This episode is about how ordinary ingredients can be transformed into a multitude of amazing foods.
Soybeans are rich in protein, and cheap, but at the beginning, they presented a problem.
Unlike rice and corn, nobody likes to eat soybeans by simply boiling them in water, since they don’t taste as nice, and they cause bloating.
But nothing stands in the way of the Chinese people. When there’s a will, there’s a way.
Gypsum is used as a coagulant
to transform soybean milk
Whiter than snow, softer than butter, smoother than silk.
Ancient City of Jianshui, Yunnan Province
Tofu balls are sun-dried until they turn a colour of golden brown.
They are then grilled over charcoal fire.
Grilled tofu balls are eaten with different sauces.
They kind of look like popcorn. Tofu popcorn, anyone? Healthier option than butter popcorn.
Near a big water well, womenfolk produce handmade tofu. There are 128 such wells in the city of Jianshui.
Shiping County, Yunnan Province
These are tofu . . . blankets?
Shou County, Anhui Province
Fresh tofu made from soybeans
Tofu . . . dumplings?
Tofu boiled with broccoli and luncheon meat
And the famous beancurd (tofu pudding)
A while ago, there was a heated debate online, about which version is the most authentic beancurd.
Battle line is drawn between the South and the North.
Northern School beancurd is salty.
Made with tofu, fresh mushrooms, dried wood ear, minced meat, shredded ginger, cooking wine, light soy sauce, starch, and sesame oil.
Whereas Southern School beancurd is sweet.
Made with tofu, red bean, brown sugar, and ground ginger.
The dispute was never settled. Instead, the exchange of ideas led to a new creation–the spicy beancurd (my personal favourite. Everything tastes better with a dollop, sorry, no, a big spoonful, of chilli oil.)
Tiantai Mountain, Zhejiang Province
Monks at Guoqing Temple on the mountain maintain a strict vegetarian diet.
Tofu becomes an important source of protein for them.
Xiuning County, Anhui Province
“Hairy” beancurd is fermented with a type of mould called mucor.
Hard to believe this is tofu . . .
It looks more normal once it’s fried.
Or grilled (and chilli sauce added).
West Ujimqin Banner, Xilingol League, Inner Mongolia
Quark (not the elementary particle) is made from soured cow’s milk, kind of like cottage cheese.
It’s made by curdling milk
and then heating it.
Dali City, Yunnan Province
The tradition of eating cheese in Yunnan is supposedly a result of Kublai Khan’s military campaign 800 years ago.
Rushan (“milk fan”) cheese is made in a similar way, with a twist.
Bai people dry sheets of Rushan cheese wrapped around bamboo poles.
Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province
Shaoxing Huangjiu (yellow wine) is made from rice grains. It can be consumed directly, or used in cooking.
Xiuning County, Anhui Province
These rice ball-like things are jiuqu–a fermentation starter, made with various types of yeasts, moulds, bacteria, and water pepper.
Glutinous rice mixed with jiuqu.
Glutinous rice wine
Another ubiquitous condiment used in Chinese cooking is soy sauce. People in Shaoxing believe everything tastes better with soy sauce.
Ancient City of Anchang, Zhejiang Province
The fame of Anchang smoked sausages is, in large part, due to the soy sauce used.
Soy sauce is fermented in these giant ceramic vats.
A sight like this has caused collective envy of the netizens, and inquiries about the possibility of making friends with the owners of these sausages.
With winter and the Chinese New Year approaching, nothing can stop the people of Sichuan from preparing their beloved sausages.
It’s necessary to hang the sausages at weird places, because there are thieves operating in broad daylight.
Even if they are caught red-handed, they show no remorse.
Yilan County, Heilongjiang Province
In parts of northeastern China, the only ingredient that goes into the soy sauce is the soy beans. No other grains are used.
In the cold climate, fresh vegetables are not always possible to find. So pickled vegetables become important source of sodium and fibre.
Pickled cabbage is the most common.
They go well with fatty pork.
Simple soy beans can be transformed into so many different types of food
Invisible microbes add flavour to every dish
At the end of a long, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, good food is one of only three things that offer comfort (the other two are sleep and death).
No wonder Oscar Wilde said,
After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.