For a Sichuanese, having a jar at home is like having a mahjong table—a necessity.
The jar can be ceramic, earthen, glass, or porcelain.
It can be tiny like a teacup, or big enough for kids to play hide and seek in.
Anything can be pickled: eggplant, chicken’s feet, cucumbers, carrots, radish, bok choy, green peppers . . .
The most common one is this: yardlong beans, aka asparagus beans.
After the beans are harvested, they are washed with water fetched from this ancient-looking well.
Put them into an earthenware jar, and wait for a week.
Some of the pickled vegetables can be kept for up to a year. Others, like cucumber and radish, only need about one to two days before they can be served.
Paocai—pickled vegetables, are not the same as suancai—sour vegetables.
Paocai is more popular in places like Sichuan, and almost anything can be used as ingredients.
Suancai is more popular in places like Harbin, and mostly cabbage is used.
Inside the jar, layers of vegetables are separated by layers of salt. The best salt comes from Zigong, which contains 99% sodium chloride.
Even when the production of paocai has been expanded to an industrial scale, the basic steps remain the same.
Another common paocai is made from leaf mustard.
Stir-fried pork slices with paocai.
Grass carp stewed with paocai.
Instead of water from an underground well, you can also use cooled boiled water, and add a couple of rock sugar.
The secret to making good paocai is a few drops of sugarcane juice and baijiu—fermented sorghum wine.
Stir-fried frog with paocai pepper and ginger
Duck stew with paocai radish
Other than hotpot, many Sichuan dishes are often underestimated because of their simple presentation and plating. Like chicken douhua.
And also this 坛子肉—pork in a jar.
In wintertime, many parts of Sichuan are still warm, like the county of Hanyuan.
For local residents, snow and ice are mostly terms they learned from books and TV.
Villagers help each other to tie up a big, fat pig, which can weigh up to 200 kg.
The pig is cleaned, slaughtered, and then cut into pieces small enough to fit into an earthen jar.
Rub them with salt.
Then fry with lard.
Boil for another two hours.
The earthen jar is cleaned with homemade corn wine.
Place the pork inside, marinated in pork lard.
The layer of lard separates the pork from the air.
Pork preserved this way can be served a year later and still taste nice.
On top of preserving its taste, another important reason for keeping pork in jars is the prevalence of pork thieves.