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China Food Myths


liuzhou
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Posted (edited)

13. There are two kinds of soy sauce.

If only.


This oft-repeated 'fact' appears on many websites, including on many which should know better, as well as on YouTube videos, but I guess by now you know what I think of them.


In fact, world-wide there are hundreds of different types - certainly a bit more than two. I will limit myself to what I know. I intimately know my kitchen and I know China moderately well. So this is only about what I have or can find here.


I have six different kinds in my kitchen right now.


The generic term for soy sauce in Chinese is 酱油/醬油* - jiàng yóu. This covers all varieties. A less common alternative is 豉油 - chǐ yóu.


Light Soy Sauce

 

1865065816_Chineselightsoysauce.thumb.jpg.299d337bd5e7a7f11ec65cccaefcc8d0.jpg


Most used is what is known in western countries as 'light soy sauce', in China as 生抽 - shēng chōu. Often labelled 'Superior Soy Sauce' in English, this is the go to sauce for much of Chinese cooking, used in many dishes and in marinades or as a dressing or dip. If a recipe does not specify what type of sauce, use this one.


It is strongly flavoured and saline in taste, although low sodium versions are also available. Most soy sauce today also contains wheat, so is not usually gluten-free, although gluten-free versions can be found in larger supermarkets.


The best should only contain water, soy beans, wheat and salt. Check the ingredients list. If there is no English, then here are the four ingredients in Chinese in the same order: 水, 黄豆, 小麦, 盐/水, 黃豆, 小麥, 鹽.

 

Dark Soy Sauce

 

437315097_ChineseDarkSoySauce.thumb.jpg.276799a41e224fcda2f8ae015d18ec2b.jpg

 

This is also common. Known as 老抽 - lǎo chōu, this is a thicker, sweeter sauce mainly used to add colour rather than taste. It is also less salty. Cheaper versions often add caramel or molasses - avoid!

 

Light and dark sauces are used together in certain dishes.

 

Organic Soy Sauce

 

20210101_120739.thumb.jpg.550400d7e37f44f8facab176ce178ce6.jpg

 

The above sauces are also available in 'organic'versions. However, in China there is no legal definition of 'organic', so who knows?

 

Black Bean Soy Sauce

 

778572479_blackbeansoysauce2.thumb.jpg.25dbe6ff34ee55368dd34531cb44c962.jpg

 

The first two sauces I mentioned are, 99% of the time, made from yellow soy beans, but also available is sauce made from black soy beans. To my palate, this variation has a deeper, more subtle flavour. It has become my preferred choice.

 

White Soy Sauce

 

1752584133_Chinesewhitesoysauce.thumb.jpg.a448d6a821ad52c85f94edf740a97e2d.jpg

 

White soy sauce is rarer than the others. It is only available in a light form as it contains no wheat. Otherwise, it tastes the same as the regular type, but is sometimes preferred for presentation in dressings, dips etc.

 

Seasoned Soy Sauce

 

13589059_seasonedsoysauceforseafood.thumb.jpg.80fc23f2550d885de143237978f950da.jpg

 

Another light soy sauce, but this time seasoned with sugar, yeast extract and MSG, so sweeter and with more of a umami kick. Mostly used with Cantonese steamed fish.

There are many more types which I''ll add as I come across them. Mushroom soy sauce springs to mind.

 

to be continued

 

* Where Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese differ, I give both. Simplified is used in mainland China, where as traditional is used by Hong Kong, Taiwan and much of the Chinese diaspora - so there is a good chance of seeing either in Asian markets.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)

Here is the mushroom soy sauce I mentioned in the previous post. Well, it's one version. This one is by Lee Kum Kee, not the best manufacturer by a long shot. Flavoured with 草菇 (cǎo gū - literally 'grass mushrooms') known in English as 'straw mushrooms'.

 

1048707858_20210103_1210231.thumb.jpg.e6f489dc29d08ef81b39895e34e3686e.jpg

 

Their version uses straw mushrooms. Basically this is just another dark soy sauce flavoured with the 'shrooms. A tiny amount in this variety - it's the last listed ingredient.

 

Ingredients: in order of amount

 

Water, salt, defatted soy, wheat, wheat flour, caramel, MSG, white sugar, potassium sorbate, straw mushroom. Industrial food.

Better versions use greater amounts of mushroom, normally shiitake. My hunt shall continue.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, weinoo said:

Do they ever use what's called Tamari soy sauce, which I guess is the gluten-free version of soy?

 

Looking a little further, I guess it's more of a Japanese product.

 

Yes. Japanese. Not what I'm exploring here. I've already mentioned that there are gluten-free Chinese soy sauces.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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19 hours ago, heidih said:

I use to keep Perl River Bridge mushroom flavored soy in my pantry. Any opinion?

I pulled a bottle of exactly this out of my fridge last night, as I wanted to use some soy in a mushroom dish I was making and thought, hey - mushroom soy - great idea! But when I saw the ingredients included sugar, I decided against and just used some of that crazy soy I got from Mala.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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32 minutes ago, weinoo said:

How much do those soy sauces cost?

 

I see a date on the bottom of the bottom jar - I'm assuming that's the production date? Or maybe when they added the iron(why?)?

 

They were both around 10-12 yuan ($1.50 - $2 USD.)

Chinese food labelling normally gives the production date rather than a 'best before' or 'eat this and you'll die' date. Much more sensible.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 12/26/2020 at 1:44 PM, liuzhou said:

12.  Beijng Duck and Hoisin Sauce?

 

1992731492_BeijingDuck(1).thumb.jpg.a8e28417bf5db628b7ed34370818f7cf.jpg

 

Although Beijing duck (北京烤鸭) may be served with hoisin sauce (海鲜酱) in some restaurants (mainly American), it is not traditional. Hoisin sauce is Cantonese, as is the word 'hoisin' (in Mandarin, it's 'haixin'). When the first Beijing duck restaurant opened in Beijing in the Ming dynasty some 600 years ago, Guangdong (home to Cantonese food) was several weeks or months away from what is now the capital and its cuisine hardly known to the northerners.


Beijing's oldest surviving duck restaurants, including Bianyifang (便宜坊), established in 1855 and Quanjude (全聚德), esbalished 1864, still to this day serve their ducks the traditional way - with tianmian sauce (甜麵醬) aka sweet bean sauce, sweet flour sauce or sweet wheat paste.

 

tianmianjiang2.thumb.jpg.70a1885971a895594c0d59f65845e589.jpg

Tianmian Sauce

 

Now, I'm wondering if the confusion arose because hoisin and tianmian look similar and people were eating tianmian, but thinking it was hoisin. I don't know. Everywhere I have eaten Beijing duck here in China, it has come with tianmian sauce. The only substitute I have occasionally seen has been sweet plum sauce. Never hoisin.

 

 

I bought some "Peking Duck Sauce", and to me it tastes pretty similar to hoisin but better than many of the brands available here.

 

... and it goes pretty well on pierogies but not quite as good as mango chutney.

 

932952100535.jpg

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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2 hours ago, haresfur said:

 

I bought some "Peking Duck Sauce", and to me it tastes pretty similar to hoisin but better than many of the brands available here.

 

... and it goes pretty well on pierogies but not quite as good as mango chutney.

 

932952100535.jpg

 

What are the ingredients? It's not anything I've ever seen.

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22 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

What are the ingredients? It's not anything I've ever seen.

 

Sugar, water, soybean paste, modified tapioca starch, salt, MSG, garlic, caramel, spices

 

I didn't see anything labeled  tianmian sauce, at least in script I could read.

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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On 1/25/2021 at 8:18 AM, haresfur said:

 

Sugar, water, soybean paste, modified tapioca starch, salt, MSG, garlic, caramel, spices

 

I didn't see anything labeled  tianmian sauce, at least in script I could read.

 

I really have no idea what that is. Closer to hoisin than tianmian, which is made without soy, though. 

 

If it helps, the characters for tianmian sauce are either 甜面酱 or 甜麵醬.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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On ‎11‎/‎19‎/‎2020 at 8:08 AM, rotuts said:

@liuzhou 

 

thank you again for this thread.

 

add to it when you can.

 

thank you again.

I second this.  This is fantastic stuff liuzhou.   I really appreciate it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

14. The mysterious missing mustard sauce.

 

DSC02031.jpg.3d02a6ddbee87b59a447790ac2c62a41.jpg

Spring Rolls - 春卷 (chūn juǎn)

 

If you are American and plan on visiting China (when virus permits) you may be looking forward to enjoying your egg rolls with that yellow mustard condiment known as "Chinese Hot Mustard Sauce" as served in your local Lucky Bamboo.  I'm sorry to say you will be very disappointed.

 

First of all, as noted above, egg rolls aren't Chinese, but American. More importantly, "Chinese Hot Mustard Sauce" simply doesn't exist!

 

I only first heard of it a couple of days ago thanks to this topic here on eG.  I won't repeat the full conversation, but will sum up my viewpoint.

 

Apart from leaf mustard sold as a green vegetable, I have never seen mustard in any Chinese supermarket, store or market. No seeds; no powder; no paste; no sauce.

 

China's largest on-line shopping site Taobao doesn't list it. (They do have imported Dijon, whole grain mustard, American mustard etc at import prices - but nothing Chinese).

 

I have searched my copious collection of Chinese language recipe books. None mention mustard. My Chinese language dictionary of food terms does list 'mustard sauce' and informs me that it is English, invented in 1729 in Durham, and that there are French and Italian versions. That's it. No mention of it being used in Chinese cuisine.

 

None of my friends have heard of it.

 

It doesn't seem to exist outside of the USA. Certainly, I've never seen it in any Chinese restaurant in Asia or Europe.

 

Definitely belongs here among the other myths.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/25/2021 at 11:44 AM, Owtahear said:

I second this.  This is fantastic stuff liuzhou.   I really appreciate it.

I want to add my thanks and my appreciation for this topic and for all the great articles that you have brought to eGullet. You have introduced us to a China that most of us will never see and helped us to understand it's culture and its food. For me personally, it has been a real eye-opener. The best luncheon that I ever gave in my life was done with information that I have learned from you and with your guidance. Again, thank you for all your hard work.

Edited by Tropicalsenior
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@liuzhou, just out of perverse curiosity I search Amazon and there are indeed several "Chinese Mustards" or "Oriental Mustards" for sale. The comments are hilarious. Most people don't like these products because they don't taste like "real Chinese Mustard!"
 

Here is just one example: https://www.amazon.com/Ty-Ling-Mustard-Chinese-Hot/dp/B008VSYACW/ref=sr_1_13?

Edited by Katie Meadow (log)
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15. The Chinese Eat Live Fish

 

The internet is full of horror stories; YouTube has videos; PETA are up in hysterical arms! People in China are eating live fish! You can see the fish gasping for breath; you can see its eyes move. It's YinYang Fish - 阴阳鱼 (yīn yáng yú), sometimes called 'dead and alive fish'!

 

Except, it's all nonsense. The fish ain't still alive!

 

This is a dish of deep fried whole carp which is served with a sweet and sour sauce. Diners are either horrified or amused to see that the fish's mouth is still opening and closing and its eyes may move, too. They assume it must be alive!

 

Tell me how a fish that has been totally eviscerated and had chopsticks driven through its brain*, then deep fried, can possibly still be alive. What these diners are seeing is post-mortem muscular spasms - not signs of life!

 

Alternative names for the dish are 糖醋活鱼 (táng cù huó yú) and 呼叫鱼 (hū jiào yú). The first can translate as 'sweet and sour live fish' but (huó) also means 'moving'. Sweet and sour moving fish!' The second name means 'calling out fish' meaning it looks as though it's shouting for assistance - if it is, it is way too late!

 

People see what they want to see! For the Chinese diners, it is vaguely amusing; for the more gullible foreigners, it is torture!

 

Also, people often visit markets and see large fish heads sitting up on vendors' stalls opening and closing their mouths, then assume the decapitated heads are somehow still alive. Again, what they are seeing are post-mortem muscle spasms. These heads are from a type of carp known as Big Head Carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) - 大头鲢 dà tóu lián. These are used to make fishhead and tofu soup - 鱼头豆腐汤 (yú tóu dòu fu tāng)  - a delicious and popular dish.

 

1694285643_BigheadCarp2.thumb.jpg.b5fc0e979584186c15943041c68074da.jpg

Big Head Carp

 

The only dish I've ever been served (half) alive was drunken shrimp 醉虾 (zuì xiā) and that only once**. The Chinese have a strong aversion to eating anything raw - never mind still alive!

 

* A standard method of killing fish in China - death is instant.

** I had previously eaten this in Japan as Odori ebi - 踊り海老.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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57 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

Tell me how a fish that has been totally eviscerated and had chopsticks driven through its brain*, then deep fried, possibly be alive.


Nicely put 😉
 

57 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

What these diners are seeing is post-mortem muscular spasms - not signs of life!


But this intrigues me a little bit - I’d assume the deep frying would properly cook the flesh. I am not aware that denatured proteins still allow intramuscular ion flow (to cause the contractions) nor that they allow for the actual contraction to take place.

 

As I am not familiar with these movements: Is it a reversible thing, e.g. opening and closing of the mouth or is it a movement into a final fixed position (which could be the result of a last heat-induced contraction of the jaw muscles, cause by carry-over from the frying process) ?

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2 minutes ago, Duvel said:


Nicely put 😉
 


But this intrigues me a little bit - I’d assume the deep frying would properly cook the flesh. I am not aware that denatured proteins still allow intramuscular ion flow (to cause the contractions) nor that they allow for the actual contraction to take place.

 

As I am not familiar with these movements: Is it a reversible thing, e.g. opening and closing of the mouth or is it a movement into a final fixed position (which could be the result of a last heat-induced contraction of the jaw muscles, cause by carry-over from the frying process) ?

 

The heads aren't cooked;  the chef holds the fish by the head with the rest of the body in the hot oil (using appropriate equipment).

They open and close their mouths for a short time after serving - all the movement is in the head. I guess it may be heat related, but I'm not qualified to say.

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1 minute ago, liuzhou said:

 

The heads aren't cooked;  the chef holds the fish by the head with the rest of the body in the hot oil (using appropriate equipment).

They open and close their mouths for a short time after serving - all the movement is in the head. I guess it may be heat related, but I'm not qualified to say.


Thanks, then the spasms make sense to me !

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      Coming up next - the dried varieties available.
    • By liuzhou
      According to the 2010 census, there were officially 1,830,929 ethnic Koreans living in China and recognised as one of China’s 56 ethnic groups. The largest concentration is in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, in the north-east bordering - guess where – North Korea. They have been there for centuries. The actual number today is widely believed to be higher, with some 4 to 5 thousand recent refugees living there illegally.
       
      Anyway, what I have just taken delivery of is this Korean blood and glutinous rice sausage from Yanbian. I am an inveterate blood sausage fiend and always eager to try new examples from as many places as possible. I'll cook some tomorrow morning for breakfast and report back.
       

       

    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
       
      First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
       
      So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


       
      This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women, including her, wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
       
      Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
       

       
      Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
       

       
      As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
       
      The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
       

       
      The children don't get spared either
       

       
      This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
       
      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
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