Walking through the streets of Longyan, China my head is on a constant swivel. While everyday life to the locals here is predictable, for this 300 lb American it’s anything but. If you are not following me on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube you need to start. I find something new here everyday and I try to capture the moment with pictures and video. Words can’t do this place justice.
On our morning walk to the market a few days ago, through a fence I saw an older women cutting up fresh ginger, and she had a lot of it. An entire bucket full, slowly slicing away at them, laying the slices onto large sheet pans made of bamboo. From what I could tell she had about 5 sheet pans chuck full of the underrated root vegetable meticulously laid out to ensure each slice wasn’t impeding on another space. It peaked my interest, so with my broken Mandarin, I asked what the ginger was for (phew! by now my wife had caught up and she took over the conversation, with me begging her to ask the questions I wanted). I love this, this is why I am infatuated with this city. The lady invited us into her humble home and my wife and I sat intrigued.
She pulled out a plastic jar full of what looked like brown sugar cubes. It immediately occurred to me that this had something to do with the ginger. It’s an food art form that has been passed down many generations. My wife then explained to me this stuff is hard to find. Companies have tried to replicate it, but have failed, this was the real stuff. Fresh ginger sliced and sat to dry in the clean Longyan air for 3 days. The slices are then taken through a hand churned mill and ground to a powder, like ginger flour. When you walk into their house the smell of ginger is intense, I loved it. As we pressed her on the next step in the making process the description of how it’s made ends. It is literally an “ancient Chinese secret”. They explained to us that the recipe is passed down the oldest child. If he/she doesn’t want to accept responsibility they move onto the next child. This is important stuff and with all Chinese customs it is important, in a world of iphones, streaming video and social media, in China, respecting history is taught at an early age and is demanded from parents.
My next question was about the ginger, where does it come from, will any ginger from the market work? The answer was in immediate “NO”. The ginger used has to come from the mountains of their native village. Grown in a soil that has been home to the root vegetable for years. It’s a much more intense, spicy, soothing taste that also has many more medicinal benefits compared to others. Once the power is formed it is mixed with fermented black beans, other “top secret” beans and cooked down. From there it is dried again and then cut into cubes to eat. (Even though we tried to press them on seeing the drying process and how it is actually made, with a smile they refused). My wife asked them about purchasing the product and where it is marketed. This is perhaps why it’s hard to find. They don’t sell or market it. It’s 100% hand made and not made for the masses. It’s eaten within the family and shared with guests. It’s eaten by mothers shortly after giving birth or to eat when you are not feeling well. The taste? The texture is was like brown sugar, but not sweet. You can taste the ginger immediately, but does not overpower you until it’s dissolved. In the end you taste the black beans and you get the crunch of the “secret beans”. As you swallow it there a cooling like feeling and then a bit of spice. After letting it sit for a few minutes the craving starts again and 3 or 4 pieces in you start to realize that maybe you should save some for tomorrow. It’s like a candy, but not too sweet.
The old couple was gracious and seemed very happy with a sense of pride to share their tradition with us. We were able to walk away with 2 small pickle jar sized containers of our newly found treat (we left a nice little “donation” for them since family tradition says you can’t “sell” it.) My wife and I then walked across the street to our favorite Chinese Street Market, my wife slowly nibbling away at here sugar cube of ginger, and me? My head was on a swivel looking for our next great find.
When I am not blogging my real job is a fortune cookie maker. We make custom fortune cookies, with your personalized message inside. Visit us at http://www.tankinz.com or http://www.fortunecookieplanet.com!
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