My main man Everett Lozzi just did a piece about his Chinese digestive history, and I figured I’d take a post out of his blog (which is totally worth reading and accessible here). Today, I’d like to 往道谢 (if you’re not a Chinese speaker, this link might help for the duration of your time reading my blog) a traditional Chinese dish called 馒头.
The Furong Dining Hall, which serves three floors packed to the paneless windows with chopstick-wielding, line-cutting students now that school is in session, serves 上百的 meals every day, with seemingly as many food combinations. I’ve learned enough Chinese to unlock a special bonus level while ordering, conventionally known as ‘use your words, not your fingers.’ Because of this, I have the luxury of being able not only to determine in which wok is what, but which wok I want, and if a wok isn’t what I want, I can wequest fwom another wok. Wicked. Even better, I can order from the
wefrigerated refrigerated section, which requires multistep directions. While perusing the yogurt selection one day, my eye caught the prepared breads bar, and my diet changed for the better for the worse.
Light, ecru, and gleaming faintly atop a singed baking tray floated a batch of rolls, so uniform and featureless without close inspection they seemed straight out of a sparsely inked manga comic. 馒头 (Mántou), a variety of Chinese steamed bun comprised of little else but yeast, flour, water, and sometimes sugar, finds its uniqueness in composition and texture rather than flavor. Oft described as oversized marshmellows, mantou are pillows of concentrated yet fluffy dough, packed in rolls and steamed until their skins have a slightly sticky sheen.
Though uncomplicated themselves, the lore that accompanies them is anything but. Not only are mantou tasty, but their bubbly filling also represents civility and humanity in war. According to legend noted here, an administrator during the Shu (second) kingdom of the Three Kingdoms Period toured the southern section of China in an effort to defeat a barbarian force. When he reached a river with his men, a man told him that he needed to sacrifice the heads of captured barbarians to pacify the angry river god. Because he didn’t want anyone to die unnecessarily, he sacrificed heads made of bread instead, so as to confuse the god. I for one would not place much importance with a god so easily tricked, but the story is a good parable nonetheless.
My appreciation of mantou is wholly unrelated to their moral caliber, however. I’ve taken a liking to both mantou and a rather narrow diet consisting mostly of them, as a not-quite-adventurous eater. Chinese cuisine is limited and the rolls are staple sides at every meal, fortunately or unfortunately for my stomach. While it is not economical at present to learn to make them, I am focused on the long term maintenance of my new diet crutch. There is a very strong chance that I will forcibly befriend a lunch lady in order to gain the skills necessary to create my own when it comes time to go stateside. Until then, however, I am destined to dole out a grand total of $0.08 on these fullness-inducing hamster-sized mounds of air.
Do you think a post-shower bathroom could work as a steamer? … No, Hannah! Bad.
PS If you’re interested in making some, this seemed like a good recipe!