One of the Chinese Four Masters, Ni Zan (Yuan Zhen 1301 - 1374) is known for his paintings during the Yuan and early Ming Dynasties. Born in Wuxi, Ni Zan’s family was wealthy. They were able to afford the Confucian education that ignited his imagination and developed his talents in painting and scholarship. He travelled extensively during the political upheaval of the late Yuan Dynasty. It was during this time that he developed his unique style that incorporates tight landscapes and shuns portraiture of people.
So why would a food researcher be interested in this man?
Ni Zan was noted for his opinionated lifestyle; and one thing that he seems to have been particularly dogmatic about was how his household was run. He wrote a household manual titled “Yún líntáng yǐnshí zhìdù jí” (Cloud Forest Hall Dietary System). Within this document are fifty-three recipes. A majority of these are how to cook his food. There are also a few interesting recipes on ink preparation, ink stone care, and incense making.
I am aware of two English translations. The first was published in 1998 in Petit Propos Culinarie volume 60. It is a translation and commentary by Teresa Wang and E.N. Anderson. Anderson is known for other works on Eastern food and foodways such as The Food of China.
Petit Propos Culinarie volume 61 published Francoise Sabban’s ‘Some Remarks about the Translation of Yun Lintang Yinshi Zhidu Ji Published in PPC60”. Sabban questioned several of Wang/Anderson’s translations and inferences. This set of remarks is a good addition to the original publication.
The second full translation has only just been published by the scholar, Alec Story, on his blog, Medieval Sundries, in 2018. Story has returned to the Chinese manuscript and fully translated it. His dedication to the translation is evident and has illuminated several issues I had with the original translation.
The primary problem of an English-speaking food studies researcher that does not read Chinese is getting a reliable copy of this work in English. Having these three resources has opened my ability to make better decisions in my assumptions during my redactions.
As I continue with my redactions, I will be referring to both full translations. Both works number the recipes slightly differently and have translated the titles differently. To standardise my redactions, I will refer to both names and numbers. The translations most often give will be those of Story as he has made his work free and has licensed it under the Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
So, that was a fast year. And I do realize that I never updated about the class. It did happen. There was a lot of fun, laughter, and food. I even remember writing a blog post about it while I was waiting for my daughter at one point. If I can find the handwritten copy, I will post it.
Over the year and a bit between then and now, I have been having a life outside of Mongolian Food study. I know, I know. I should be ashamed. I am.
To that end, I am going to try to make up for it. I am excited to say that I have set myself a challenge. [Cue ominous music]
An amazing person named Alec Story has translated the Ni Tsan household book into English. This gives me two full translations of the work to play with; along with notes on the Wang and Anderson translation. I thought that it might be kind of fun to redact as many of the recipes as I can from this work. The Story translation is CC cleared to work with on my site.
Can you guess what I am about to say?
Yes, I am going to redact and post the recipes here. I am planning on posting one or two recipes a month, so this is a long term project.
Hopefully, you will find this interesting and useful. Let me know.
On Sunday, 16 April 2017, Master Drake Morgan and I are giving a class on Mongolian Cooking. I will be posting a blog about the class (assuming we actually have students) once I return from Festival. So, stay tuned.
For those who could not attend the class, we offer our class handout. In it you will find a bit of information about redacting Yuan Dynasty foods and the redactions for 'BBQ Pork', "Yellow Bird Buns', 'Cow's Milk Buns', 'Eggplant Manta', and - for the first time - we have included the original recipe for 'Seu Soup' (lovingly called 'Lamb Jam' around the traps) which we will be using as a recipe to redact in the class. I will update with our recipe in a future blog.
As of 2015, Raw Apricot Kernels are no longer legally sold in Australia nor New Zealand. Food Standards Australia New Zealand reviewed the dangers associated with the kernels and decided that there was too high a potential for sickness and/or death to allow for the continued sale of this product.
This was likely an over-cautious response to a food that has not been linked to a large number of Australia/New Zealand reported issues. In fact, as of March 2017, there have been only two recorded cases of cyanide poisoning in Australia (and none in New Zealand) linked to apricot kernels. However, whether you feel that apricot kernels pose a threat to humans or not, they are not available.
Apricot kernel is one of the unique flavours in medieval Mongolian cooking. It adds a bitter, fruity zest to dishes and is one of the surprising tastes in redactions using it. In an effort to achieve a similar flavour, using commonly available items, I ran a taste test. Below is my write up. If you want to skip to 'what to use', my substitutions are located on page 5.
I recently made Muslim Beans for our household BBQ. I figured that I should take some photos to add to the blog and to address a few questions I have had regarding the adaptation. I am going to include the actual recipe that I used (it includes reduced amounts from the other recipe). If you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or email me. ~ Natal’ia
2 Tsaoko Cardamom
1 cup Chickpeas – dry
50g Mushrooms – mild flavoured (weights are for fresh)
1 Onion – brown or white (small sized)
2 Tablespoons Oil (for frying onion and mushroom)
1/2 teaspoon Apricot Kernel Paste
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 cup Mint Leaves (chopped)
1/4 cup Coriander Leaves (chopped)
1 teaspoon Rice Wine Vinegar
1 pinch Salt
Answering your questions:
Steamed Rice (adapted from ‘Grain Foods of the Early Turks’ by Charles Perry – Appendix 2, A Soup of the Qan)
“grain fried in butter,” from qagurmaq, “to fry.” This word has survived in scattered locations, with some shifting of meaning (“rice porridge with carrots and raisins” as well as the original sense in modern Uighur, “fried wheat bread” in Turkmen). In Osmanli it applies to fried maize, lentils etc. In the northern Caucasus it is said to mean popcorn. DL: qawurmac, “dish of wheat fried in butter”; qogurmac, “fried wheat.” KI: qawurmac, “fried grain.”
Borrowings: apparently none. (The widely borrowed word qawurma is not a grain food but a dish of fried meat: e.g., Urdu korma.)
“grain boiled with milk.” The Chuvash word pata, as well as the form in which the word was borrowed in Mongol (buda’an) and Jürchen (puh-tu-kuai), suggest that butqa was originally pronounced something like butaqa. In the Northeastern Group, butqa means meal boiled with milk; in the Southwest and Mid- Central languages it is a rice porridge, and in the Central Northwest languages a porridge or puree. If the Yakut word butugas is from this root (perhaps with the addition of a suffix -c which is otherwise only seen in the common food-name suffix -mac), this word may antedate the knowledge of grain. Butugas is a Yakut soup. It is made from thickened yogurt enriched with ground roots, pine needles and animal bones (which lactic acid eventually disintegrates). The thickened and then frozen yogurt is called tar (appropriately enough) and the butugas is made from it. TZ: butqa, “rice cooked with milk.”
Borrowings: The original meaning of buda’an in Mongolian is said to have been “thickened soup”; modern Khalkha Mongolian knows the meanings “groats, millet groats, grain, porridge.” The Tuva (Northeast) have adopted the Mongol form of the word with this meaning. The Ordos Mongols of China use budaa to mean “noodles.” The book MA records words in fourteenth century Western Mongolian as well as Turkish, and apparently the Western Mongols were using the expression eckäksän budaan, “sliced budaan,” for noodles. The modern Buriat Mongols use budaa for “groats,” budaan for “barley.” This word was borrowed by Manchu-Tungus languages at an early date. The Jürchens, who ruled North China as the Jin Dynasty, used puh-tu-kuai for “rice.” In Manchu buda means “porridge, boiled dishes in general, mealtime” and in the languages of the Manchu-Tungus family spoken on Sakhalin Island and the lower Amur it means “millet” or “groats.”
Rationale for redaction: We have several sources of documented evidence in period that the Mongol/Chinese ate rice. I currently lack an actual reference stating explicitly how they made the dish. As we wanted to have at least one carbohydrate that people were familiar with, we went with rice.
Ingredients: (I have downsized this recipe for 10)
5 cups basmati rice
10 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
5 cardamom pods – cracked
5 cloves – cracked
Cooked Millet (adapted from ‘Grain Foods of the Early Turks’ by Charles Perry – Appendix 2, A Soup of the Qan)
“boiled grain dish.” This word is found in Northern Altai (E) with the meanings “thickened soup” and “barley.” In Salar (Kansu Province, China), it means “whole wheat porridge.” In Kazakh it is grain, sometimes fried, pounded and then boiled in soup or milk. In Kirgiz (Mid-Central) it is millet or wheat groats; in the Talas dialect of Kirgiz, noodles. TZ: “groats.”
Borrowings: The Persian-speaking Tajiks of Central Asia have borrowed this word as the name of a dish of groats boiled with sorghum flour and flavored with yogurt. The word was known in Medieval Osmanli, and Byzantinists have occasionally derived it from the Greek kokkion, seed. Needless to say, the antiquity of the word, its concentration among the Northeastern languages and its presence in China rule this derivation out.
Rationale for redaction: The annals of many travellers mention, ad nauseam, the use of boiled millet in various forms as a staple of the Mongol diet in period. Millet is not often experienced by the average Australian and so we added this dish as something novel that is both tasty and filling. It was also my hope to introduce a new food to the guests that they might think about including in their normal diet.
6 kilos hulled, food-grade millet
Water (double the number of cups of the millet)
3 kilos Brown Onion – finely chopped
1 kilo Salted Butter
Fried Bread (adapted from ‘Grain Foods of the Early Turks’ by Charles Perry – Appendix 2, A Soup of the Qan)
“rich dough fried in small pieces.” This snack is found throughout Central Asia, where it is taken with tea or carried by travelers as a provision for the road. The Osmanli and Northeastern forms may be borrowings. The Tatars make this product coin-shaped, the Bashkirs bun-like, the Uzbeks ball-shaped. The Kazakhs, who as nomads have great use for road food, have the greatest variety of forms, round, square, oval, and triangular, and make leavened as well as unleavened versions. The fluctuation of the first vowel may reflect folk etymologies connecting this word with bogrug “bulge (in a milk sack, e.g.),” and bagïrsaq “entrails.” TZ: bursaq, “bread; a Tatar word.”
Borrowings: This word is widespread in the Mongolian languages. Khalkha: “rich dough fried in thick cakes; bread, pastry.” Ordos: “cake, bread.” Kalmyk: “thin bread fried in butter.” The Persian speakers of Afghanistan leaven the dough but do not allow it to rise, and roll the lumps of dough on a sieve to impress a pattern of indentations in them. This word has been adopted in western Siberia by Vogul and in Afghanistan by Yaghnobi.
Rationale for modification of redaction: So, fried bread. What can I say about this dish? It is so popular with some of my friends that I make it just as a treat from time to time. For the event we did the quick version of this and used oil rather than animal fat to fry it so that we could feed it to everyone who was not gluten intolerant or vegan (this has yeast in it).
Store-bought white, leavened bread mix
Amounts of ingredients are dependent on how much you are making.
Sunday came and I headed out to the farm to see if the new bandsaw was up to the task of the saddle. I think that it will be easiest to show you the outcome than tell you. So, I have included a few photos.
So, yes, the bandsaw was able to do the first cut; however, it does not have the depth to cut some of the angles and I will need to use a hack saw (or some other hand saw) to rough out these parts.
Next weekend I will going back to do the first cuts of the side boards. We did not check the machine's depth to see if I will have to hand saw the side boards as well. I guess I will find that out next weekend.
After I get the rough cuts done I will then need to sand the pieces.
Natalia Vladimirova 'doch enjoys travel and learning about new cultures. She has a fascination with deciphering old recipes and trying to redact them to be used by modern cooks. Mongolian history and food is one of Natalia's favourite areas of study. She also has interest in the medieval lands of Arabia, the Vikings, and the Slavic States.