March 21, 2023

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The living, respiration sauce that is at the coronary heart of China’s regional cuisines : NPR

One of the terrific cornerstones of Chinese society is its foods. And at the coronary heart of China’s many regional cuisines is a single, secret sauce: Lu.


A single of the excellent cornerstones of Chinese lifestyle is its food items. And at the coronary heart of China’s lots of regional cuisines is just one mystery sauce. NPR’s Beijing correspondent Emily Feng provides us into a kitchen to learn what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foods Scorching)

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Chef Peter begins his day at 2 p.m., mixing jointly the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and a boatload of spices that variety the base of his cuisine. Then he thoroughly unwraps a plastic bag with his key ingredient. It truly is a sauce that is 40 years previous.

PETER: (Via interpreter) This is just one small element, but it really is important to the over-all style.

FENG: The sauce is known as Lu or Lu Shui. And in essence each Chinese regional cuisine employs some variation of it. Generally it’s manufactured out of a base of salt, this kind of as soy sauce, sugar and a combine of spices. And to Peter, the sauce is a residing, respiratory factor.

PETER: (Through interpreter) You have to increase an outdated Lu sauce like increasing a youngster.

FENG: You might be wondering by now – the sauce is not literally 40 many years outdated, but it arrives from an unbroken chain of sauces relationship back again to the initially one his mother in Shanghai produced in the 1980s. Peter generally saves the remainder of each individual Lu batch and uses the aged sauce to start off the subsequent new batch of sauce. It’s a little bit like sourdough, where by the old seeds the new and the flavor intensifies around the a long time. This is the way most Lu sauces are produced.

PETER: (Through interpreter) Assume about it. In one particular dish of Lu-braised duck, you might be having the essence of at least 7,000 or 8,000 ducks that have passed by way of it.

FENG: When, an unknowing waiter threw out the Lu sauce Peter was saving for the future day’s dishes.

PETER: (By interpreter) I fired him. Those people who are in the organization know that this Lu is like my life. And it can be a small aspect of my mother. So throwing it absent is like disrespecting my ancestors’ tombs.

FENG: Cao Yu, a foods writer and historian at Jinan University, says Lu at initially basically denoted any kind of salt drinking water employed as a marinade for cold boiled meat and veggies.

CAO YU: (By way of interpreter) I feel the emergence of the Lu we know nowadays is all around by the Ming dynasty, extra than 7 centuries in the past, when you saw the emergence of privatized companies and markets.

FENG: To draw in new prospects, these new private food suppliers began introducing new flavors and new techniques to cook Lu, by introducing spices or soy sauce for colour. In the generations because, Lu has diversified, having on the attributes of just about every regional cuisine. For example, in spicy Sichuan province…

YU: (By means of interpreter) Lu is applied to insert flavor and depth. So Sichuanese use a ton of spices in their Lu. But in Cantonese cooking, they want the flavor of the components to occur out. So they use far fewer salt and spice.

FENG: Some Lu is even alcoholic, like Zao Lu, a light marinade built from the fermented glutinous rice mash remaining about from brewing Chinese yellow wine, or huangjiu.


FENG: 4 several hours later on in Peter’s kitchen area, his much sweeter Shanghai-model Lu has simmered down to a dim, thick soup. Peter lowers it even further till it gets to be a molasses-like syrup.

PETER: (By interpreter) The sauce coats every morsel. The juices blend evenly with the excess fat of the pig trotters in this circumstance.

FENG: The rigorous aged Lu sauce is what’s produced Peter’s restaurant a properly-concealed gem in Beijing through phrase of mouth only. In simple fact, Peter expressly forbade us from employing his comprehensive identify or mentioning his restaurant in this piece for the reason that he does not want much too lots of consumers

PETER: (Via interpreter) We have a stating – fame provides problems (laughter). And this cafe is my playground. I don’t want much too several people today to appear.

FENG: Cooking each and every night is also a small dangerous. Peter claims he goes all-in every time, applying up all his previous Lu sauce for pork, beef and duck for each and every dinner – no backups, no insurance policy coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foodstuff Sizzling)

PETER: (Via interpreter) We’re extremely thorough – extremely watchful with the sauce.

FENG: I request about holidays. Would he at any time entrust one more man or woman to feed and choose care of his Lu sauce if he is away? No, Peter says. The sauce is just much too crucial to him.

Emily Feng, NPR Information, Beijing.

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