This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The poorest family in China rarely sits down to a meal of less than three varieties of hot cooked food, and there are few more interesting sights than watching the preparation of the family meal. The boiler in which the staff of life in Southern China-rice - is prepared is made of the thinnest cast iron, so thin that a very slight tap is enough to fracture it, heated over an earthenware vessel, containing a few pieces of charcoal; and, directly the cooking is completed, each piece of charcoal is carefully lifted out, extinguised, and put away for future use. An enterprising European firm once thought to supersede the "gimcrack" native pot by a good substantial article of Birmingham make; but the enterprise proved a failure.
About 150 different dried substances were Imported by them for use at the London exhibition. At the stalls in Canton dried ducks may be seen boned, flattened and so little changed by drying that it is possible to tell what kind they are. Rats are dried in like manner. There are castes and classes in China and some of these edibles are considered as belonging to the customary diet of the lower classes only. The special forte of the Chinese anywhere seems to be the utilization of all sorts of unpromising materials for making tasty dishes; they are great also on sweets.
Is one of the dainties of the Chinese cuisine. The pork is roasted, and then hung in the smoke of various aromatic herbs, which gives it a delicious flavor. It is cut into small pieces that it may be readily handled with the chopsticks.
Fastidious people wil\ be relieved to hear that neither puppy-dog nor cat figures on the bill of fare. It would appear that a Chinese dinner is largely an affair of samples. First come hors d'aeuvre - minute shreds of salad, bits of sausage, and such like dainties.
Birds-nest Clear - and Fishmau (?Fishmaw) a la Tortue (thick) served together in tiny slop basins. The former is made from the nest of a species of swallow gathered before the birds have soiled them. They are prepared by soaking in water, thoroughly scoured to remove the dirt, and cut up into thin strips - these much resembling gelatine both in appearance and taste. They are considered a great delicacy by the Chinese and are very dear, the price being about $60 a pound. Made evidently with good chicken stock, theBird's nest Soup was decidedly good. The Fishmaw bore no faint resemblance to mock turtle, and it, too, was palatable enough.
Made of dried salmon pounded with rice, fried in oil.
A fish dried.
This slightly alcoholic distillation from rice - the Chinese vin dupays - is somewhat sweet, is served hot from the kettle in little tea-cups, and to the uneducated palate is simply an abomination. As this beverage was sent round at two intervals of the dinner, we tried hard at the second sampling to discover something attractive about it, but altogether failed. A fellow diner, after pronouncing it to be "beastly stuff," thought the taste for it might be acquired. But we fancy life is too short to acquire a taste for Shaosing Wine. Sharks' Fins a la Pekinoise - is a toothsome kind of curry with rice. The fins of fishes and those of the shark in particular are largely utilized in the Chinese cuisine. They are smoked, pickled, or simply sun-dried, the bony portion being rqmoved. The cartilaginous tissue is cut into thin strips, and either stewed with eggs or cooked as above.
Tasty morsels indeed and this entree would do credit to any chef. Pork, by the way, is the Chinaman's favorite meat.