THE ninth day of the ninth month on the Chinese lunar calendar is the Double Ninth Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday with a history of over 2,000 years since the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Various activities were held on this special day, including mountain climbing, drinking chrysanthemum wine, wearing a wreath made of a dogwood plant (Cornus officinalis), flying kites, and eating varicolored rice cakes.
It was customary to climb hills on the Double Ninth Festival during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Even the emperors would climb the Prospect Hill (in today’s Jingshan Park) to worship the Buddha and pray for longevity and peace, as well as enjoy a sweeping panorama of the capital city. On the same day, dignitaries, literati, and nobility would step out onto rockeries and terraces in their backyard gardens; some paid a visit to scenic spots such as the Eight Great Temples of the Western Hills, Fragrance Hill, Five-Pagoda Temple, and the White Pagoda in today’s Beihai Park.
Admiring the chrysanthemum blossoms and drinking chrysanthemum wine was a custom in old Beijing. The graceful flower in full bloom in late autumn is a symbol of loyalty of love through thick and thin. On that day, literati traveled to the Tianning Temple and today’s Zhongshan Park where a variety of chrysanthemums were planted.
Eating rice cake, a seasonal dim sum, symbolizes “getting promotion step by step” in the Qing Dynasty; therefore, a varicolored rice cake banquet was usually held in the imperial court. The standardized rice cake has nine layers, with five layers of pastry and four layers of stuffing, which varied from jujube paste, sweetened bean paste, five kernels, to all kinds of dried fruits. Among all pastry shops in Beijing, rice cakes sold in Zhengmingzhai at Qianmen Street were the most popular.
Chrysanthemum hotpot was another custom. Various delicacies, accompanied with white chrysanthemum petals, deep-fried bean vermicelli, and a variety of vegetables, were put into a red copper pot fueled by alcohol beneath. And deep-fried noodle was an essential staple food. Marinated in the aroma of chrysanthemum wine, both host and guests were in an exalted mood of composing and reciting poetry.
The Double Ninth Festival is a good season to regain energy and two recommended delicacies are: braised beef with carrots and deep-fried crabs.
For the first dish, the ingredients are 100g beef, 250g carrots, 30g soy sauce, 15g cooking wine, 3g salt, 10g sugar, 25g chopped scallion and ginger, and some red pepper and aniseed. Cut the beef into three-cm cubic blocks and carrots into diamond shape. Boil the beef clods in boiling water and fish out when the color changes. Heat oil in the pan and sprinkle red peppers, aniseed, chopped scallion, and ginger inside, then stir-fry. Pour in the beef clods and fry with cooking wine and soy sauce. Add carrots when the beef is almost ready. Stew the beef together with carrots till the gravy thickens and is absorbed.
The second dish needs 12 river crabs, 600g tenderloin, 100g Shiitake mushroom, 50g bamboo shoots, 20g dried shrimp, 6g salt, 5g sesame oil, 30g corn starch, two eggwhites, 75g breadcrumbs, and 15g cooking wine. Wash the crabs and steam for 20 minutes. Cool the crabs and scoop the meat out of the shell. Mix chopped scallion and ginger with sesame oil to make the sauce. Chop tenderloin into mince, with mushroom, bamboo shoots, and dried shrimp into dices, add in crab meat with salt, sugar, pepper powder, and cooking wine, and stir evenly to make the stuffing. Put the stuffing into crab shells, add the eggwhite and corn starch paste, and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Deep-fry the crabs till they turn golden in color. Eaters can enjoy the dish with the dipping sauce.
TONG CHANGYOU is a Beijing Cuisine master and member of China Cuisine Association and Beijing Cuisine Association.