The residing, respiratory sauce that is at the heart of China’s regional cuisines : NPR


One particular of the wonderful cornerstones of Chinese society is its food stuff. And at the heart of China’s numerous regional cuisines is a person, key sauce: Lu.


1 of the good cornerstones of Chinese tradition is its food items. And at the heart of China’s numerous regional cuisines is 1 magic formula sauce. NPR’s Beijing correspondent Emily Feng provides us into a kitchen to uncover what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foods Sizzling)

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Chef Peter starts his working day at 2 p.m., mixing with each other the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and a boatload of spices that sort the foundation of his cuisine. Then he carefully unwraps a plastic bag with his secret ingredient. It can be a sauce that’s 40 years previous.

PETER: (By way of interpreter) This is just one particular modest component, but it can be crucial to the total taste.

FENG: The sauce is called Lu or Lu Shui. And in essence each individual Chinese regional delicacies uses some variation of it. Ordinarily it is created out of a base of salt, such as soy sauce, sugar and a mix of spices. And to Peter, the sauce is a dwelling, breathing issue.

PETER: (By way of interpreter) You have to elevate an previous Lu sauce like raising a child.

FENG: You could be wanting to know by now – the sauce is not pretty much 40 years previous, but it will come from an unbroken chain of sauces relationship back again to the initially a single his mother in Shanghai designed in the 1980s. Peter always saves the remainder of each individual Lu batch and employs the outdated sauce to start out the future new batch of sauce. It is a little bit like sourdough, wherever the previous seeds the new and the taste intensifies around the years. This is the way most Lu sauces are produced.

PETER: (Through interpreter) Think about it. In one particular dish of Lu-braised duck, you are eating the essence of at minimum 7,000 or 8,000 ducks that have passed as a result of it.

FENG: Once, an unknowing waiter threw out the Lu sauce Peter was preserving for the next day’s dishes.

PETER: (As a result of interpreter) I fired him. Individuals who are in the organization know that this Lu is like my daily life. And it’s a minor component of my mother. So throwing it away is like disrespecting my ancestors’ tombs.

FENG: Cao Yu, a food writer and historian at Jinan College, suggests Lu at initially only denoted any sort of salt drinking water utilised as a marinade for chilly boiled meat and vegetables.

CAO YU: (By way of interpreter) I imagine the emergence of the Lu we know nowadays is about by the Ming dynasty, much more than 7 centuries in the past, when you noticed the emergence of privatized organizations and markets.

FENG: To draw in new shoppers, these new personal foodstuff sellers began introducing new flavors and new approaches to prepare dinner Lu, by introducing spices or soy sauce for shade. In the hundreds of years since, Lu has diversified, having on the qualities of each regional cuisine. For example, in spicy Sichuan province…

YU: (By means of interpreter) Lu is used to add flavor and intensity. So Sichuanese use a ton of spices in their Lu. But in Cantonese cooking, they want the flavor of the ingredients to occur out. So they use considerably much less salt and spice.

FENG: Some Lu is even alcoholic, like Zao Lu, a gentle marinade made from the fermented glutinous rice mash still left in excess of from brewing Chinese yellow wine, or huangjiu.


FENG: 4 hours later on in Peter’s kitchen, his a great deal sweeter Shanghai-fashion Lu has simmered down to a darkish, thick soup. Peter cuts down it further more right until it results in being a molasses-like syrup.

PETER: (By interpreter) The sauce coats every single morsel. The juices mix evenly with the body fat of the pig trotters in this circumstance.

FENG: The intensive previous Lu sauce is what is created Peter’s cafe a properly-hidden gem in Beijing via term of mouth only. In actuality, Peter expressly forbade us from employing his complete title or mentioning his cafe in this piece since he does not want too many shoppers

PETER: (Through interpreter) We have a saying – fame delivers hassle (laughter). And this restaurant is my playground. I do not want too numerous men and women to come.

FENG: Cooking just about every night time is also a minor risky. Peter claims he goes all-in each individual time, employing up all his old Lu sauce for pork, beef and duck for every meal – no backups, no insurance coverage coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foodstuff Scorching)

PETER: (Via interpreter) We are incredibly very careful – exceptionally very careful with the sauce.

FENG: I talk to about vacations. Would he ever entrust yet another individual to feed and choose care of his Lu sauce if he’s away? No, Peter states. The sauce is just way too important to him.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

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