whenever you enjoy the seasonal sanma (that is, Pacific saury) is Sanma no aji (lit. the taste of Pacific saury, aka The Autumn Afternoon) directed by the great Yasujiro Ozu. Watch it and see if you share the same bittersweet of life as Ozu was trying to get across.
[Edit: if anything, Ozu shares the same poetic affiliation to his food as most writers in China do: another great film by him is called Ochazuke no aji (茶泡飯之味), which literally means the taste of tea over rice].
In the words of Lin Yutang, Indian produced too many religion and Chinese too little. It's an observation I couldn't echo more during my presentation to the Asia Society. Put simply, taoism is a system of philosophy; confucianism an ideology and Chinese Buddhism a work of Chineserization for a Hindu outcast. To all ethnic Chinese, nirvana or not, the view of life has always been this-worldly, and living the moment. If there IS one thing that all Chinese believes in it is the existence of an underworld for our departed souls when we are dead.
A very good example would be The Great Summons by Qu Yuan. Not only was our poet a firm believer of Hades, he even went further to give a good 190 reasons to the souls to return to the home of mortals.
I have two foodie views that I want to share here.
One is 31 verses were spared for food and wine out of the 190 total. It seems in the mind of our great poet, at least, the raison d'etre for the drifting souls was a feast of tasty food (follow next by party with beautiful ladies and a flashy, cozy den, in order of significance). Taking the Great Summons and his other works into consideration, a very narrative tale was given on how much our ancestors cared about food.
Second is how sophisticated was our food culture 2,500 years ago. We're not talking about comfort food for the famished. What we have here is an opulent banquet menu with no ends of diversified and succulent food. Even though you may it's just literature, but as any foodie can tell you, it is impossible for the writer to make them up and to give such vivid description had he not tried them before.
作者：屈原 English translation: Arthur Waley
THE GREAT SUMMONS
The vacant earth;
The white sun shineth;
Spring wind provoketh
To burst and burgeon
Each sprout and flower.
In those dark caves where Winter lurketh
Hide not, my Soul!
O Soul come back again! O, do not stray!
O Soul come back again and go not east or west, or north or south!
For to the East a mighty water drowneth Earth's other shore;
Tossed on its waves and heaving with its tides
The hornless Dragon of the Ocean rideth:
Clouds gather low and fogs enfold the sea
And gleaming ice drifts past.
O Soul go not to the East,
To the silent Valley of Sunrise!
O Soul go not to the South
Where mile on mile the earth is burnt away
And poisonous serpents slither through the flames;
Where on precipitous paths or in deep woods
Tigers and leopards prowl,
And water-scorpions wait;
Where the king-python rears his giant head.
O Soul, go not to the South
Where the three-footed tortoise spits disease!
O Soul go not to the West
Where level wastes of sand stretch on and on;
And demons rage, swine-headed, hairy-skinned,
With bulging eyes;
Who in wild laughter gnash projecting fangs.
O Soul go not to the West
Where many perils wait!
O Soul go not to the North,
To the Lame Dragon's frozen peaks;
Where trees and grasses dare not grow;
Where a river runs too wide to cross
And too deep to plumb,
And the sky is white with snow
And the cold cuts and kills.
O Soul seek not to fill
The treacherous voids of the north!
O Soul come back to idleness and peace.
In quietude enjoy
The lands of Ching and Ch'u.
There work your will and follow your desire
Till sorrow is forgot,
And carelessness shall bring you length of days.
O Soul come back to joys beyond all telling!
Where thirty cubits high at harvest-time
The corn is stacked;
Where pies are cooked of millet and bearded-maize.
Guests watch the steaming bowls
And sniff the pungency of peppered herbs.
The cunning cook adds slices of bird-flesh,
Pigeon and yellow-heron and black-crane.
They taste the badger-stew.
O Soul come back to feed on foods you love!
Next are brought
Fresh turtle, and sweet chicken cooked in cheese
Pressed by the men of Ch'u.
And pickled suckling-pig
And flesh of whelps floating in liver-sauce
With salad of minced radishes in brine;
All served with that hot spice of southernwood
The land of Wu supplies.
O Soul come back to choose the meats you love!
Roasted daw, steamed widgeon and grilled quail—
On every fowl they fare.
Boiled perch and sparrow broth,—in each preserved
The separate flavour that is most its own.
O Soul come back to where such dainties wait!
The four strong liquors are warming at the fire
So that they grate not on the drinker's throat.
How fragrant rise their fumes, how cool their taste!
Such drink is not for louts or serving-men!
And wise distillers from the land of Wu
Blend unfermented spirit with white yeast
And brew the li of Ch'u.
O Soul come back and let your yearnings cease!
Reed-organs from the lands of T'ai and Ch'in
And Wei and Chēng
Gladden the feasters, and old songs are sung:
The “Rider's Song” that once
Fu-hsi, the ancient monarch, made;
And the harp-songs of Ch'u.
Then after prelude from the flutes of Chao
The ballad-singer's voice rises alone.
O Soul come back to the hollow mulberry-tree!
Eight and eight the dancers sway,
Weaving their steps to the poet's voice
Who speaks his odes and rhapsodies;
They tap their bells and beat their chimes
Rigidly, lest harp and flute
Should mar the measure.
Then rival singers of the Four Domains
Compete in melody, till not a tune
Is left unsung that human voice could sing.
O Soul come back and listen to their songs!
Then women enter whose red lips and dazzling teeth
Seduce the eye;
But meek and virtuous, trained in every art;
Fit sharers of play-time,
So soft their flesh and delicate their bones.
O Soul come back and let them ease your woe!
Then enter other ladies with laughing lips
And sidelong glances under moth-eye brows;
Whose cheeks are fresh and red;
Ladies both great of heart and long of limb,
Whose beauty by sobriety is matched.
Well-padded cheeks and ears with curving rim,
High-arching eyebrows, as with compass drawn,
Great hearts and loving gestures—all are there;
Small waists and necks as slender as the clasp
Of courtiers' brooches.
O Soul come back to those whose tenderness
Drives angry thoughts away!
Last enter those
Whose every action is contrived to please;
Black-painted eyebrows and white-powdered cheeks.
They reek with scent; with their long sleeves they brush
The faces of the feasters whom they pass,
Or pluck the coats of those who will not stay.
O Soul come back to pleasures of the night!
A summer-house with spacious rooms
And a high hall with beams stained red;
A little closet in the southern wing
Reached by a private stair.
And round the house a covered way should run
Where horses might be trained.
And sometimes riding, sometimes going afoot
You shall explore, O Soul, the parks of spring;
Your jewelled axles gleaming in the sun
And yoke inlaid with gold;
Or amid orchises and sandal-trees
Shall walk in the dark woods.
O Soul come back and live for these delights!
Peacocks shall fill your gardens; you shall rear
The roc and phœnix, and red jungle-fowl,
Whose cry at dawn assembles river storks
To join the play of cranes and ibises;
Where the wild-swan all day
Pursues the glint of idle king-fishers.
O Soul come back to watch the birds in flight!
He who has found such manifold delights
Shall feel his cheeks aglow
And the blood-spirit dancing through his limbs.
Stay with me, Soul, and share
The span of days that happiness will bring;
See sons and grandsons serving at the Court
Ennobled and enriched.
O Soul come back and bring prosperity
To house and stock!
The roads that lead to Ch'u
Shall teem with travellers as thick as clouds,
A thousand miles away.
For the Five Orders of Nobility
Shall summon sages to assist the King
And with godlike discrimination choose
The wise in council; by their aid to probe
The hidden discontents of humble men
And help the lonely poor.
O Soul come back and end what we began!
Fields, villages and lanes
Shall throng with happy men;
Good rule protect the people and make known
The King's benevolence to all the land;
Stern discipline prepare
Their natures for the soft caress of Art.
O Soul come back to where the good are praised!
Like the sun shining over the four seas
Shall be the reputation of our King;
His deeds, matched only in Heaven, shall repair
The wrongs endured by every tribe of men,—
Northward to Yu and southward to Annam
To the Sheep's Gut Mountain and the Eastern Seas.
O Soul come back to where the wise are sought!
Behold the glorious virtues of our King
Behold with solemn faces in the Hall
The Three Grand Ministers walk up and down,—
None chosen for the post save landed-lords
Or, in default, Knights of the Nine Degrees.
At the first ray of dawn already is hung
The shooting-target, where with bow in hand
And arrows under arm,
Each archer does obeisance to each,
Willing to yield his rights of precedence.
O Soul come back to where men honour still
The name of the Three Kings.
 The harp.
 Yü, T'ang and Wēn, the three just rulers of antiquity.
I know, this is never a good idea to take pictures in the museum. So I'm a low moral douche bag from a museum etiquette point of view. Yes, I shot pictures at the Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery yesterday. I shot like hell break loose. So color me scumbag and step on my face. Whatever tickle you fancy if that offended you.
But then again, I was totally in awe when I saw the collection. All kind of antique china and ceramic in one place. And somehow they are all food-related. I can stare at these masterpieces all day long.
It was like being time traveller. I could totally imagine myself having a feast served with all these break-taking porcelains. There, I quaff down a cup of tea with an exquisite tea bowl from the Song dynasty. As usual, we go into a high-spirited talk on different schools of poetry; sipping wines with cups from the Ming dynasty. Before long, the maids bring out perfectly warm meat dishes on hot water plates made in the Qing dynasty. The best part is, I don't even have to move the ivory chopsticks a bit because the food are all put into my mouth by my second and third concubines; with my wife cooking in the kitchen the whole way...
Anyways, give this lovely museum a visit if you're free. The porcelain art of us is a true legacy that I'm very proud to share with all. [click here for the album set at Flickr.com if the above doesn't work well]
The observatory just issued a warming signal for fire hazard. And you know what that signifies? Autumn is in the air, of which also means the season for brown mustard is on!
This soup can be put it into the easy breezy Japanesey category because it is really that easy. All you need is a few slices of ginger, quartered or chucks of sweet potatoes (volume depends on your serving size) and some stalks of brown mustard. Gather all these and boil it in water for about one hour.
You won't even need anything for flavor. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes is absolutely heaven sent to match the modest bitterness coming from the brown mustard. It is unlike any other kind of sweetness and it'll linger in your mouth all light long.
Tonic values: Brown mustard to wipe away the "wind" (from flu and cold); sweet potatoes for a lazy barrel and ginger to warm the body up (also to set off the coldness of brown mustard).
Cures: influenza, cold, weak appetite and costiveness.
Dreamed a strange dream; dreamed that a star from heaven--
Splendid, six-rayed, in colour rosy-pearl,
Whereof the token was an Elephant
Six-tusked and whiter than Vahuka's milk--
Shot through the void and, shining into her,
Entered her womb upon the right. Awaked,
Bliss beyond mortal mother's filled her breast,
And over half the earth a lovely light
Forewent the morn. The strong hills shook; the waves
Sank lulled; all flowers that blow by day came forth
As 't were high noon; down to the farthest hells
Passed the Queen's joy, as when warm sunshine thrills
Wood-glooms to gold, and into all the deeps
A tender whisper pierced. "Oh ye," it said,
"The dead that are to live, the live who die,
Uprise, and hear, and hope! Buddha is come!"
Whereat in Limbos numberless much peace
Spread, and the world's heart throbbed, and a wind blew
With unknown freshness over lands and seas.
And when the morning dawned, and this was told,
The grey dream-readers said "The dream is good!
The Crab is in conjunction with the Sun;
The Queen shall bear a boy, a holy child
Of wondrous wisdom, profiting all flesh,
Who shall deliver men from ignorance,
Or rule the world, if he will deign to rule."
In this wise was the holy Buddha born."
~The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold~
Sharing here is the powerpoint I presented to the Asia Society (HK Branch) in a recent event. I was trying to give reasons why there is such a strong tie between the two and why overall, vegetarian cuisine flourishes in China (with virtually no help from the Hippies and PETA people!).
So far in my food blogging life I've attended two freebies - one luncheon and one dinner - from both of which I never reviewed in the end (quite apologetic to the PRs who kindly invited me).
The reason why is because I am just a simple man with a simple mind. To me there will always be the devil to pay. I guess in Cantonese we call this "雞髀打人牙骹軟" (lit. a chicken leg beats a man's jaws soft), as if you beat a dog with a bone and it will not howl. Not to be in the nasty shoes as these Singaporean bloggers are in now...