Family Sharing A Meal Full Of Bliss
Idler’s Note: Okay, I will probably not be able to do a translation binge like this for a while unless I am somehow funded so I can do translations full-time. But fear not! Even though I will need to devote some of my time and energy to my freelance jobs so I can make a living (and you know, live), I will still be translating enough that I will keep to the regular release schedule. If I do manage to get extra chapters done, I will release them as a surprise bonus. 😉
After translating this chapter, I am so hungry now… XD
On a more serious note, please read this update post because I might have seriously suffered a blow to my motivation… I will be taking some preventative measures that will hopefully not distract from the reading experience on this site. If you notice anything or have any suggestions, let me know!
Disclaimer: This translation is by a fan for fans. Any opinions or commentary presented here are translated as is written by the original author. Any remarks by the translator will be in footnotes or in an editorial aside. The original work is the property of the author and any other associated copyright holders in their respective territories. Please do not reproduce, redistribute, or resell this translation anywhere else without permission! If you are reading this anywhere else but on WordPress, then it is being reposted without permission from the translator! If you are the copyright holder and/or have licensed this work for English publication and wish for this translation to be removed, please contact me to do so. Thank you!
The flowing water of the river gurgled with cotton like clouds overhead as the green of a few leaves outlined the flower color and the breeze lightly brushed against the face. Today was an overcast day.
Seeing such weather, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan were both also happy as they finally no longer needed to endure the sun while exercising. The two of them went to the courtyard to throw around a sandbag—a real sandbag, the outside being a layer of fine hemp cloth and the insides filled with sand, which was slightly larger than a quail egg, just right for the grasp of a small hand.
Xiaohong observed from the side, her eyes tightly staring at that sandbag flying to and fro in the air, terrified that the two little ancestors when throwing it to each other would throw it at the other’s face.
When they were playing happily, a servant carrying a basket walked over and gently placed the basket on the ground as they said to Wang Juan: “Little Miss, according to your [honorific] orders, the item has been purchased. The surrounding area has been gone over in a circle to buy these.”
“Unh, good. Go busy yourself. Oh, go to that storehouse of Xiaobao’s and get two large bones. Pick the ones with more meat to bring back to boil soup for your family’s kids to drink.”
Wang Juan caught the sandbag in her hand and stopped as she spoke to this servant. The reward used was naturally the stuff from that storehouse of Zhang Xiaobao’s.
After the servant gave thanks and departed, Zhang Xiaobao ran over next to the basket, going on tip-toes as his eyes peered inside.
“What is this stuff? It looks familiar.” Zhang Xiaobao asked.
“Of course, it’s familiar. It’s saltpeter—saltpeter1 that’s not that pure. I specifically had people buy it.” Wang Juan explained.
“Saltpeter?” Zhang Xiaobao, upon hearing this name, started looking around.
“Looking for what, ~ne? It’s saltpeter.”
“Looking for charcoal and sulfur,2 ~ne.” Zhang Xiaobao said.
Wang Juan gave Zhang Xiaobao an eye roll and also walked over to look at the saltpeter: “Imagining what? I didn’t say to make gunpowder.”3
“Well, can’t buy so much just to treat illnesses, right?” Zhang Xiaobao was still searching for the two other items.
“Stupid, Erniu’s finished making that hot pot and already sent it into the courtyard house. I want to drink some soup, eat two tender pieces of meat. Use the saltpeter to make ice to freeze the lamb meat, and then use a scraper4 to scrape it off into slices. When slice after slice has all curled up, it’ll be thinner than being carved and eating it will be convenient.”
Wang Juan spoke as she reached her arms inside the basket to dig out a small piece of saltpeter, weighing it in her hands before nodding her head, feeling that it was not bad.
“Oh, can eat hot pot now. An overcast day is just right. Eating till full, then sleeping—that’s what comfort is, ~ne. Large meat slices, I won’t count on it but scooping up some froth is fine, ~ah.”
Zhang Xiaobao upon hearing that there was hot pot, then naturally wanted frozen lamb meat. Ordering Xiaohong to go get two basins, one large and one small, both respectively filled with water and to place the saltpeter inside the large basin, he then continued throwing a sandbag with Wang Juan.
When the water inside the small basin had also frozen into ice, only then did he order people to send over the fresh lamb meat to be frozen. Naturally, there were also people preparing the other food, finding a new scraper, and getting the charcoal. They also had people go to Erniu’s house to get a jar of that water used to soak the mountain chili sprouts in. All that remained was waiting for the lamb meat to freeze and be scraped so that they could start eating.
Wang Juan wasn’t idle either as she called for people to go clarify a broth5 of pork bones and chicken, even scrounging up some dried seafood—this stuff was cheap. They first used warm water to soak it to be used as the soup base6 in a while.
This wait wasn’t a short time. It was almost nearly noon when the lamb meat was finally done. As for the beef, that stuff wasn’t good to butcher—it easily attracted trouble7 so they couldn’t eat it for the time being.
Having played till they were sweaty all over, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan took a bath before accompanying Zhang Xiaobao’s family members, sitting at the table. It was described as sitting but it really was being carried in people’s arms.
Positioned in the middle of the table was that hot pot. Inside the tube, red-hot charcoal was placed. Within the cover was a hole in the pot lid. The length added on top was a smoke funnel. When a “gu-lu” sound came out of the inside there, the water had boiled. By removing the smoke funnel and lifting the lid, they could then swish8 stuff in it to eat.
Zhang Xiaobao’s parents, grandfather, and grandmother sat there in a circle according to etiquette. The both of them, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, were being carried by Xiaohong in her arms, one with each hand.
The adults knew that this was the hot pot that Xiaobao specifically had people make for them. Smelling the scent of the seafood and the soup inside that pot, they felt that it wasn’t bad but weren’t clear on how to eat it.
“Mom, eat, ~ya. I’ll swish a slice of lamb meat for you [honorific].” Zhang Xiaobao, seeing that everyone was all sitting there watching, could only exert himself as he held the chopsticks to tremulously pick up a slice of lamb meat and reaching into the pot, gently swayed there.
Xiaohong was afraid of that boiling soup splattering on Little Mister’s body and wanted to reach out a hand to block it but since she couldn’t spare a hand, she could only strive to pull him back.
“Don’t pull. It’s easy to get burned. It’s done.” Zhang Xiaobao gave a warning. Then, after moving it twice, he took out that piece of meat that had changed in color, and put it into his mother’s dish.
Mrs. Zhang-Wang’s eyes suddenly reddened. She opened her mouth to eat that meat. It was gone with just a “ba-da” sound. Not even tasting what flavor it had been, she energetically gave praise: “Tasty, the stuff my Baolang made is just good. Dad [in-law], Mom [in-law], and Husband should all eat.”
At once, everyone moved according to their own eating habits, getting two servings of seasonings with the mountain chili sprout water placed in one.
Meanwhile, Zhang Xiaobao, Wang Juan, and Xiaohong watched from the side as they all swallowed their saliva. Xiaohong couldn’t eat together with them. Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan couldn’t eat such large pieces of meat and could only wait until everyone had almost finished swishing and had left behind some bits and pieces in the pot before they could drink it as soup.
“Xiaohong, no need to carry us. We’ll stand while watching. You eat, too.”
As it was a low table, the group was all sitting on small stools, also called Turkic stools.13 Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan standing to the side was fine but seeing Xiaohong staring over there, they felt uncomfortable. If they hadn’t let people enter, they could forget about it but since they were sitting together, then just staring wouldn’t do.
Zhang Xiaobao struggled free of Xiaohong’s embrace as he commanded her.
How could Xiaohong dare to use the chopsticks so she vigorously shook her head.
Wang Juan also broke free to get down as she said: “Telling you to eat so you eat. More people would be funner.”
“Xiaohong, let’s eat together. These few days, you’ve conscientiously taken care of Xiaobao and Juan-Juan. Just treat it as us rewarding you.” Mrs. Zhang-Wang finally spoke up. Only then did Xiaohong give thanks and carefully began to eat.
Five people were eating besides the two children. Zhang Xiaobao watched as he rejected Xiaohong who wanted to get him soup to drink and used a spoon to scoop up a bit of tofu himself to put into the pot to scald it before placing it in Wang Juan’s dish.
“Eat. In a while, eat duck blood, too. These things can still be eaten.”
Wang Juan wasn’t polite, either, as she mixed her own ingredients. Inserting the chopsticks into the tofu, she dipped it before she began to nibble on it. When she finished eating, she stuck out her tongue: “Real spicy.”
Zhang Xiaobao scalded some tofu for himself, too; the back of that little hand already had a few red dots. Xiaohong seeing this now was scared silly. Before, she hadn’t even noticed.
She hurriedly grabbing onto Zhang Xiaobao’s hand to look at it. The other people also saw this situation and tensed up. Only Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan didn’t have any expression.
“Xiaohong, you eat yours. No need to mind Xiaobao. This little burn is nothing.” Wang Juan spoke up. She knew she and Zhang Xiaobao belonged to the same type of people. They were indifferent to this little bit of pain that didn’t even count as an injury. She trusted that even if a layer of skin from that hand of Zhang Xiaobao’s was burned off and Zhang Xiaobao wanted to kill someone, then his hand wouldn’t tremble for even a little bit.
“Unh, right. It doesn’t even burn a bit. It’s just hot. I can eat by myself for I’m a monster.” Zhang Xiaobao said with a smile, two little dimples showing on that chubby face.
“What monster? It’s divine sage. Don’t listen to your Dad’s blind blather. Xiaohong, since Xiaobao can do it himself, then let him eat by himself for my son isn’t an ordinary person.”
Mrs. Zhang-Wang was a bit pained but she still chose to support her own son.
“It’s all stuff in the past, why still mention it? Mom, I’ll pluck a shrimp for you [honorific] to eat.”
Father Zhang, seeing that his missus was about to revive an old topic and fearful that he’d be lectured by his Dad and Mom again, scalded three shrimp and respectively gave his Dad and Mom as well as Mrs. Zhang-Wang the extracted red-colored meat.
“It’s noon. How come the people sent to Sanshui County still haven’t transmitted the news back here? ”
Zhang Xiaobao used the ladle to scoop up from the pot some lamb meat that his family members had deliberately mashed up, including the soup and the green colored chopped scallions, to pour it all into the little bowl that Wang Juan was holding up with both hands. The two of them drank it one sip, one person at a time before he suddenly thought of the matter in that side of Sanshui County so he casually asked about it.
“There shouldn’t be a problem. What I’m most worried about isn’t that side but which river will the boat actually moor in—what if the boat hasn’t arrived, what do we do?” Wang Juan drank a mouthful of soup as she talked while she, out of habit, surveyed the table in a circle.
“This isn’t urgent. I trust that those two rivers will definitely have results. This Swindler Song, I’m relatively acquainted with his mentality. What are you looking for? ” Zhang Xiaobao, seeing Wang Juan’s motion, asked.
“Cellophane noodles.14 I forgot—there’s none here.” This time, Wang Juan was using lip speech.
“This, I’ve never made. I do know the approximate stuff. When I was small, there was a starch plant by the orphanage; the water inside the river was all white. If I’d known earlier, going inside to get a look at how people made them would have been good.
Going back, have people use wheat to make it. Isn’t it just to first make starch? If 10 silver taels are slammed down, it definitely can be produced. It also works out to be able to make some small profit. Unfortunately, there’s no spicy sauce to eat today.”
Zhang Xiaobao pondered with some effort but in the end, he couldn’t remember how cellophane noodles were produced. He didn’t really like eating this stuff as trying it occasionally was fine but he had never taken it to heart.
“No problem. Someday, have people make mianpi15 to eat. This, I know how to make. When I was little, in the compound, there was a household that made this. I would frequently go help knead the dough to play.” Wang Juan, seeing Zhang Xiaobao’s lip speech, said in consolation.
The two of them were currently there exchanging lip speech, ~ne. Xiaohong had already hurriedly finished eating, not daring to eat her fill and just getting two bits of each dish before putting down her chopsticks.
Zhang Xiaobao also knew that for Xiaohong to be able to eat several mouthfuls had already taken a large amount of resolution. Seeing that it also wasn’t good for her to keep staying there at the side, he said to her: “Xiaohong, you go look to see how Xiaoqi over there is doing. It’s necessary to have Swindler Song stay here for a few days.”
Xiaohong complied and departed while here, eating and drinking continued.
If not discussing the lack of business here, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan could relax. They didn’t use lip speech, either, as they drank soup and ate things in piecemeal while analyzing the plans for afterwards.
Meanwhile, the adults didn’t really speak up as they ate while gazing at the two little guys and listening to them spout out those types of words that only adults should be able to speak as the smiles never left their faces. Finally, they needn’t ever worry over whether the next generation would send this family business into ruin.
The most despondent was Father Zhang. He kept feeling like the two children weren’t normal but seeing that the three other people who he couldn’t antagonize all had appearances of this being only natural, he couldn’t say anything at all.
Then, thinking better on it that being like this was also good since after Xiaobao grew up, maybe he could return from the test as a valedictorian. Thus, he said to his son: “Xiaobao, want to learn to read and write with Father?”
“Want to, am learning now. From now on, Dad will have to be troubled.” Zhang Xiaobao gulped down the soup, nodding as he spoke to his father.
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“Xiao shi” (硝石) refers to saltpeter or niter—more specifically, the mineral form of potassium nitrate (KNO3). It is a substance with many industrial applications, making it of significant value in modern times even with advances in technology. The two major uses of potassium nitrate are as agricultural fertilizers and in the production of gunpowder. ↩
Just in case people don’t recall enough chemistry to be able to figure out what Xiaobao is alluding to, the basic recipe for gunpowder or black powder as invented by the Chinese requires sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter/niter). ↩
A baozi/刨子 actually translates to planer but since that word typically refers to various types of handicraft tools used in carpentry, woodworking, and metalworking in both Chinese and English, I am assuming that Juan-Juan is referring to the thin scraped slices a planer is capable of. For that reason, I ended up translating it as “scraper” even though that’s not the standard name of any existent tool to convey the function and to try to avoid reader confusion if I used the literal translation. ↩
“Diao tang” (吊湯) is a form of refined Chinese soup called a “clarified broth.” So to diao/吊 a soup is to clarify it. This meaning of clarification only holds true in the context of soup. Otherwise, diao/吊 simply translates to “hang.” ↩
The bull was highly valued for its labor in Chinese agriculture, gaining them a protected status that was enforced by the government by making it mandatory to report bovine deaths to the local magistrate and paying a fine if it was deliberately butchered for the purposes of meat consumption. This explains why pork and chicken was typically the most consumed meat in the ancient Chinese diet since for the majority of the population, eating beef with any frequency was not feasible. ↩
The character used here is shuan/涮 which simply means to rinse or boil in liquid. However, I made use of the naming sense behind one of the Japanese versions of hot pot and chose to translate it as “swish” to try to convey the action used in order to boil or rinse the ingredients in the hot pot soup. ↩
The text uses “fu ru” (腐乳) though it can also be referred to as “dou fu ru” (豆腐乳) or “lu fu” (鹵腐). I’ve translated it as fermented tofu though it can be referred to as fermented bean curd, soy cheese, tofu cheese, or preserved tofu. As evident with some of the possible names, it is tofu that has been fermented until it is similar in texture to cheese. However, it is not a cheese, which is made through a different chemical process. ↩
Stinky tofu or “chou dou fu” (臭豆腐) is a specific type of fermented tofu known for its decidedly strong smell. Sometimes, it is said to be tastier the stronger the smell is. Needless to say, it can be an acquired taste for some people. However, it is very popular in Asia with many different regional varieties and is often sold as a street food or snack. ↩
“Chen Cu” (陳醋) literally means “aged vinegar” but actually refers to a specific type of black vinegar called “mature vinegar.” Other than its flavor, it is also believed to have medicinal properties as well. For reference, an European counterpart of an aged vinegar would be balsamic vinegar. ↩
“Hu deng” (胡凳) was so called because it was a portmanteau of “hu ren” (胡人), a general appellation the Chinese applied to foreigners, and “ban deng” (板凳) for stool. Hu/胡 (meaning wild, foolish, and reckless) was said to be one of the names first applied to the Xiongnu and then was generalized to apply to other foreign people as well, primarily the nomadic tribes like the Mongols and the Tatars. The reason stools and chairs were sometimes referred to as belonging to these tribes is because these furniture styles were imported into China and then categorized underneath one general label. Prior to the advent of such furniture, the proper Chinese sitting position was to kneel down with home furnishings designed for elevated platforms or dais to accommodate this posture. The traditional Japanese seiza is likely influenced by this behavior. This foreign “hu” (胡) style was not just attributed to furniture as there were also clothing, cuisine, accessories, etc. Riding clothes in Chinese are referred to as “hu fu” (胡服) or “Turkic dress” for this reason. Because the Chinese name for this type of stool is similar in thinking to the reason for name of the Turkish ottoman and Turkic as a people ethnically encompasses many of the tribes the Chinese placed under such a blanket label, I am translating “hu deng” (胡凳) as Turkic stool. ↩
Cellophane noodles have various names in Chinese. Wang Juan used “fen tiao” (粉條) but they can also be called “fen si” (粉絲), “dong fen” (冬粉), “xi fen” (細粉), or “xian fen” (線粉), etc. They are noodles mainly made from starch and when cooked, have a translucent gray appearance that looks like cellophane. ↩
Though it is referred to in the Chinese original text as “mian pi” (麵皮) for “dough skin,” it is also commonly known as “liang pi” (涼皮) meaning “cold skin,” which was erroneously romanized as rangpi. Similarly to the situation with liangfen (涼粉), I will be using the pinyin for this dish.