Culture Food Lifestyle

The past and the present of Beijing Luzhu Pork

In fact, like many traditional snacks, Luzhu Pork, as a product of a particular region in a specific historical environment, is mainly received by traditional Beijingers, but can not meet the many people living in Beijing today.

When it comes to Beijing’s food culture, in addition to the ethnic food of Manchu, Mongolian and Hui nationality, in addition to the palace cuisine represented by “Beijing Shandong cuisine“, and in addition to the famous banquet dish Beijing Roast Duck, the rest belongs to the eating method of the Han nationality in Beijing.

Anyone who knows the food of the Han nationality in Beijing will tell you that Beijing’s geographical environment is not good and its products are not rich, so the main point of Beijing food often lies in one reason-“poverty”. How do food relate to poverty? 

This shows that Beijingers have a state of mind of rejoicing in bitterness: even if there is no money in the bag and there is a shortage of food and clothes at home, I still want to eat cheap but delicious food under the existing conditions. Chinese people say that Beijingers are “poor but exquisite”, which is not only a mockery of Traditional Beijing Citizen’s pursuit of material happiness, but also a compliment to Traditional Beijing Citizen’s optimism and cheerfulness.

What do these “poor food” look like? Let me give you some examples. One snack is called “Stewed-Liver”. Although it is called liver, the actual content of liver is very small, the main meat is pig intestines, and the main ingredient of the whole dish is starch. Because liver is expensive, intestines and starch are cheap, Beijingers use the name “Stewed-Liver” to make it sound less poor. 

Another example is “Fired-Sausage”, which looks like a kind of sausage, but in fact there is no meat at all. It completely uses starch to imitate the taste of sausage. Typical poor people like to eat food, but compared with sausage, it also has unusual delicacy.

The representative of these “poor snacks” is Beijing’s controversial but famous food “Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake(卤煮火烧)”.

What is Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake? 

The origin is not simple.

Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake is not only a food, but also a whole process of production and service. Simply from the appearance of, Luzhu Pork is to put pig intestines, pig lungs, pig fat, fried tofu into a large pot filled with spice soup to boil, so that these materials taste, the more boiled, the more delicious. But only meat is not in line with the eating habits of ordinary Chinese, so Baked Wheat Cake will be boiled in the pot before eating. After Baked Wheat Cake absorbs the soup, put the Baked Wheat Cake into a large bowl and cut into pieces, then add the right amount of pig intestines, pig lungs, pork fat and fried tofu. Also cut into the bowl, pour over the spicy soup in the pot. Before eating, according to the diner’s own taste, you can add additional seasonings such as minced garlic.

In terms of composition, a bowl of Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake contains a lot of carbohydrate, protein and fat, which tastes fragrant and greasy. Compared with pure pork, viscera brings a richer taste, while long-term cooking in spices makes all the ingredients very fragrant. When you are hungry, eating a bowl of Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake, will satisfy your cravings and satisfy your appetite.

But people who do not like Luzhu Pork will think that the above advantages are disadvantages. The energy of Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake is so high that it is not very healthy for modern people. Although pig offal brings a complex aroma, it is difficult for many people to accept, not to mention that the offal is not easy to clean up, and if the chef is not skilled, it may leave a fishy smell or even a bad smell, which will frighten diners. Its flavor is fragrant, and people who like to eat light taste will think that the taste is too strong. All in all, Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake is a favorite food of old Beijingers, but there are not many people who like to eat Luzhu in the whole of China.

As mentioned above, offal is not easy to deal with, testing the chef’s skills; spice soup involves complex seasoning, and not all chefs can master it. Therefore, a good bowl of Luzhu Pork is not easy to find. Even the standard of a good Luzhu Pork is controversial. In fact, if we want to define Luzhu Pork, we still need to trace its origin.

If you look up the origin of Luzhu Pork, whether in English or Chinese, you can see a saying that the predecessor of: Luzhu Pork is the Qing Dynasty palace dish “Su Zao Rou” (Suzhou stew). Beijing people can’t afford to eat good pork, so they can only use pig offal instead of pork and eat a “poor version” of Su Zao Rou.

If you ask some food experts, they will probably give you the same conclusion. So, is this statement accepted? No, it’s not.

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In fact, in addition to the theory of the origin of Su Zao Rou, there are several theories about the prototype of Luzhu among Beijing folk. Some people say that, Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake imitates the “sheep chop suey” from the Hui people. Some people say that, Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake comes from the street snack “pork intestines with fried tofu” without Baked Wheat Cake.

But these two claims do not stand up to scrutiny. Compared with sheep chop suey soup, which is light and tasty, Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake is too fragrant and pays too much attention to seasoning. If sheep chop suey soup is “Yin”, then Luzhu Pork is “Yang”, the difference between the two is too obvious to be confused just because they both use internal organs. As for the fact that its prototype is a snack without Baked Wheat Cake, it conflicts with the origin of the now recognized famous brand “Chen’s Stewed Intestine” and is not very credible.

However, it is not accurate to say that Su Zao Rou is the origin of Luzhu Pork. Now we can speculate that its inventors subjectively have the idea of imitating Su Zao Rou, but objectively created products that are not very similar to Su Zao Rou. 

Let’s give an example to illustrate this mistake: when Columbus discovered the American continent, he thought it was India. When future generations understand that the American continent is not India, we should not say that “America and India are very similar” just because Columbus thought it was India.

Yes, objectively speaking, there is a lack of similarities between Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake and Su Zao Rou. Su Zao Rou imitates the taste of Suzhou stew, while the seasoning of Luzhu Pork is completely Beijing seasoning. There are great differences in ingredients and tastes between the two. Generally speaking, we think that the Hebei people in the east of Beijing are the inventors of today’s Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake. For example, Chen Zhaoen, the founder of the largest Luzhu Pork brand Chen’s Stewed Intestine, is from Sanhe County in the east of Beijing. Residents in the east of Beijing like to eat salt-preserved beans Douchi, and traditional Luzhu Pork soup also contains a lot of Douchi, which is very different from the taste of Su Zao Rou.

So, Luzhu Pork and Su Zao Rou are not only different in main ingredients, but also very different in seasonings. It is just so-so to say that Su Zao Rou is its origin, and it is a big mistake to say that Luzhu Pork is the Su Zao Rou, of offal instead of good pork.

What should Luzhu Pork do? I recommend you not to eat indiscriminately

Therefore, if we take Su Zao Rou as the object of Luzhu Pork’s “kind of imitation”, and determine that the residents in the east of Beijing are the inventors of Luzhu Pork, we can identify two elements of traditional Luzhu Pork:

1. The original intention of Luzhu Pork is to imitate stew, so it should be meat-based, not seasoning-based, let alone too salty (this will cause the imitation of fresh meat to be distorted into the imitation of bacon products).
2. Luzhu Pork should be based on the taste of residents in the east of Beijing, with Douchi flavor, fermented bean curd in the soup (which cannot be added by diners themselves), and no spices such as chives and coriander that are not usually used for stew in Beijing and around Beijing.

Under these two basic requirements, in line with the habits of Beijingers and the author’s own taste preferences, I put forward some requirements for a good bowl of Luzhu Pork:

First of all, the main ingredient of Luzhu Pork, but also the most delicious material, pig intestines. Pig intestines should be handled clean and must not have a fishy smell, but the treatment process should not save time and add toxic and harmful preparations. But pig offals can not be left only casings, can not be a thin layer, to properly retain fat to enhance aroma. The intestines should be chewed hard enough to give diners the pleasure of chewing. They should not be too soft to eat without feeling, nor should they be too hard to swallow. Don’t cut too many pieces, be the right size, and give diners the satisfaction of eating meat instead of snacks.

Pig lungs should also be clean and not toxic or harmful. Cut pieces should also be of the right size and have the satisfaction of eating meat.

Fat meat is the only non-offal pork left in Luzhu Pork. Although it accounts for a small proportion in a bowl, it should be good meat, not bad offcut. It should taste as delicious and satisfying as the usual pork stew, and should not be cut into small pieces.

Fried tofu itself should be delicious enough before putting into the pot, fluffy and porous, can not be dry and hard to chew, and can not be eaten soft without being fried thoroughly. Similarly, you can’t cut into small pieces, nor can you cut into shredded tofu! It is best to cut into triangles or diamonds size.

Baked Wheat Cake is not made from leaven dough. Eating leaven dough Baked Wheat Cake is not a habit of Beijingers. The fire should be thoroughly boiled and soft, but it should not become sticky and turn into batter. There is not enough time to cook the broth. Beijingers are called “White dough core”, which means that only the surface layer has sucked the broth, and the inner layer is still white, which is absolutely unqualified.

Soup can not be muddy, can not have blood foam. Floating Luzhu Pork soup can only be made when pork and pig offal are of poor quality. It is for people to drink, and there can be no such disgusting thing. To reconcile the broth and all the seasonings, the mixture must be adequate. No soup and ingredients are not mixed, resulting in uneven taste. Taste should be partial to stew, meat-based, Douchi flavor. Don’t be too salty! No one eats Luzhu Pork for salt.

If the restaurant seasoning chooses to add fermented bean curd, then fermented bean curd should be added to the soup pot, not let the guests add it themselves. The restaurant can not put leek cauliflower, can not put parsley. That’s not the way Beijingers eat.

The overall operation process and dining environment should be clean! Luzhu Pork is a traditional food with greasy materials, which can easily lead to greasy and dirty desk, which is by no means a good way to entertain guests, so Luzhu Pork restaurants must pay special attention to hygiene.

After reading so many requirements, you may think that you might as well recommend the appropriate Luzhu Pork restaurant directly. However, I am sorry to tell you that the above standards are idealized. In Beijing, some Luzhu Pork restaurant can occasionally meet most of the above standards, but almost no restaurant can meet all of them at any time. And I’m sorry to tell you that most restaurant can’t even do a fraction of these standards.

Why? Isn’t Luzhu Pork a traditional snack in Beijing? In fact, like many traditional snacks, Luzhu Pork, as a product of a particular region in a specific historical environment, is mainly received by traditional Beijingers, but can not meet the many people living in Beijing today. If not because Luzhu Pork is not only a physical food, but also a culture and memory belonging to Beijing. Luzhu Pork, like many other food, should have gradually become a very rare food or even disappeared.

However, due to the strong cultural influence of Beijing, many “new Beijingers” who settled in Beijing are eager to integrate into the historic city, Luzhu Pork and have been preserved as a cultural symbol. As a result, Luzhu Pork no longer serves traditional Beijingers and begins to serve a variety of diners across the country. As a result, today, many Luzhu Pork no longer have the typical Douchi aroma to the east of Beijing and begin to use more ordinary salt water as the seasoning core; some Luzhu Pork begin to add fermented bean curd, leek flowers and coriander to the seasoning list; many Luzhu Pork chefs simply do not have the right craftsmanship, pig offal is not handled well, and still has a disgusting smell.

As a direct result, many tourists will find “Luzhu Pork really bad” after eating some of these Luzhu Pork,. Among the various guidebooks in Beijing, some untraditional Luzhu Pork Restaurant are vigorously promoted (perhaps because stores are better at advertising marketing), and the tastes of these stores are not only untraditional, or even delicious, such as the famous “Beixinqiao Luzhu Pork Original Restaurant”. In addition, because many tourists think that eating Luzhu Pork in Beijing is part of tourism, many restaurant can make money by doing “one-time business”. They almost do not consider making Luzhu Pork delicious at all, but just bring out a bowl of food that is not Luzhu Pork at all and charge a high price.

In the early years, there was a saying, called “three kilograms of pig intestines for one kilogram of pork”, meaning that pig intestines are cheaper than pork, so the Luzhu Pork, which the poor like to eat, chooses pig intestines as the main raw material. Today, as Luzhu Pork has become a favorite dish for tourists, pig intestines have become expensive. In fact, in many cases, a bowl of Luzhu Pork is more expensive than a bowl of stewed pork. 

At such a high price, it would be unfair to eat a bowl of unprofessional Luzhu Pork, right?

What’s more, Beijingers believe that, Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake takes a long time to cook to taste. The traditional saying “Eat Luzhu Pork? Find a restaurant with less diners “, that is, in the Luzhu Pork restaurant with a large number of customers, because the pot time of Baked Wheat Cake is short, it is hard to avoid the unsavoury Baked Wheat Cake. Today, this often happens in popular stores frequented by tourists. So if you are a tourist, I do not recommend you to go to popular Luzhu Pork restaurant.

So, I suggest you, if you come to Beijing for the first time, don’t choose to eat Luzhu Pork and Baked Wheat Cake at all. If you are really curious, you can try the most traditional Luzhu Pork brand “Chen’s Stewed Intestine”, although there is no guarantee of good quality, at least not a bowl of completely wrong things. Or, you can contact me through facebook, and I will recommend a Luzhu Port store suitable for you according to the actual situation in Beijing.

But in short, do not go to various guidebooks recommend stores, such as “Beixinqiao Luzhu Pork Original Restaurant”.

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