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Topping Off Chinese Meals With Table Wine

Aug 17, 2007
No dinner is complete without wine, which brings joy and drives away depression, and makes the old feel young and the young still more youthful. Taken in moderation, it is undoubtedly an excellent stimulant. In the far north of China where the climate is cold and kaoliang abundant, Kaoliang wine, which is somewhat stronger than Russian vodka or English gin, is commonly drunk.

In Central China a milder drink known as Shaohsing wine - named after its producing centre in Chekiang - is very popular. It is the wine of China. It has another name Hua Tiao tfa W meaning flower decoration, because the jars in which the wine is kept usually bear a floral decoration. When a girl is born, it is the common practice for the parents to make several jars of Shaohsing wine, the quantity depending upon the size of their purse, and keep them in a cool and dark room, until their daughter is married, so that on her wedding day, they will have at least some good old wine with which to entertain their guests.

In the South, where the climate is much warmer, a still milder drink known as Liao Pan meaning half strength, is commonly used. Stronger varieties, however, are obtainable. The flavoring of the wine is usually added afterwards, such as orange blossom and green plum.

Though Confucius was very particular in regard to food, his list of undesirable foodstuffs being a long one, he was not so with wine, as apparently all wines were acceptable to 'him. There are no records as to his capacity, but he is believed to have been a good drinker like the rest of those ancient scholars.

My own capacity does not exceed one wine cup of Shaohsing, so I am really not qualified to say much on the art of drinking. Perhaps it is well, for it is a subject in which I suspect our Western friends can give Eastern folk quite a few lessons.

In days gone by, good wine was named after an official in Chingchow. By a strange coincidence, the best Shaohsing wine obtainable at the wine merchant Wong Yu Ho in Shanghai is called LL.D. wine, after a famous Chinese lawyer who was one of his best customers. To secure some of this brand for my own use I have to go to the shop armed with a note from my legal friend as I know full well that I would not get it otherwise: the shop will not supply it to anyone who they think will not appreciate it.

The lawyer is now in Geneva, but I do not doubt that this shop continues to supply him with his favorite wine.

According to our ideas tea should be drunk in quiet surroundings, while wine should be accompanied by song. This may be the reason why restaurants are always noisy.

The renowned poets of old were, as a rule, good drinkers. Among them I may mention Li Pochinese, T'ao Tsin and Pa Chu I. Wine gave them inspiration and, when they drank enough, they wrote beautiful verses, a great number of which are still recited by school boys and girls of today. As you can see, wine had and continues to have a reserved spot at the Chinese dinner table.
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