1 (Sat) May 2021
Undescribed Roast Duck
at the Cabin
-Changchon, Seowon, Honegseong, Gangwon, Republic of Korea-
with the Family, MtG +SJ
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (46) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, 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 (i.e., give us this day our daily bread). The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children (1926) by Arthur Bowie Chrisman, illustrated by Else Hasselriis. The book is a collection of folk tales, many to explain the origins of certain items, like chopsticks.
I despised this book. Written by a person who never visited China, no experience relating to China, the stories show absolutely zero knowledge or respect for Chinese culture, only ignorance and disdain. Even as folk tales, the plots are ludicrously contrived. The characters are variously stupid, obnoxious, cowardly, gullible, mean, narcissistic, greedy, petty, foolish, capricious. I shudder at the thought of children reading this book, especially in school, where the book would’ve left a lasting impression about Chinese culture, Asian culture more broadly. I weep for any Asian kids who were in the classroom, at the vicious ridicule they would’ve received, the unjustified shame they would’ve had to bear. I am glad to have read it – present day, on my own, with a critical eye – yet another reminder of how Americans have always regarded and portrayed Asians, as currently demonstrated in violence against Asian-Americans these days.
This sort of insidious racism – presumably unintended, probably intended to be enlightening – is a common theme in many of the early Newbery books, written by white American authors about non-white people, often non Americans in distant would-be exotic places, including thus far The Bronze Bow (11.330 The Holy Roller), Young Fu on the Upper Yangtze (11.348 Beggars’ Food), The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1931) (11.359 A Bowl of Fish Soup), Call It Courage (1941) (11.293 Umu Puaa), and Julie of the Wolves (1973) (12.064 Eighty Furred Young). More to come.
The story “Chop-Sticks” tells how chopsticks were supposedly invented by King Cheng Chang, originally a chef.
[paraphrased in part]
There are many words in the language of men, but not one of them can describe the duck that Cheng Chang presented his King and master, Ching Chung. Sublime, delicious, perfect – those words are weak and unable. Away with them! The duck must remain undescribed. But, oh, what a duck it was! King Ching Chung ate half of it. Perhaps he ate a trifle more than half.
King Ching Chung is so pleased that he abdicates the throne to Cheng Chang.
Soon thereafter, the three brothers of the new Queen call on King Cheng Chang, one after another, to secure themselves high positions in the royal court. But when Cheng Chang refuses, each brother attacks the King with a dining utensil – one with a knife, one with a fork, and one with a spoon – but fails the attempted assassination through dumb luck (e.g., he slips on a mat). After each incident, the brother is sentenced to death, but the Queen threatens to beat the King, who then pardons the brother.
So King Cheng Chang did a most wise thing. He abolished knives and forks and spoons. He ate his rice and duck with the aid of two harmless, delicate sticks. There was nothing about the sticks to inspire uneasiness. They were incapable of hurt. The little sticks used by King Cheng Chang were called Chop-Sticks. Chop means “good.”
It’s so utterly offensive that the only possible defense would be that it’s so fucking absurd.
Taking advantage of this weekend trip to the cabin, I tried my hand at roasting a whole duck. A few minutes of internet research didn’t suggest much consensus on recipes or methods – except maybe the need to separate the skin from the body, both for Cantonese and Peking styles – and I wasn’t willing to invest a lot of time and effort, so I just free-styled the whole thing.
My first roast duck was something of a failure in the immediate sense but demonstrated that greatness could be achieved. Having skipped the skin separation step, the skin did not come out crispy, not even a little – probably because the skin is inherently fatty and the attached meat is so juicy. The seasonings were a bit weak but the flavors came pretty close. It was cooked to a pinkish medium, but W demanded a few minutes in the microwave to cook out the blood. In any case, everyone was already kinda full with all the other stuff on the table, no interest in the duck. Next time, by separating the skin, increasing the concentration of the dry rub and marinade, roasting the bird a bit longer, and presenting it in a more appealing way, this could be quite good.
(See also FOODS)
(See also PLACES)