For those who love both poetry and pork, the recitation and the recipe, Dongpo Rou’s silken layers hold a potent blend of both. This famous dish of Hangzhou, a city tucked near where the Qiantang River spills into the Yangtze Delta of eastern China, is named for its creator, the celebrated Chinese poet, Su Shi. Also known as Su Dongpo, he gave his name to the much-loved dish.
Stories are still told of how he forgot his simmering pork while playing chess or of the misunderstanding among his servants when he called for pork with wine. He was thinking a nice cup of spirits; they were thinking boozy stew. I like to think that while the pork belly simmered gently in wine and soy sauce and spices, the poet-cook composed or recite an afternoon’s worth of verse.
Once a month or so, my mother sends me a box from home filled with food. The last one, timed perfectly for lunar new year, included a batch of rice cakes. Before I even saw them, though, I knew there was treasure buried somewhere deep beneath her homemade peanut brittle, gingery mustard pickles from the last greens in her garden and bags of candied coconut used as packing material. The distinctive green-tea aroma of banana leaves had emerged as soon as the packing tape was cut.
I’ve always wondered why street food was not as popular in the US. And then I started trying to understand health codes, land use policy, business permits, tax laws, risk management briefs, and sidewalk obstruction ordinances. I soon lost my appetite. The confusion was enough to make me give up on ever enjoying hot rice cakes while sitting on a plastic stool leaned up against a park wall or discovering the best roasted yams ever at the entrance to a post office. Continue reading “Eating Space: Food in the Open”
On display through the wonderful internets are hundreds upon thousands of photographs of everyday lunches. No soggy PB&J’s here, though. One forum, the Mr. Bento Porn Flickr group, posts their collective creative efforts to make mid-day meals visually appealing, healthful, delicious and, yes, a little easier on the wallet. Their cousin site, Diet Bento, includes impressively low calorie counts for those whose 2008 resolutions (for now at least) include trimming down a little of their own belly fat.
Portable meals have been with us for as long as farmers have trudged off to their fields and soldiers have marched on in war. The Japanese took it a little further, of course. Where other countries preferred banana leaves or woven baskets, Japanese al fresco diners preferred compartmentalized boxes. By the 17th century, bento meals became elaborately arranged celebrations of the full moon and cherry blossoms, a leisurely way to enjoy intermission with friends at the theatre or, like the older form of sushi, essential food for travelers in an age before planes and bullet trains.