Chapter 239: Sichuan Poached Fish in Chilli Oil
Translated by Gumihou
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Time flew by as the two men became engrossed with their painting. Who knew how much time has passed when they were alerted by noises coming from the people downstairs. Duan Tingxuan frowned, “Just what is happening downstairs? What’s with all that noise?”
Li Qiushan gave a bitter smile and said, “My lord, ah. This is the 6th hour since madam has started cooking Buddha Jumps over the Wall. It’s already past noon. Not only the people, even the dozen or so judges, are getting rather grouchy due to hunger. One of the judges could not stand his hunger anymore and drank two pots of tea. He had gone back and forth to the toilet quite a few times by now.”
Duan Tingxuan was surprised by this, “Why would they not eat? It’s not like we’re asking them to starve themselves.”
Li Qiushan said, “Apparently, they treat these kinds of competitions very seriously. Before the tasting session, all of them only had a bowl of thin congee in the morning and did not eat after cleaning out their mouths. The reason being that they were afraid that it would affect their judgement later.”
Duan Tingxuan and Long Pingzhang were struck dumb by this revelation. After a long while, His Excellency Long nodded and said, “Everything else aside, we must at least respect the spirit and attitude of these judges.”
Duan Tingxuan cleared his throat, “You go and check with the madam, find out when the food would be done and why it is taking so long. Last time, it took her barely four hours to finish the whole thing. Oh yes, if madam says that it will take more time, inform these esteemed judges that the lord heir and His Excellency Long are also enduring starvation with them.”
Li Qiushan accepted the task and ran off to the kitchen. He came back with a bitter look on his face, “Madam says that it would take at least another hour and scolded us for being thoughtless. Aih! This is a miscalculation on my part, ah. If I had known that it would take such a long time, I’d have prepared some refreshing drinks and melon seeds for sale. It would probably sell like hotcakes among those people down there. Though the money earned might not be much, we could still get at least a few dozen silver taels from it. It’s a terrible miscalculation on my part, ah!”
He was sighing to himself and shaking his head as he made his way downstairs to convey the ‘grievous news’ to the poor hungry judges. Long Pingzhang and Duan Tingxuan exchanged a look, unsure what to say when a loud voice penetrated their contemplation.
“Melon seeds! Melon seeds and water for sale!”
The two looked over the balcony and saw people milling through the dense crowd selling water and snacks. They could not help but laugh and commented, “As expected of Lin Qing, a prosperous town with merchants from all four directions certainly do not lack flexible minds!”
The two continued with their painting as time flew by. The promised hour soon passed them by. During this stressful waiting period, Long Pingzhang was struck by another headache but was rewarded with the memory of the emperor’s appearance. He even remembered the face and name of the eunuch in charge of general duties who was always by the emperor’s side.
At the end of the promised hour, all ten dishes were done. Li Qiushan brought seven or eight tall, strong men to the kitchen. Four of them carried the two large wine jars to the largest private dining room on the second floor. The remaining dishes were put into food boxes, its contents to be revealed when the judges arrived. Manager Li proudly lead the procession of jars and food boxes, with his chest puffed up, and an arrogant look on his face.
Duan Tingxuan and Long Pingzhang were about to join in the fun when Chu Xiu ran over to them. She was all smiles as she said, “Sister told me that there’s no need for us to make trouble at the second floor. After all, what’s the fun in watching others eat while we stay hungry? Just let An Le Lou and Fu Sheng Xiang settle the grudge between themselves. Manager Li can oversee the matter by himself. She said to come and have a bit of lunch, we have reserved some of the dishes in the kitchen, so please come while it’s still hot.”
This suited them both very well, right now they could not be bothered with petty sayings like ‘A Gentlemen Stays Away from the Kitchens’ or other such nonsense. They hurried after Chu Xiu to the third floor where the kitchen was situated. When they finally stepped through to the kitchen, they were greeted by the sight of a table filled with dazzling dishes. The little marquis’ mouth began to water. He had to swallow twice before saying, “Ever since we left Suzhou, I haven’t had a decent meal truly made by you. At last, I can eat heartily… Yi? What’s this red dish? It’s really beautiful, like white snow on a jewelled pond. Yes, I know this scent. It’s the chilli peppers that you found… but, how many chilli peppers is in this one dish? A dozen?”
Su Nuan Nuan smiled, “Just about. Ah, my heart ached just thinking about it. However, don’t mind it, I have saved all the seeds, so we can plant more next year. We’ll have more chilli peppers in summer. Today, for the sake of making An Le Lou the No.1 Restaurant in the World, I pulled out all the stops.”
With that, she personally picked up a piece of fish with her chopsticks and placed it in Duan Tingxuan’s bowl. Her smile was winsome as she said, “Have a taste. This is the Sichuan Poached Fish in Chilli Oil that I’ve been talking about. It’s something you’ve never had before. Though it’s a little spicy, I think you can still take it. No need to be afraid.”
“En, en, en, alright, I’ll try it.” The little marquis was beaming with joy at being so lovingly served by his wife. He carefully picked up the fish and took a bite. He uncharacteristically chewed over the mouthful thoughtfully, next, he fished out a few pieces of fish meat from a bowl of fish soup and swallowed those down in one go. Finally, he sighed and cried out, “Excellent! The spiciness is too excellent! To think that Sichuan Pepper and Chilli Pepper would match so perfectly with each other.
The initial spiciness from the Chilli Pepper is almost unbearable at first, but then, it turned into this incredible fragrance in my mouth. And this fish, the spicy flavour has permeated through its soft and supple flesh and cooked over high heat preserved its tender and slippery texture. How delicious, ah. What a rare delicacy this is. Who knows if those judges downstairs would know enough to fully understand the great delicacy that lies before them?”
Long Pingzhang and Chu Xiu had never tasted Chilli Peppers before and were currently sniffing cautiously at the fish dish. Chu Xiu whispered, “I don’t think I quite understand what the lord heir is talking about. But my tongue is all numb now, and I don’t feel like there’s anything especially delicious about it? Brother A-Niu, do you think this is delicious?”
Long Pingzhang said, “I can’t tell whether it’s delicious or not delicious. The fish certainly is very slippery and fresh, but this flavour is too overpowering. It felt like my entire mouth is on fire, but oddly enough, even though I don’t feel good eating it, I can’t stop eating. Somehow, the spicier it is, the more I want to eat it?”
Su Nuan Nuan laughed out loud, “Hahaha, there’s your masochistic tendency revealing itself.” When Long Pingzhang looked at her uncomprehendingly, she grinned and explained, “Oh, nothing. I was just joking earlier. I can tell that you’re someone who really likes Chilli Peppers, I’m afraid after a few more bites you’d get addicted to the sensation. You’re right in saying that this flavour is incredibly overpowering. Who knows whether the panel of judges would be able to take it, otherwise, as Tingxuan said, it would certainly be a waste.”
She had just mentioned this when a thunder of cheers echoed through the restaurant. They poked their heads out of the kitchen, and was in time to smell the strong fragrance of thick soup made with quality stewed meat and heard the chorus of ‘So fragrant!’ and ‘What dish is this?’ coming up from the downstairs dining hall. The people on the upper floor slipped back into the kitchen and exchanged knowing smiles with each other. Clearly, the lids have been taken off the jars of the Buddha Jumps over the Wall. While it is unrealistic to think that the smell would travel ten li, it could probably reach someone five li away on a downwind.
Back at the kitchen, Chu Xiu took advantage of the moment when the little marquis and Long Pingzhang were busy battling each other over the rapidly emptying plate of Sichuan Poached Fish to seize her favourite pork belly and goat meat from the bowl containing Buddha Jumps over the Wall. As she squirmed and giggled with satisfaction, she saw Su Nuan Nuan looking over with apprehensive eyes, “Little sister, if you eat so much meat, you’ll get fat easily.”
Chu Xiu stuck out her tongue and giggled embarrassedly, “It’s just too delicious, just let me eat as much as I like, please? Once we reach the Capital, who knows when I’ll be able to eat elder sister’s cooking.
[Gumihou: Hmm, this is interesting. Normally Buddha Jumps over the Wall takes 6 to 12 hours of stewing. The meat and bones used for the soup are then discarded, leaving the soup which is used to simmer the ‘precious ingredients’ (shark fin, abalone, etc). Considering Nuan Nuan’s 25kg jar, I’d have expected her to cook it for 24 hours… She must have gone with the route where the fresh meat is eaten and bones nibbled on instead of discarded. I’m fine with the short method, who wants to waste all that duck, pork, chicken etc after all?]
Translated by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.
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