Speaking of the festivity of the Spring Festival, never miss those delicacies that excite your taste buds and fill your heart with happiness. When the Spring Festival comes around, reunion with a large feast with family members is paramount for the Chinese.
Imagine the reunion feast as a repertoire of opera performance, a dazzling array of delicacies that make an appearance one by one, titillating the taste buds of homecomers, as if the dishes themselves are competing each other. For this grand opera performance, cured meats and sausages are its "towers of strength". As "veteran" dishes, they have reigned supreme all along. Sought-after as they have always been, especially among Sichuanese, they are very important in the reunion feast.
For long stretches of history, Sichuan people has been known for making cured meat and sausage. Initially, they did them to prevent food from spoiling. Reputed as a salt-bearing province, Sichuan abounds in plenty of underground salinated water. In the past, the ancient Sichuanese used it to keep foods like sausage, cured meat and pickled vegetables fresh. With it, those delicacies continue to echo down the centuries and now honor themselves as traditional Sichuan gourmet.
After being boiled and sliced, cured meat and sausage can be served directly. Moreover, they also go well with garlic sprouts, cauliflower and other vegetables. Among a crowd of Sichuanese sausages, sweet "Cantonese flavor" and spicy "Sichuanese flavor" sausage prevail. In recent years, creatively-made sausage from ribs, gristles and other ingredients comes to the fore, bringing foodies fresh taste. Fit to its reputation as one of China's major pork production bases, Sichuan is most famed for its pork sausage. After preserving, smudging, and air drying, Sichuanese pork sausage takes on its distinct flavor. When boiled, it grows greasy and glossy, and brings out a unique flavor. Because cured meat and sausage is not susceptible to spoiling, when the New Year approaches, locals tend to make them in abundance. Family members who work far from their hometown can take some back with them after the festival. In this way, wherever they go, these homemade delicacies can ease their homesickness.
As the New Year is drawing near, the mouthwatering aroma of cured meat permeates every nook and cranny of Chengdu. Hung in yards, or on balconies here and there, sausage and cured meat can be seen just about everywhere. Subsequently, the cured meat is in highest demand during this period.
Inside the northern part of the First Ring Road in the Chengdu urban area lies a street - Xinkaisi Street. Locals nickname it "Sausage Street". It is home to over ten sausage and processing shops. Some are only open during the Spring Festival. Some not only sell fresh meat but also sell pre-prepared sausage and cured meats thanks to the farmer's market. Outside every shop, without exception, hangs a great number of neatly organized sausage and cured meat with a wide selection of flavors such as Sichuanese flavor, Cantonese flavor and rib-stuffed flavor. With the advent of the Spring Festival, the street attracts swarms of foodies far and near. For every shop, this is the busiest, most productive time of year leading up to the festival...
Answering the call of the foodies' craze, some outstanding cured meat shops stand out. There is a very popular one in front of the gate of the 28th residential building, namely "Grandma Tian's Cured Meat". Covering only about three square meters with a few tables, it is just a hole-in-the-wall stall for air dried cured meat and sausage. To cater for the needs of visiting relatives and friends during the Spring Festival, they also thoughtfully offer box-packed cured meat as a gift. Another one is located at the intersection of Xinkaisi Street and Zhengtongshun Street. It is "Mr. Hu's Sausage", a "household name" in the district. Apart from proceeded cured meat products, they also offers processing services with materials supplied according to needs of customers. Being a very sought after product, they often draws a long queue of foodies in front of their shop.
Born in Zhongjiang, a county in Sichuan, 63-year-old Wang Jiaming runs a sausage shop at Xinkaisi Street. Below its shop sign, "Uncle Wang's Grain-Raised Pork", writes "From Remote Villages" in a smaller word size, which leaves a rustic and somewhat interesting impression on customers. 18 years ago, Wang Jiaming and his wife, Li Huiying, left their hometown and came to Chengdu to make a living. In this city, they tried many jobs, such as picking up garbage with pack baskets and selling vegetables… Later, they decided to rent a house on Xinkaisi Street and get settled in. At that time, the street was still flanked by tiled houses and automobiles that passed by slowly. Although the street was not as wide as today, some sausage shops had already scattered around and a group of sausage shops had taken initial shape at that time. Mulling in his head over running a business, Wang Jiaming made up his mind to give it a shot.
Initially, to make their shop stand out, the couple racked their brains for ideas. In order to cater for local customers' habits and tastes, they added numbing and spicy seasons in sausage ingredients; in order to make sausages more pleasing in color, Wang Jiaming figured out a way of adding rock candy; in order to make sausage meat more tender and smooth, he added raw eggs when stirring. According to Wang Jiaming, sausage ingredients and proportions varied from shop to shop. Sichuan pepper, pepper, chili pepper, salt, Ajinomoto... To achieve the proper taste takes practice and many taste-testings. As for the meat, his shop selects tender, well-balanced fat and lean pork tendon as the base ingredient. "Meat quality matters a lot for good sausage." As for the casing, his shop chose flexible and thin pork small intestine. Looking back his nearly 20 years of running the sausage shop, Wang Jiaming thought that honesty was the key to his success.
At the mention of his products, Wang could go on forever talking about them. In his shop, there are all kinds of offerings like traditional Cantonese and Sichuanese sausage and cured meat, sausage stuffed with spiced pork and ribs, pig snout, and ham. In particular, the black pig cured meat and sausage rarely seen in other shops are the specialties of his shop for drawing the attention of customers. "As to the proportion of fat to lean meat, Sichuanese sausage recipe adopts 3:7, while Cantonese sausage recipe 2:8. Because Cantonese sausage has a characteristic sweet taste, it is easy to taste greasy even if there is just a small amount of fat in it." For the elderly, children, and natives of Shanghai and Jiangsu among his regular customers, sweet Cantonese sausage was their favorite. But, natives of Sichuan and Sha'anxi mostly preferred spicy Sichuanese flavor. He talked about changes in his customers buying habits, "At the time, customers tended to buy 20 or 30 half kg at a time, or half of a pig for meat. Nowadays, customers generally only buy enough for just a short time. After all, they can come to buy it any time they please." Hearing that, Li Huiying added, "It is mainly because of the better-off livelihood nowadays. Now, the elderly embrace the idea that more meat is unhealthy."
Uncle Wang's Grain-fed Pork
Sausage: 35 RMB / half kg
Cured Meat: 35-38 RMB / half kg
Cured Black Pork: 38 RMB / half kg
Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu Feb.& Mar. Issue
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