The Secrets behind Shokugeki’s Chinese Cuisine

If Food Wars! Shokugeki no Souma Season 3 has proven anything to me in the episodes that have aired, it is the author’s, Yuuto Tsukuda, extensive knowledge and research in food alongside chef consultant, Yuki Morisaki. As a fellow Chinese writer, I found every single Chinese cuisine featured thus far in this season to be relatively precise and accurate, down to the very ingredients that went into the food. Here are the 4 Chinese cuisines that were expanded upon in Shokugeki during this Autumn Festival Arc compared to their real life counterparts.

Hu Jiao Bing 胡椒餅 (Translation: Black Pepper Buns)

This was Yukihira’s main dish presented in his small food stall to combat the monstrous Ma Po Tofu of Kuga-senpai, one of the Elite Ten. Though Shokugeki introduced this as a Taiwanese cuisine, it actually originated in the Fuzhou province of China, which is in the southern part of the country. Many of China’s most famous cuisines originate from the south due to the variety of crops and meat that can be cultivated there, along with easier trade access along the South China Sea, which helped spread their cuisine not only within China but also outside to foreign merchants.

Today, Hu Jiao Bing is largely referred to as Taiwanese food despite the fact that it is still popular in Southern China. Though the exact reason as to how an original Chinese cuisine became a popular Taiwanese dish is still relatively uncertain, it is suspected that the food was carried over by refugees running from Mao’s Revolution.

In Taiwan, Hu Jiao Bing is typically sold from small vendors on the streets, baked in the clay oven just like the one used by Yukihira in episode 3. They are traditionally used as celebratory food. On New Years, it can take a customer more than two hours in line to finally get their hands on Hu Jiao Bing.

Left is from Food Wars! Right is real life.

The reason why is that Hu Jiao Bing is made on the spot, just like Yukihira does when he served the customers. As true to form, Yukihira used ground pork to stuff the buns. This is because ground meat releases more juice when baked, allowing the spices that marinate the meat to not only seap deeper into the pork, but also into the bun. Pork, in particular, is favored not because of its qualities, but rather its availability. To this day, China is the biggest pork consuming and producing country, as pigs are easy to take care of in limited space, a resource that shrinks annually in the country.  From the first bite, the dish naturally creates a balance of crunchy on the top and bottom and chewy from the marinated bread and meat near the middle. The very distinct crunch made by Yukihira’s customers is very accurate to how it sounds when someone around you is eating Hu Jiao Bing.

Something else that is heavily utilized in Shokugeki which is true to the actual cooking is the spectacle. Unlike meals prepared in the kitchen, hidden from the customers, Hu Jiao Bing is meant to be made in front of the customer’s eyes. Aside from just whipping out the steaming hot buns from the clay ovens, pepper, both black and white, are seen to be dumped by the handfuls in open demonstration by the chef, leaving a dramatic spectacle of floating white and black powder for onlookers to enjoy while permeating the scent of pepper everywhere.

 

Shi Zi Tou 獅子頭 (Translation: Lion’s Head)

Known simply as “Giant Meatballs”, Shi Zi Tou is a staple in South Eastern China and has spread all over the country. They are named “Lion’s Head” because the size and shape of the meatball tends to resemble the traditional interpretation and statue of lions found in China, though I find them to look more like a giant meatball than a lion’s head. Having personally only been exposed to one type of Lion’s Head, I was surprised to find out that there are actually two kinds: “red” and “white”. White Lion’s Head tends to be the more popular (and also the one I eat) while Red Lion’s Head is particularly used in Zhenjiang province.

The difference in the “red” and “white”, and thus the real significance of the dish, isn’t actually in the meatball, but rather in the soup. In White Lion’s head, a “soft” broth is used, which is simply water boiled with napa (Chinese cabbage), bamboo, and tofu, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. No soy sauce or extra oil is added. Instead, the oil from the meat would naturally bring flavor into the soup, balancing out the strong and the soft. Water chestnut is also commonly used to accompany the meatball. 

White Lion’s Head is extremely appealing to the eye with a light colored broth yet colorful vegetables decorating the dish. The taste of the soup, though mild, is extremely homely. Even though the size of the meatball is particularly intimidating to me, I have always found the broth to be the perfect, soothing solution to a hard day of work. It leaves the stomach warm and comfortable. However, because the dish naturally doesn’t have much of a scent, the flavors hit the tongue stronger than expected.

Red Lion Head and Yukihira’s unique twist to it

Red Lion’s Head, on the other hand, is an explosion of flavor. It is braised in a pot of soy sauce, spices, salt, and hot oil. Napa cabbage is still a staple ingredient, but it no longer has to be served with soup. Drenched in spices and sauces, Red Lions’ Head tends to make more of a statement with not only its color but also its scent. Perhaps that is the reason why Yukihira decided to use the “red” version, and decided to take it one step further by slipping curry inside the already well flavored pork meatball. Its biggest advantage to the “white” version is its stronger umami, something Yukihira utilizes well, as it tends to attract bigger crowds through its long traveling scent. However, it is also important to note that it is harder to consume Red Lion’s Head than White Lion’s Head, as the sauce and spiciness can actually become overwhelming and leave customers more thirsty than full.

 

Ma Po Tofu 麻婆豆腐 (Translation: Numb Lady Tofu)

Probably one of THE most famous cuisines in China, this was widely expanded upon in Shokugeki, and the anime did it justice. Erina Nakiri’s lecture to Yukihira was completely on point: the most important element to this dish is Ma La, a flavor of spice that is the pinnacle of Sichuan Cuisine. Incidentally, Sichuan Cuisine, which includes Ma Po Tofu, is also the cuisine Kuga specializes in.

The flavor of “ma la” has been studied countless times because of the paradox it creates: it leaves the eater uncomfortable, hot, and numb, yet at the same time desperately wanting more. After much research was done, it has been suggested that the spices that create “ma la” has a chemical effect on the brain and body that can be similar to that of drugs, such as cocaine. The intensity of the flavor fires off receptors in the brain that leaves you jumpier and more excited, so even as your physical body reacts against it, your brain is left in a “happier” state and leaves you wanting more. In fact, it is possible to become addicted to the “ma la” flavor if one has it too often or the flavor becomes too strong. However, on a normal basis, it leaves only a very temporary and mild “high” that allows the eater to move on after eating.

This is what Kuga capitalizes on and excels in with his Ma Po Tofu, and where Yukihira realizes he must compensate for their difference in skills as Yukihira did not have the grasp of “ma la”. Kuga’s customers are seen literally spitting out fire while crying out “so painful, but I can’t stop eating” to illustrate the addictive qualities to Ma Po Tofu. And as someone who has ordered this dish countless times, all I can say is that it is no exaggeration. Before you’re even done devouring the dish, your tongue begins to grow numb, and you sweat like crazy. Yet every inch of your body still forces you to finish the meal.

The exaggerated reactions to “ma la”

The ma la flavor that can leave your entire body so heated is obtained by simmering the soft tofu in a bubbling pot of oil, spicy oil, black pepper, red pepper, and other sauces of the region. By the time the dish is presented, the soft tofu has been cooked in a bubbling pot of sauce for at least an hour and is still served with the sauce, which has literally become red from all the spices. What makes the punch even more effective is the fact that tofu is incredibly good at absorbing flavors and sauces, so the tofu is not only served coated in sauce, but also soaked through with it. On top of the sauce, it is also accompanied with green onions and ground pork, though there are rare instances where Ma Po Tofu is served with only tofu. Even more complicated, the spicy oil used tends to be personally brewed by restaurants with varying ingredients and style.

Ma Po Tofu is so popular today that it can literally be found anywhere in the country, and is typically served in authentic Chinese restaurants in the United States and Europe. It is often eaten with rice. The best versions tend to be served right on the street restaurants of Sichuan, China. However, those who dislike spicy foods should stay as far away as possible from this dish. I can guarantee a single bite is likely enough to take you out.

 

Dan Zi Mian 擔仔麵 (Translation: Slack Noodles)

Officially invented in Taiwan, this is a branch of Dan Dan Mian (Single Noodles) of Mainland China due to the fact that the noodles are made with the same process. Noodles came in many forms and ingredients: rice noodles, egg noodles, even starch noodles. So Dan Zi Mian and Dan Dan Mian only seem to add another type of noodle to the pack: dough noodles. However, the difference between these and other noodles lies in the craftsmanship and the making of the noodles. While all the other noodles can be made excellently with machines in factories, Dan Zi Mian and Dan Dan Mian, to this day, HAVE to be made by hand. Due to the always differing qualities in dough and yeast, it is extremely complicated to create a formula for machines to follow and spit out by the hundreds as it would have to account for thousands of variables including: how quickly the dough rises, how thin the dough is mashed, how watery the dough is, how naturally fresh the flour is.

Yukihira (and the author) did this justice by showing the viewers how he made the noodles. In a matter of a few seconds, he had pressed together already prepared dough originally used for the bread in Hu Jiao Bing and thinned it out with a rolling pin until the single sheet of dough could be rolled together in layers. Afterwards, he cut through the layers, resulting in the long, thin, stretched noodles before placing them in boiling water to cook. Even the speed with which he made the noodles is accurate. It is impossible to make the noodles first and leave them in a fridge as the noodles become flat and lose a sort of “bounciness” that accompanies chewing called “jin dao”. As a result, chefs are required to make them first come, first served. With multiple orders coming in, these chefs have to act as fast, as Yukihira did, when making them.

So if Dan Dan Mian’s and Dan Zi Mian’s noodles are made exactly the same, why are they even distinguished differently in the first place? Though location wouldn’t seem to be the answer to that question, it does actually affect how the noodles came to be. While it is unsurprising that the seafood industry is of great importance to an island like Taiwan, the ocean is often unpredictable. There comes seasons of typhoons where fishermen are simply unable to go out, leaving the island in “slack” waiting for the next round of fishing.

LEFT: the snack Dan Zi Noodles and RIGHT: the full meal, Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Zi Noodles first came to exist during this “slack” time (hence the name of Slack Noodles) where they were served as a snack to wait for the storm to pass. Specifically, the people of Taiwan had to use minimal ingredients that came from the sea. What resulted was a unique broth that accompanied the noodles, and it is this very broth that distinguishes Dan Zi Mian from Dan Dan Mian.

The broth mostly consists of either a single or two shrimps, artificial shrimp flavor, coriander, and garlic. The serving is very small, often eaten in a small bowl. In comparison, the original Dan Dan Noodle is a full entrée meal with a lot more variety. The broth can be filled with tomatoes, a variety of meat (pork, chicken, seafood), and various other vegetables in a huge clay bowl, at least twice as deep as the bowls Dan Zi Noodles are served in. Because of its small size, Dan Zi Noodle is not very fulfilling and acts as nothing more than a “filler”. In fact, to this day, Dan Zi Noodle is not considered a full meal/entrée and instead is treated as more of an appetizer and side dish.

By having Yukihira offer Dan Zi Noodles at the end of the day to mostly-full people seeking a small snack shows Shokugeki’s and the author’s complete understanding of where this dish originated from, why, and what its original purpose is.

 


Throughout my viewing of Shokugeki, I was continuously impressed by the level of research the author did for the food being presented in the storyline. It’s not just about whipping a fancy dish out of nowhere, get some fanservice cut in for the food-gasms, and continue on the next arc or battle. The fact that every single Chinese dish was not just drawn and animated correctly, but actually portrayed accurately through each dish’s flavor, technicalities, and usage in the real world that made me realize just how much effort he’s put into the subject of food and how truly important it is to the plotline of the story.

PS: Just one last random tidbit about Chinese cuisines: exact measurements are never used. Because spices are completely dependent on the quality and quantity of other ingredients, which are difficult to replicate in its exact form each time, chefs are completely dependent on instinct and scent to decide how much spice and sauce they should use. It is a running theme when Chinese parents teach their children about cooking. When the question comes up about how much to put in, the response tends to always be: Trial and error. You learn to recognize when you put too much or too little.

 

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