Jin Shoushen on chūnbǐng
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Jin Shoushen (1906-68) wrote special columns on Beijing for newspapers in the late 1930s and published a large number of short essays on Beijing local customs and daily life. “On the one hand, recording these old things can give people who have experienced them something to attach to; on the other hand, I write down Beijing local customs that have not been recorded previously so that we can preserve them”, he affirmed. In her book Republican Beijing, Prof. Madeleine Yue Dong, lets us read the vivid description Shoushen made of the chūnbǐng:
Nothing conjures memories of place and time more evocatively than food, and this is especially so of “old Beijing,” where specific foods were reserved for specific seasons and festive occasions. Such foods were described in detail in Jin Shoushen’s writings. He wrote about the “spring pancakes” served on the first day of spring with such relish that his account whets the appetite and is detailed enough to serve as a recipe: Mix the flour with hot water; divide the dough into small, even pieces; combine two pieces with a small amount of sesame oil and roll into thin pancakes; remove from the pan when lightly brown. The “right way” to eat these layered pancakes was stuffed with a savory filling and rolled. “The pancake should not open up, and the sauce from the dishes should not drip out—only this counts as knowing how to eat it. I once saw a gentleman who wrapped up the pancake, held it to his mouth, and ate it like a cabbage wrap. Everyone who saw him eating it could not help laughing.”26 Sweet flour bean paste and thinly sliced green onions were a must—“goat-horn (yang jiao) green onions are the best.” Equally crucial were a variety of thinly shredded smoked meats and meats boiled in soy sauce, usually bought from shops (Jin listed the three most famous, which included a palace provisioner). Next in importance was the “spring pancake mix” of bean sprouts and bean noodles. The best bean sprouts had to be the second layer from a bucket, or ones grown in water in a basin. The bean sprouts should be quickly dipped in boiling water and the dried bean noodles soft-boiled. After cooling in cold water, they were mixed with vinegar, black and white soy sauce, and minced garlic.