Thursday, February 26, 2009

Western Food in Xiamen (1856)

Bill Brown ... Xiamen University
There are endless varieties of cuisine now available in Xiamen restaurants--everything from Mexican at Coyote Cafe to my favorite Western (and healthiest), the AFD Cafe, which is run by Hungarian-Australian Alex and wife Fuji, and offers tasty (and very healthy) dishes such as pasta, fish, Hungarian goulash, pizzas, beef and veggy burgers--and the best and most authentic Australian meat pies in town. But 150 years ago the foreigners here in Amoy also lived pretty high on the hog, as we can see from these accounts of Western dining in Xiamen in 1856:

Western Food in Xiamen (1856!)

Monday, Oct. 8th, “You may like to know if foreigners get enough to eat in this part of the world, and so I will tell you what we had on the dinner-table this evening. We had first soup, fish baked, roast goose, boiled mutton, stewed beef, and several kinds of vegetables; then we had puddings, marmalade, cheese and beer, plantains, five kinds of nuts, persimmons, guavas, pumaloes, four kinds of preserves, etc., and the various wines, and lastly we had coffee. It was seven in the evening when we sat down to dinner. Mr. L and I drank to the Queen, and then to the President of the United States, etc. … When I left, which was half past twelve, the moon shone brightly overhead, lighting up the whole interior of the court. Attracted by its silvery appearance, the cool air, and the quiet and deathlike stillness, I took a seat on the stone steps, and enjoyed the tranquility of the place alone. Completely shut out from the street.—for the doors at the bottom of the court were closed—the buildings seemed like a kind of palace. I am told that it was formerly the residence of the Chinese governor of this province, and everything is laid out, handsomely arranged, befitting his station.

Sat. Oct. 12th, Dined at Rev. Mr. Young’s, and made, I believe, the most of my meal on plum-pudding and plum-cake, which much reminded me of home.

Friday, Oct. 19th, “A few mornings since, at the breakfast table, Mr. T made some amusement by his explanation of a peculiarity in the Chinese mode of cooking. He had helped me to a dish which I had never before seen. While partaking of it with good appetite, he asked me how I liked the “beef scallop.

To this I answered, “Very well.”

It seemed to consist of beef-steak cut and pounded up very fine, without potatoes or seasoning, and it had little positive taste of any kind. He said, “I presume you know how the cook prepares this dish?”

I answered honestly that “I did not know.”

He continued with a plausible air, “Well, I can tell you. The Chinese cooks have no chopping knives, and, as a substitute, they chew the food fine, in their own mouths.”

I partook of it afterwards, adding vinegar, but I must say that my appetite for the dish was diminished. Still I was determined not to be induced by my imagination to give it up. Mr. B., I noticed, ate and swallowed with some difficulty, and probably I did myself. After a painful suspense of some minutes, Mr. T. observed, by way of climax, “Gentlemen, don’t be afraid of it; I never allow my cooks to use tobacco whatever!”

We laid down our knives and forks, and Mr. T enjoyed a good laugh while we gave our plates to the servants to be changed, and passed to the next dish. After that I did not taste of the beef scallop—at least for several days.”

At dinner one day we had some tripe served up in a new style, according to the Chinese method; and the looks and odor of it were more disagreeable than our imaginations pictured the scallop, or any other article of food I have yet seen. Some quite amusing remarks were elicited by the presence of this dish. Ball, 1856

Ball, Benjamin Lincoln, “Rambles in Eastern Asia: Including China and Manila, During Several Years Residence,” James French and Company, Boston, 1856

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1 comment:

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