18 (Fri) December 2020
Beggars’ Food for Yuin-Fah
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (25) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 99 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922 – leading up to the 100th winner to be announced next year – I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal, literally give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1933) by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, illustrated by William Low. Set in the 1920s, the book is about Fu Yuin-Fah and his experiences growing up in Chungking as a coppersmith apprentice. Major challenges faced by China during these times – nationalism, modernization, globalization – are seen through his impressionable eyes.
The book was okay. The story unfolds episodically, each chapter containing a new encounter that teaches Young Fu yet another life lesson.
Throughout the book, however, I was annoyed by the corny dialogue that sounds like it came from a poorly dubbed kung fu flick:
In a flash, the two men, their faces white with anger, were after each other.
“Pig, have you no eyes?”
“And you, grandson of a two-headed dog, could you now see that trunk?”
“It is your affair, you whose ancestors for ten generations have been scavengers of the streets, to look where you place a load!”
“And it is yours, whose grandmother resembled a monkey, to move out of the way of workers!”
A classic example of cultural appropriation, the author was an American missionary who worked in China for several years, which inspired her to write many books with chinky titles like “Ho-Ming, Girl of New China” and “To Beat a Tiger, One Needs a Brother’s Help.” Even “Young Fu” sounds chinky. Though in the 1903s, she was probably regarded as very enlightened for exposing American readers to such exotic tales.
Another major bummer, at least for GMTD, was that it doesn’t go into any detail about food – very disappointing for a book that takes place in China. Meals are mentioned regularly – for example, when the workers in the shop discuss town gossip over lunch – but never much what the meals consist of. Towards the end of the book, one of the smiths gets married and invites everyone to a wedding feast – I’m thinking, “Okay, finally, here we go…” – but then Young Fu is trusted with the great responsibility of staying behind to guard the shop on his own, so he eats sweet potatoes.
[paraphrased in part]
A food vendor selling roasted sweet potatoes halted before him. “Beggars’ food,” but good! He threw the man a cash and designated the largest on the trap topping the portable oven. The vendor moved on, and Young Fu tore open the steaming, golden heart. He thought of the delicacy they would have at Tsu’s feast. His head lifted – he would rather be here!
I’m certain that a Chinese writer would’ve written more on food.
Goguma (고구마) is a sweet potato.
I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes in general. Don’t like the mush. Don’t like the sweet. Prior to this evening, I cannot recall the last time that I had eaten one. Sweet potatoes have never been featured in GMTD, not even as a side ingredient.
It’s something of a cultural stereotype that old Korean women sit around gossiping and eating roasted sweet potatoes. W, who’s not yet an old Korean woman, already loves to sit around gossiping and eating roasted sweet potatoes with her friends. The other day, I came home after work to find the boys eating roasted sweet potatoes while watching TV – “What are you, old Korean women?!?!”
The sweet potatoes came out fine. Mushy and sweet. I can see why old Korean women and kids would like them.
(See also FOODS.)
(See also PLACES.)