A Rotten Tale
July 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
As a lover of fermentation and its mythology, I loved this anecdote from renowned cookbook author and memorist Fuschia Dunlop:
Shaoxingers explain their predilection for stinking foods by recounting an appalling legend. Two and a half millennia ago, when Shaoxing was the capital of the state of Yue, it was defeated in battle by the neighbouring state of Wu, and its king was taken there as a slave. During his three years of captivity, so they say, the Wu king succumbed to a mysterious illness. No one could work out what was wrong with him until the Yue king offered a diagnosis after tasting his captor’s excrement. And so the Wu king was cured, and in his gratitude he released his prisoner. But when the Yue people heard about the disgusting task their king had been made to perform, they wept bitter tears, and decided they should eat their rice with stinking foods to mark their humiliation.
The story is from a wonderful Financial Times article about a restaurant dedicated to fermented foods in Shaoxing (yes, the birthplace of the rice wine), where rotted amaranth stalks (mei xian cai gen) are one of the house specialities. If you haven’t read them yet, check out either one of these essential Dunlop cookbooks and guides to cuisine.