Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Long Lunch at the Dragon Pool

Like so many things, it came out of the blue. I was kind of aware that there was a Chinese holiday this week, but being self-semi-employed I am often a man of leisure and the holidays make little impact on my life. This one is in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 and although it features nothing boat-like, it was festive and there is a dragon link.

It started with this invitation which appeared on my WeChat (Chinese social media) account.

Longtan (龙潭) means Dragon’s Pool and is more of a hamlet. It is about an hour’s drive north of Liuzhou city. (Nothing to do with the Liuzhou park of the same name.) I’d never heard of it and certainly never been there, but a friend of a friend had decided that a “foreign friend” would add just the right note to the planned event. I’ve seen many pictures of such “Long Table“ lunches and even attended one before – but it was very touristy. This one was different, very real and I was delighted to be invited.

So, I was picked up outside my city centre home at 9 am and the adventure began. We arrived at the village around 9:45 to be met by the friend in question. He led me to what appeared to be the head man’s home, outside which was a large courtyard with a few men sitting at a trestle table seemingly finishing a breakfast of hot, meaty rice porridge washed down with beer or rice wine. I was offered a bowl of the porridge, but declined the beer or rice wine in favour of a cup of tea. After downing that and making introductions etc, I was left to wander around on my own watching all the activity, of which there was a lot.

Here goes. I’m posting these mostly in the order they were taken, in order to give some sense of how the event progressed.

Rice Porridge

These two men were the undisputed kings of this venture, organising everyone, checking every detail, instructing less  experienced volunteers etc. It was obvious these men had been working since the early hours. and their breakfast was a mere break in their toil. There were piles of still steaming cooked pork belly in containers all over the courtyard.

Some of this had been the meat in the rice porridge, I learned.

This young lad had been set to chopping chicken. Not one chicken! Dozens.

Entrails, insides and fat were all carefully preserved.

In the meantime, the two masters continued boiling their lumps of pork belly. This they refer to as 五花肉 – literally “five flower” pork”, the five flowers being layers of skin, fat and meat.

Another man was dealing with fish. Carp from the village pond. He scaled and cleaned them with his cleaver. Dozens of them.

Peeling Garlic

Gizzards and Guts

More Pork . You can see the five layers here.

Just off the courtyard was another piece of ground and here were people sawing bamboo trunks into segments. One man to saw and others to hold and turn the heavy bamboo.

His rusty saw was making hard work of the job, so one man was sent off on his motorcycle to borrow the neighbouring village’s power saw.

Once a suitably long cable had been found, Mr. Power Saw made short work of reducing the bamboo to the required lengths. But for what? All will be revealed. The rusty saw was abandoned.

It was at this point around 50 cyclists out on a fun run (apparently something they do regularly) rolled into the village. They had cycled from Liuzhou. And would cycle back.

The cyclists are also fitted out with a bowl of porridge and a drink, but fish man is far too busy to notice or care.

The gutted fish are being slashed at intervals along the length of the body, He works quickly. He has to. So many fish no longer in the sea (well, pond, actually).

And around him, preparation continues.

More chicken!

Then the day’s mystery ingredient. No one knew what this was. For once, it wasn’t just the ignorant foreigner who was baffled. Everyone was asking and looking just as confused when they heard the answer.

What is it and what’s it for? To be revealed soon.

That chopped chicken, or a good part of it, is shoved into the bamboo pipes along with water and that mystery ingredient. It is identified to me as 草鞋板 cǎo xié bǎn (which translates into the meaningless “grass slipper plate”. A little research suggests it is dried Hoya Carnosa, a flowering house plant in most places, but seemingly used, albeit rarely, in Chinese Traditional Medicine. Whatever, handfuls of it are rammed down the pipe.

The chicken, water and herb filled bamboo tubes are lined up, leaning against a wall and a fire lit beneath them.

While, all of this is going on, the two lunch masters making an inspection of the various preparation sites.

Fancy an omelet?

Potato Slivers

The boiled pork belly is now deep fried.

The fish are rubbed with soy sauce, garlic and ginger then dredged in flour and deep fried

Then left to rest

The boiled then fried pork belly is sliced then assembled in a bowl with alternate slices of fried taro. This is 扣肉  kòu ròu (literally “bowl meat”), a local favourite.

The assembled bowls are placed in huge steamer racks ready for stage three of the cooking.

It is at this point the “kou rou” master notices a critical error. The person stacking the bowls in the steamers has forgotten to add the sauce, so they all come back out while the master illustrates the correct procedure and they start off all over.

Finally, they are deemed fit and set to steam for one hour.

It’s approaching noon and getting very hot. 33ºC and direct sunlight bearing down. I retreat for a rest in the house overlooking the courtyard.

But I can hear and see that there is still a lot going on and curiosity (nosiness) gets the better of me. I carry my cold beer with me.

Yes, the prep continues.

This young chap made up with exuberance what was lacking in knowledge. He had no idea how to cut the chillies to the master’s preference, but was soon gently put right. Bash them to flatten them, then cut in half or thirds depending on length. Of he went like a madman. I’ve never seen anyone who mistrusts their own knife skills so much that they wear crash helmet while chopping veg, though.

And just as any remaining chickens congratulated themselves at being spared the indignity of being stuffed inside a bamboo tube, a second wave of chicken cookery begins.

But first you’ve got to get rid of those feathers.

Then I spot the rice woman. She has, what looks to me like, a very strange technique. She soaks the rice. I’m not sure how long but long I’d say by the texture. Then she washes the rice. OK. And puts it to the fire with water. So far, so good.

Now she is skimming off excess water. This she carefully decants into another bowl. No doubt to wash her face. Chinese woman do that.

A friend joins her to use the inverted handle of a scoop to punch ‘holes’ in the rice to allow steam to escape.

Now, I haven’t survived this long by telling Chinese women rice cooks they are doing it all wrong, and I’m sure she knows more about cooking rice for 150 people than I ever shall. I just won’t be doing it her way at home.

In the interim, it becomes apparent that we have more kou rou steamer baskets than we have heat sources, so another villager is sent to get his apparatus, which he happily does.

Intermission

Now it’s time for the idiots to turn up.

I spend a lot of time with photographers and film makers and have decided there are three types, whether amateur or professional.

a) those who record what is actually happening

b) those who record themselves reacting perhaps to what is happening but more likely not, as they are so vain they don’t notice what is happening outside their unimaginative little mindset. The selfie stick people. There were a lot of them about. Mostly female, loud and wearing high heels – perfect for a visit to a countryside village.

c) those who ignore what is happening and create what they think should be happening or wish was happening, then record that. The wannabe movie directors.

A couple of press photographers and their ‘boss’ turn up. They are arrogant and rude (they always are) and people start to get annoyed as they push people aside or barge in in front of them blocking their view. They set up a table and demand that one of the masters come there to be photographed.

They have laid out a couple of bamboo leaves and placed stupid little bowls containing everyday condiments – garlic, ginger, salt, even water for the love of …

Utterly irrelevant to anything happening around them. But then what do you expect from someone who turns up in a countryside village lathered in (cheap) gold but wearing a peasant hat in order to “fit in”?

Spielberg ( I think that is Zhuang for “dickhead”.

One of them spots this tool lying to the side and immediately demands a demonstration – to be filmed. Master points out that he hasn’t used it in years and certainly not today. Doesn’t matter. I can see he is getting very annoyed by these donkeys, but he is polite and humours them.

What he has is a tool for piercing the skin of pork to allow the fat to render out.

It takes them about an hour to get these shots and then the idiots finally leave without eating a thing. They probably didn’t realise there was food!

Grrr!

It’s lunchtime!

After escaping the cameras from hell, I spot that these two burners are busy with something else.

A nearby table sports these fine looking creatures.

Yes those carp which  I saw being deep fried earlier are also “twice-cooked”, this time being finished off in a chilli laden sauce. They smell good with a a capital OO.

Another wok and burner combo is poaching those second chickens we saw being plucked.

After cooking, these are chopped to give us “White Cut Chicken, a Cantonese speciality of poached chicken, but also popular here.

So, it seems everything is ready. Somehow apparently random preparation and cooking has all come together at the same time.

We take our places at random. As a VIP, I am offered a seat at a table inside the house but explain that unlike them (the village leaders) I am a real communist rather than an opportunistic jackass and prefer to sit with the great unwashed masses.

Well, of course, I don’t. But I do insist on sitting outside (“to take pictures”, I say).

and the food!

Carp

Chillis

White Cut Chicken

Potato. Don’t be misled. These are wonderful, but very spicy.

This unappetising mud is actually the bamboo tube soup.

It looks better in the bowl and tasted just fine, if underwhelming. Neither the bamboo or herb added nothing I could detect, so really it was just water and chicken. Still I’ve had worse.

Somehow I managed to miss photographing the kou rou at the table. I certainly ate it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Probably the best I’ve eaten. although the meat is very fatty, and not something I generally like, it wasn’t at all greasy. It just melted in the mouth. Also, the taro picks up enough of the fat and cooking juices to be very tasty indeed rather than just starchy as I often find it.

It took ages to prepare – days if not weeks of planning then hours of hard work. And we demolished it in twenty minutes or so.

The Remains of the Day

The Team – Thanks. See you next year!

. This entry was posted on Monday, May 29th, 2017 at 6:18 pm and is filed under Chinese Holidays, Dickheads, Food and Drink, Guangxi News, Liuzhou Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Long Lunch at the Dragon Pool”

  1. Unknown Says:

    Wonderful article! Great work.

  2. Tom Roland Says:

    Loved this article!

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