Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nameless heroes

Some great bits of language in the appealingly named Fuschia Dunlop's New Yorker piece on Chinese restaurateur Dai Jianjun:
“You just can’t trust the ingredients you buy in the markets,” Dai told me, battling his way through the undergrowth. “Vegetables laced with chemicals. Fake birds’ nests held together by glue. Even hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake—most of them are farmed elsewhere and simply made to ‘take a shower’ in the famous lake before they go to market.”
And again:
A waitress entered and laid a soup tureen on the table. She announced the dish as wu ming ying xiong—“nameless heroes.” Steam rose from a milky broth, in which a carp rested in the silky folds of bamboo-pith fungus. Scarlet wolfberries and sliced scallion were scattered on top, like jewels on pale flesh. The waitress ladled the soup into small bowls, each with a piece of fish and a lacy morsel of fungus. The liquid was xian, richly savory, replete with delicious fish flavors, and yet the fish itself was not overcooked. Dai explained that this was a gongfu cai, an “art” dish, whose elaborate preparation was invisible in the simplicity of its final appearance. Small crucian carp were used for the broth, simmered for their flavor and then discarded. The whole carp in front of us had been poached, briefly, in their stock. “So you see,” Dai said, “the vanished crucian carp are the dish’s ‘nameless heroes.’ ”

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