Along the river bank in Liwan district travelers often snacked on local delicacies, including up until the seventies, congee prepared on shipboard. There used to be a substantial residency of boat people (Tanka) there, but that community is now mostly housed on land, and laws since then have tightened up restrictions on casual and possibly unsafe food preparation.
[Tanka (蜑家 'daan gaa'): Chinese ethnic group of non-Han origin, now largely genetically identical to their shore-dwelling fellow southerners. For centuries they lived on the water in small boats, and were considered not fit for human company. The discrimination they faced is largely a thing of the past, but there are still good reasons for them to elide over their descent when assimilating among other Chinese.]
Authorities have in recent years become more aware of issues regarding food safety and purity, and have pursued such matters with greater vigour than often in the past. All things considered, this is a good thing. Not too long ago an illegal factory producing 'floating skin' was busted, and the owner and his son jailed.
'Floating skin' (浮皮 'fu pe
i') is a type of crackling made from cleaned and dried porcine dermis, fried to puff it up (hence 'floating' on the surface of the hot oil), often added to food for a textural effect.
In this case hydrogen peroxide was used to bleach it, and sulfur was added to make it more 'airy'. The results were absolutely stellar.
Just not fit for human consumption.
"What on earth", I hear you asking, "is fried pigskin an ingredient in?"
Sampan rice porridge (艇仔粥 'ting-jai juk
'), of course!
Sampan porridge along with Mr. Deepwater Wu's porridge (伍湛記粥 'ng jaam kei juk
'), are two famous slick-textured rice-soups of Lychee Bay (Liwan 荔灣 'lai waan
'), outside Canton City proper, beyond West Gate (西關 'sai gwaan
[Note: the grapheme 伍 is pronounced "wu" in Mandarin, 'ng' in Cantonese.]
From what I've heard, in the 20s and 30s, rich opium-addled playboys would stumble home in the early morning hours after a night spent with sing-song girls, and refortify themselves with cheap delicious snackies.
[Sing -song girls (歌女): 近代的歌女, 古代則稱歌妓、謳者、或歌姬。]
After the war the rich opium-addled playboys and the sing-song girls were a thing of the past. But the rice porridge was still being made, and by that time boat people had brought the two dishes to Hong Kong, where there were numerous floating villages, notably Aberdeen (香港仔 'heung gong jai
On the mainland, the government decided that the aquatic life really stank (it did), and built housing developments for the Tanka. Since the eighties it is unlikely that anyone ate sampan jook other than on land.
In Hong Kong, commercial sampan style cooking has also largely disappeared from the water.
But sampan jook and Mr. Ng's specialty are still around.
They've gone entirely native, very popular.
Nothing is more Hong Kong.
荔灣艇仔粥 和 伍湛記三元及第粥
Lychee Bay Sampan Porridge and Deepwater Ng's Three Candidate Ranks Porridge
['lai waan ting-jai juk
' & 'ng jaam kei saam yuen kap tai juk
艇仔粥 ('TING JAI JUK') SAMPAN PORRIDGE
Sampan porridge nowadays almost by definition contains ingredients which years ago were optional add-ons. Originally it contained only fresh sliced fish and river shrimp, briefly poached in the hot gruel.
At present, everything including the kitchen sink is added: barbecued pork (叉燒 'cha siu
'), fresh fish collops (魚片 'yü pin
'), fresh sliced squid (魷魚須 'yau yü seui
'), floating skin (浮皮 'fu pei
'), jelly fish (海蜇 'hoi jit
'), and shredded egg threads (蛋絲 'daan si
'), all in equal quantities are added with shredded ginger (薑絲 'geung si
') and given sufficient time for the fish and squid to poach in the heat, which takes a minute or two of roiling boil (滾 'gwan
A lesser quantity of fried peanuts (炸花生 'jaa faa-sang
') and pok cheui crackers
(薄脆餅乾 'pok cheui beng gon
') is then thrown in, the porridge is briefly reboiled, then served up with minced cilantro (芫茜 'yuen sai
') and scallion (蔥 'chung
') strewn on top.
Fresh oilstick (油條 'yau tiu
') on the side.
For dipping or dumping in.
It's easy enough to make at home. Per serving, allow approximately two to three tablespoons of the pork, fish, squid, fried pork skin, and egg threads, slightly less than half that for the fried peanuts and pok cheui crackers.
The ginger, cilantro, and scallion are strictly to taste.
Which means generous, but not excess.
Charsiu can be bought at a Cantonese charcuterie, the fish and squid are found at several places on Stockton Street, the floating skin and pok cheui crackers also. Fried pork skin can be acquired at some butcher shops or on Mission Street, and shredded egg thread can be made at home by pouring well-beaten egg through a fine-holed ladle into boiling oil, or you can simple fry some dry egg noodle for an acceptably similar effect.
If you cannot find cilantro and scallion, you are manifestly not living in the civilized world. Please consider moving from the interior to the coast; other sentient beings live there.
Rice porridge made with clear fish stock is best for this dish.
Nice fresh fish makes a lovely sweet silky stock.
The porridge will be velvety.
三元及第粥 ('SAAM YUEN KAP TAI JUK') THREE CANDIDATE RANKS PORRIDGE
Indeed, an unusual name for a bowl of tasty rice soup! What the three candidate ranks reference in terms of this dish are pork meat balls (豬肉丸 'chyu yiuk yuen
'), sliced pork liver (豬肝片 'chyu gon pin
'), and pork chitlins (豬粉腸 'chyu fan cheung
'). Other significant contributors are dried bean curd stick (腐竹 'fu juk
' ), ginkgo (白果 'baak gwo
'), and a broth made largely of dried flounder (大地魚 'daai dei yü
[Three candidate ranks: 狀元 ('jong yuen'), "figuring first"; candidate who achieves the top score in the imperial literary exams. 榜眼 ('bong ngaan'), "placard eyes"; candidate who came in second. 探花 ('taam faa') "discovered flower"; candidate who came in third. Note that by their successes they outperformed thousands, tens of thousands, of other scholars.
Kap-tai (及第): to pass the exams.]
Ng Sham Kee is a famous restaurant, now in its third generation. It has been listed as a food-heritage location, and cooks everywhere claim that their version of the congee invented by Mr. Ng is as close to the original as it gets. Given that proportions and processes have mutated over the years, that is not an inaccurate boast for many of them.
Never the less, if you visit Guangzhou, you should probably visit 伍湛記粥品專家 ('ng jaam kei juk pan chuen-gaa
', simplified script: 伍湛记粥品专家) for the original taste.
I'm very fond of kap tai jook, even though it can prompt a mild attack of gout, especially if scored kidney slices (豬腰片) are also added for extra goodness. It becomes kind of a delightful nightmare in a bowl at that point, but the inevitable dreaded big toe ache will not stop my immediate gustatory pleasure.
It's worth looking for in Chinatown. There are several places where it is offered, but the best version is probably at the Utopia Cafe on Waverly between Clay and Washington, right in the centre of the neighborhood.
You can also get sampan porridge there.
蔘滿意粥 UTOPIA CAFE
139 Waverly Place, San Francisco, CA 94108.
[Saam Mun-Yi Juk.]
They also do stellar fresh to-order yau tiu (油條), as well as milk-tea.
Jook, yau tiu, and a cup of hot gong-sik naai cha (港式奶茶) are, together, the mid-afternoon snack of champions.
APPENDIX 'A' : LYCHEE BAY
Liwan district (荔灣區 'lai waan keui') was formerly named Sai Gwaan (西關) after the city gate there. Liwan means 'lychee bay', sai gwaan is 'western frontier-gate'. It is outside of Canton City proper, on the bank of the Pearl River (珠江 'jyu gong
'), facing Shameen Island (沙面島 'saa min dou
'), where the British and the French held concessions. Its furthest extent is West Village (西村 'sai chuen
'). The remnants of old architecture and canals make it a popular tourist destination, and it is also known for fine food and manifestations of culture.
Prosperous establishments, shophouses, and boat people hutchments existed side by side.
The phrase 東村、西俏、南富、北貧 ('dong chuen, sai chiu, naam fuk, pak pan
') about Canton and its immediate environs means that there are villages to the east, charm in the west, prosperity southwards, and destitution in the northern area.
Lychee (荔枝) is the fruit of a subtropical evergreen tree native to the rainforests, that reaches several storeys in height. It has been cultivated for several centuries. The blossoms are small, white or pale yellow-green, and peculiarly fragrant.
APPENDIX 'B': FLOATING SKIN
Not only the Cantonese use fried pig skin as an ingredient, it is also common elsewhere in China, and crispy chicharron is popular on Mission Street and in the snack-food aisle of many supermarkets.
A well-known Szechuanese dish (雙仁浮皮 'seung yan fu pei
') combines pork skin with cashews and gingko nut, braised with carrots, snow peas, and slivered ginger.
APPENDIX 'C': TYPES OF JOOK
Rice porridge (congee, jook) is comfort food, convenience food, and home food, in addition to being popular from before breakfast time till late night after partying.
For your reading pleasure, here's a short list.
鮑魚粥 ('baau yü juk
'): abalone rice porridge.
鮑魚滑雞粥 ('baau yü kwat kai juk
'): abalone and chicken rice porridge.
柴魚花生粥 ('chai-yü faa-sang juk
'): dried fish and fried peanuts rice porridge.
猪肝粥 ('chyu gon juk
'): pork liver rice porridge.
猪骨滚生粥 ('chyu gwat gwan saang juk
'): pork bone poached rice porridge; a selection of fresh and dried mushrooms with ham cooked in a rice porridge made on a basis of pork broth.
豬紅粥 ('chyu hong juk
'): rice porridge with cubes of gelled pig's blood.
豬肚肉片粥 ('chyu tou yiuk pin juk
'): pork liver, tripe, and fresh pork slices rice porridge.
豬潤粥 ('chyu yeun juk
'): pig gloss jook, an alternative name for rice porridge with pork liver.
豬什粥 ('chyu sap juk
'): pig whatevers jook; miscellaneous pork oddments rice porridge.
帶子粥 ('daai-ji juk
'): "belt jook"; scallops porridge.
火鴨粥 ('fo ngaap juk
'): rice porridge with roast duck.
滑雞粥 ( 'gwat kai juk
'): chicken chunks (often bone-in) rice porridge.
虾粥 ('haa juk
'): fresh shrimp and cilantro rice porridge.
香菇肉鬆粥 ('heung gu ngau song juk
'): black mushrooms and pork floss rice porridge.
蠔豉瘦肉粥 ('ho si sau yiuk juk
'): dried oysters and lean pork rice porridge.
海胆粥 ('hoi daam juk
'): sea urchin rice porridge.
海產粥 ('hoi chaan juk
'): mixed seafoods rice porridge; shrimp, clams or mussels, and squid.
海参粥 ('hoi saam juk
'): sea cucumber rice porridge, made with dried holothurid.
海鮮粥 ('hoi sin juk
'): mixed fresh seafood porridge.
雞球粥 ('kai kau juk
'): chicken rice porridge.
羅漢粥 ('lo hon juk
'): Arhat ("Luo Han") rice porridge; a luxurious vegetarian preparation made with carrots, bamboo shoots, dried mushrooms, wood ear, straw mushrooms, and white fungus.
牡蠣粥 ('maau lai juk
'): fresh oysters rice porridge with pork and garlic.
銀耳粥 ('ngan yi juk
'): white fungus rice porridge, mildly tonifying.
北菇雞球粥 ('pak gu kai kau juk
'): black mushroom and chicken porridge.
皮蛋牛肉粥 ('pei dan ngau yiuk juk
'):preserved egg and beef porridge.
皮蛋瘦肉粥 ('pei dan sau yiuk juk
'): preserved egg and lean pork rice porridge.
三黄粥 ('saam wong juk
'): three yellows porridge; soy bean, sweet potato, and millet gruel, served with a little golden sugar. Very good for you!
生滾蝦球粥 ('sang gwan ha kau juk
'): jook with fresh shrimp cooked by the heat of the porridge.
生滾牛肉粥 ('sang gwan ngau yiuk juk
'): rice porridge with sliced beef poached in the hot gloop.
生滾肉片粥 ('sang gwan yiuk pin juk
'): jook with sliced pork cooked by the heat of the porridge.
蝦球帶子粥 ('sin haa daai-ji juk
'): fresh shrimp and scallop porridge.
爽滑肉丸粥 ('song gwat yiuk yuen juk
'): rice porridge with pork meat balls.
碎牛粥 ('sui ngau juk
'): rice porridge with minced beef.
田雞粥 ('tin kai juk
'): fresh frog rice porridge.
窩蛋免治牛粥 ('wo dan min ji ngau juk
'): nested egg evading control cow jook; minced beef and egg porridge.
魚片粥 ('yü pin juk
'): fish curls rice porridge.
魚片豬紅粥 ('yü pin chyu hong juk
'): sliced fish and pork blood porridge.
魚片皮蛋粥 ('yü pin pei dan juk
'): preserved egg and sliced fish porridge.
魚片瘦肉粥 ('yü pin sau yiuk juk
'): sliced fish and pork porridge.
My personal favourites are abalone and chicken congee (鮑魚滑雞粥) and preserved egg and lean pork congee (皮蛋瘦肉粥).
[For baau yü juk, this recipe: 鮑魚粥.]
Of course, there's always 白粥 ('baak juk
'): plain rice porridge.
AFTER THOUGHT I
Not only the two types of rice porridge mentioned above are famous dishes originating in Liwan, there's also "glass won ton" (玻璃雲吞 'bo lei wan tan
'): a shrimp dumpling in a dough wrapper of such lightness that it appears transparent after cooking.
The broth is a refined decoction of dried flounder (roasted before use) and blanched pig bones, simmered and enriched with fresh meat and re-simmered.
I've heard of it, but have never seen it.
Yes, I am keenly curious.
AFTER THOUGHT II
This was going to be a very short post. It kind of grew.
Food posts do that.
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