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Long Lunch at the Dragon's Pool

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I think you’ll see in a moment why I didn’t just post this on the Lunch! topic. It was exceptional. An epic and it has been an epic sorting through the 634 photographs I took in about three hours. If I counted correctly, there are only 111 here.


Like so many things, it came out of the blue. I was kind of aware that there was a Chinese holiday this week, but being self-semi-employed I am often a man of leisure and the holidays make little impact on my life. This one is in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duān wǔ jié) and although it features nothing boat-like, it was festive and there is a dragon link.


It started with this invitation which appeared on my WeChat (Chinese social media) account.




Longtan (龙潭 lóng tán) means Dragon’s Pool and is more of a hamlet. It is about an hour’s drive north of Liuzhou city. I’d never heard of it and certainly never been there, but a friend of a friend had decided that a “foreign friend” would add just the right note to the planned event. I’ve seen many pictures of such “Long Table“ lunches and even attended one before – but this one was different and I was delighted to be invited.


So, I was picked up outside my city centre home at 9 am and the adventure began. We arrived at the village at 9:45 to be met by the friend in question. He led me to what appeared to be the head man’s home, outside which was a large courtyard with a few men sitting at a trestle table seemingly finishing a breakfast of hot, meaty rice porridge washed down with beer or rice wine. I was offered a bowl of the porridge, but declined the beer or rice wine in favour of a cup of tea. After downing that and making introductions etc, I was left to wander around on my own watching all the activity.






Rice Porridge


Here goes. I'm posting these mostly in the order they were taken, in order to give some sense of how the event progressed.




These two men were the undisputed kings of this venture, organising everyone, checking every detail, instructing less  experienced volunteers etc. It was obvious these men had been working since the early hours. and their breakfast was a break in their toil. There were piles of still steaming cooked pork belly in containers all over the courtyard.



Some of this had been the meat in the rice porridge, I learned.




This young lad had been set to chopping chicken. Not one chicken! Dozens.











Entrails, insides and fat were all carefully preserved.


In the meantime, the two masters continued boiling their lumps of pork belly. This they refer to as 五花肉 - literally "five flower" pork", the five flowers being layers of skin, fat and meat.






Another man was dealing with fish. Carp from the village pond. He scaled and cleaned them with his cleaver. Dozens of them. 










And all around, various preparations are being prepared.



Peeling Garlic





Gizzards and intestines.



More Pork . You can see the five layers here.


to be continued


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Just off the courtyard was another piece of ground and here were people sawing bamboo trunks into segments. One man to saw and others to hold and turn the heavy bamboo.










His rusty saw was making hard work of the job, so one man was sent off on his motorcycle to borrow the village power saw.



Where do I plug this in?




Once a suitably long cable had been found, Mr. Power Saw made short work of reducing the bamboo to the required lengths. But for what? All will be revealed. The rusty saw was abandoned.




It was at this point around 50 cyclists out on a fun run (apparently something they do regularly) rolled into the village. They had cycled from Liuzhou. And would cycle back.




The cyclists are also fitted out with a bowl of porridge and a drink, but fish man is far too busy to notice or care.







The gutted fish are being slashed at intervals along the length of the body, He works quickly. He has to.






And around him, preparation continues.







Dried Daikon Radish







More chicken!


Then the day's mystery ingredient. No one knew what this was. For once, it wasn't just the ignorant foreigner who was baffled. Everyone was asking and looking just as confused when they heard the answer.




What is it and what's it for? To be revealed soon.


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38 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

Then the day's mystery ingredient. No one knew what this was. For once, it wasn't just the ignorant foreigner who was baffled. Everyone was asking and looking just as confused when they heard the answer.




What is it and what's it for? To be revealed soon.


Bird's nest fungus?


Stunning report @liuzhou!

> ^ . . ^ <



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That chopped chicken, or a good part of it, is shoved into the bamboo pipes along with water and that mystery ingredient. It is identified to me as 草鞋板 cǎo xié bǎn (which translates into the meaningless "grass slipper plate". A little research suggests it is dried Hoya Carnosa, a flowering house plant most places, but seemingly used, albeit rarely, in Chinese Traditional Medicine. Whatever, handfuls of it are rammed down the pipe.








The chicken, water and herb filled bamboo tubes are lined up leaning against a wall and a fire lit beneath them.






While, all of this is going on, the two lunch masters making an inspection of the various preparation sites.










Fancy an omelet?



Potato Slivers



The boiled pork belly is now deep fried.





The fish are rubbed with soy sauce, garlic and ginger then dredged in flour and deep fried



Then left to rest


The boiled then fried pork belly is sliced then assembled in a bowl with alternate slices of fried taro. This is 扣肉  kòu ròu (literally "bowl meat"), a local favourite.









The assembled bowls are placed in huge steamer racks ready for stage three of the cooking.








It is at this point the "kou rou" master notices a critical error. The person stacking the bowls in the steamers has forgotten to add the sauce, so they all come back out while the master illustrates the correct procedure and they start off all over.








Finally, they are deemed fit and set to steam for one hour.






Time for a beer



Edited by liuzhou (log)
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It's approaching noon and getting very hot. 33ºC and direct sunlight bearing down. I retreat for a rest in the house overlooking the courtyard.




But I can hear and see that there is still a lot going on and curiosity (nosiness) gets the better of me. I carry my cold beer with me.


Yes, the prep continues.


















This young chap made up with exuberance what was lacking in knowledge. He had no idea how to cut the chillies to the master's preference, but was soon gently put right. Bash them to flatten them, then cut in half or thirds depending on length. Off he went like a madman. I've never seen anyone who mistrusts their own knife skills so much that they wear a crash helmet while chopping veg, though.




And just as any remaining chickens congratulated themselves at being spared the indignity of being stuffed inside a bamboo tube, a second wave of chicken cookery begins.


But first you've got to get rid of those feathers.




Then I spot the rice woman. She has, what looks to me like, a very strange technique. She soaks the rice, but not for long I'd say by the texture - I'm not sure how long. Then she washes the rice. OK.  And puts it to the fire with water.






Now she is skimming off excess water. This she carefully decants into another bowl. No doubt to wash her face. Chinese woman do that.




A friend joins her to use the inverted handle of a scoop to punch 'holes' in the rice to allow steam to escape.








Now, I haven't survived this long by telling Chinese rice cooks they are doing it all wrong, and her method works for 150 people. I just won't be doing it her way at home.


In the interim, it becomes apparent that we have more kou rou steamer baskets than we have heat sources, so another villager is sent to get his apparatus, which he happily does..




The first batch and the bamboo tube soup is bubbling away. People are getting hungry!







Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Now it's time for the idiots to turn up.


I spend a lot of time with photographers and film makers and have decided there are three types, whether amateur or professional.


a) those who record what is actually happening


b) those who record themselves reacting perhaps to what is happening but more likely not as they are so vain they don't notice what is happening outside their unimaginative little mindset. The selfie stick people. There were a lot of them about. Mostly female, loud and wearing high heels - perfect for a visit to a countryside village.


c) those who ignore what is happening and create what they think should be happening or wish was happening then record that. The wannabe movie directors.


A couple of press photographers and their 'boss' turn up. They are arrogant and rude (they always are) and people start to get annoyed as they push people aside or stand in front of them blocking their view. They set up a table and demand that one of the masters come there to be photographed.


They have laid out a couple of bamboo leaves and placed stupid little bowls containing everyday condiments - garlic, ginger, salt, even water for the love of ...




Utterly irrelevant to anything happening around them. But then what do you expect from someone who turns up in a countryside village lathered in (cheap) gold but wearing a peasant hat in order to "fit in"?





One of them spots this tool lying to the side and immediately demands a demonstration - to be filmed. Master points out that he hasn't used it in years and certainly not today. Doesn't matter. I can see he is getting very annoyed by these donkeys, but he is polite and humours them.


What he has is a tool for piercing the skin of pork to allow the fat to render out.




It takes them about an hour to get these shots and then the idiots finally leave without eating a thing. They probably didn't realise there was food!




It's lunchtime!

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After escaping the cameras from hell, I spot that these two burners are busy with something else.




A nearby table sports these fine looking creatures.




Yes those carp which  I saw being deep fried earlier are also "twice-cooked", this time being finished off in a chilli laden sauce. They smell good with a capital OO.




Another wok and burner combo is poaching those second chickens we saw being de-feathered.




These are chopped to give us "White Cut Chicken, a Cantonese speciality of poached chicken but also popular here.




So, it seems everything is ready. We take our places at random. As a VIP, I am offered a seat at a table inside the house but explain that unlike them (the village leaders) I am a real communist rather than an opportunistic jackass and prefer to sit with the great unwashed masses.


Well, of course, I don't. But I do insist on sitting outside ("to take pictures", I say).














and the food!









White Cut Chicken



Potato. Don't be misled. These are wonderful, but very spicy.





This unappetising mud is actually the bamboo tube soup.



It looks better in the bowl and tasted just fine, if underwhelming. Neither the bamboo or herb added anything I could detect, so really it was just water and chicken. Still I've had worse.


Somehow I managed to miss photographing the kou rou at the table. I certainly ate it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Probably the best I've eaten. although the meat is very fatty, not something I generally like, it wasn't at all greasy. It just melted in the mouth. Also, the taro picks up enough of the fat and cooking juices to be very tasty indeed rather than just starchy as I often find it.


It took ages to prepare - days if not weeks of planning then hours of hard work. And we demolished it in twenty minutes or so.





The Remains of the Day




The Team - Thanks. See you next year!


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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As I was about to leave, I decided to take a closer look at the tree behind the cooks in that last picture.


To my amazed delight, I found it was something I've been looking for for years.




This is the source of the near legendary "chicken skin fruit". I was so excited that they invited me back for the harvest later in the year.



Edited by liuzhou (log)
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 Many, many thanks.  Completely fascinating to someone who has never been outside of Europe and North America.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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I enjoyed this so very much.  What wonderful adventures you have and how lucky we are to be taken along!   Safe to say that I am probably the only person in this small town to have even heard of  chicken skin fruit!  Now, how can I work this into a conversation with the locals?

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Thoroughly enjoyed this.  Can we expect to see the chicken skin fruit harvest?

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I didn't want this to end!  


I was going to ask if women were not allowed to help with the preparations, but then later I saw some ladies handling the veggies and rice.  Just curious if it just worked out that way or if the men are generally the ones that handle the meats?


The gentlemen eating their rice porridge with chopsticks will never cease to amaze me.  I wouldn't be able to get anything in my mouth.  AND they are people after my own heart--holidays are just made for drinking in the morning :) 


The bamboo cooking method for the chicken wowed me.  I think they should add some spices and then it would really knock your socks off....but that probably isn't traditional and I would be kicked out of the party with that suggestion lol.


And that carp and the deep fried pork belly would keep me happy for hours.  You would have had to roll me home.


Thank you for doing this!!!

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32 minutes ago, Arey said:

Can we expect to see the chicken skin fruit harvest?


Sure. They aren't sure exactly when it will be but are betting on early Autumn, so  that means September or October here. It depends on what kind of summer we have.

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1 hour ago, Shelby said:

The bamboo cooking method for the chicken wowed me.  I think they should add some spices and then it would really knock your socks off....but that probably isn't traditional and I would be kicked out of the party with that suggestion lol.


And that carp and the deep fried pork belly would keep me happy for hours.  You would have had to roll me home.


I see where you are coming from re the soup and tend to agree, but for these people any supposed medicinal benefits are the first concern with this particular dish. I think it's hokum.


For me, the fish was the best thing on offer, Utterly delicious, but the kou rou came a close second.


I've been to one such "long table" meal before but it was very touristy. I was assured this one wasn't going to be and that is what I found. It was a genuine village celebration, but one which they were happy to share with outsiders, which is often their way.

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@liuzhou thank you so much for sharing.  My son and his wife (she is Chinese/Mongolian) are now in China visiting her family.  They send me photos like this:




So very jealous of you and them having access to such amazing meals and celebrations.

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