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The masses regard food as their prime want. (1) The Chinese look upon eating as the most important thing of all. Over the past several thousand years, the Chinese have eaten almost everything with legs, apart from tables and chairs. They have also invented many unusual dishes. Even when presented with the same ingredients they will have many different ways of eating them. So today we’ll talk about several kinds of eggs peculiar to China.
My favourite snack is called ‘tea eggs’. You can buy ‘tea eggs’ at roadside stalls You can smell them cooking from far off. ‘Tea eggs’ are boiled with tea and soya sauce. The shells are split open and in this way pleasant decorative patterns are left behind on the surface of the egg.
‘Tea eggs’ are a kind of snack whereas ‘salted duck egg’ can be used in the preparation of other dishes. The taste of ‘salted duck egg’ is of course salty. ‘Salted duck egg’ is a type of food that has been preserved by salting. The best part of ‘salted duck egg’ is not the egg white but rather the yolk. The yolks of ‘salted duck eggs’ are red in colour and the taste is very strong and delicious. In the past, for breakfast I used to like eating congee while scooping out bits of the duck egg to eat. The yolks of ‘salted duck eggs’ also appear in zongzi (2) and in moon cakes.
As for the most peculiar egg dish, one cannot leave out preserved eggs. Preserved eggs are also called ‘pidan’. ‘Pidan’ in English translation are ‘thousand year old eggs’ because ‘pidan’ look like they’ve been put aside for a very long time. The colour of ‘pidan’ is indeed not pleasant. The outside resembles a brown jelly and the inside is a thick creamy liquid of a dark blue-green colour. The outside of ‘pidan’ have markings that resemble pine needles. These markings are produced naturally as part of the cookng process. The more markings on the egg, the better the egg. For foreigners who may never have seen ‘pidan’, I can completely understand it if you feel sick at the sight of these eggs. But for Chinese, ‘pidan’ are very much a delicacy. ‘Pidan’ can be eaten as they are, they can be mixed with tofu to make the famous Shanghainese dish ‘pidan tofu’ or they can also be added to congee to make the famous Cantonese dish ‘pidan pork congee’.
1. A set phrase.
2. Pyramid-shaped dumpling of glutinous rice wrapped in reed leaves.
by Robert Budzul