For readers of this blog who are not aware, Sybaritica’s blog is a wonderful resource for those of you who are living in North America and are interested in adding Chinese fermented and preserved ingredients to your cooking. He is makes posts about his newest restaurant explorations, his newest experiments with preserved ingredients, and the recipes that these projects inspire.
The day before yesterday, I returned to China for the first time in three years. Having experimented with fermentation and preservation both in China for 5-6 years and from afar for 3+, I was excited to be back on the mainland where I could visit old friends, explore grocery stores, and try new restaurants. But as I was deplaning, I saw an alert in my inbox about Sybaritica’s latest post, and I think its subject line exemplifies what makes his blog so useful for people living in North America.
He’s making food with the ingredients he has at his disposal, and sharing that process with his readers. I find the hybrid and transnational character of this moment in food history particularly exciting. So, its with great respect I’d like to thank Sybaritics for consistently documenting his practice. Perhaps more people in North America will become familiar with ingredients like salted radish (菜脯 càipú) and fermented soybeans beans (豆豉 douchi).
This reminds me of an important issue that is raised by Sandor Katz in a series of videos he made about his recent trip to China. In this series, The People’s Republic of Fermentation, the fifth installment focuses on how knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next. The episode, Mijiu Alcohol, Distilled Knowledge, is divided into three segments. The first segment discusses the establishment of modern education in the Dong villages of Guizhou. The second segment shifts the focus from the children in their schools to the children in their homes, making fermented taro cakes with the visiting foreigners and their own mothers. The third segment focuses on distilled rice wines, where Katz emphasizes how knowledge– in this case the fermentation of foods– is embedded in social networks and embodied through practice. In Katz words, these wines are “far more than just a drink” but “an important social coagulent.” The very fact we can enjoy these foods today reflect how much these production techniques are “essential cultural information.” The transmission of culture is embedded and embodied in the Dong social world and the bodies of those who make and ingest these foods.
This blog is embedded in the social world of letters and is indebted to consistent writers like Sandor Katz and Sybaritica and the many others who have shared my interest in the diverse traditions of Chinese fermented and preserved foods. Much thanks!