By Keqiao Cheng, EDITOR
Where you can find a Chinese, you can find zhacai.
Zhacai, which literally means “pressed vegetable” in Chinese, is a popular pickled mustard stem in China. It is often used to enhance the flavor when cooking meat, vegetables and sometimes noodles and porridge.
This spicy, sour and salty flavored pickle originated in Fuling District of Chongqing, and it has been spread overseas by Chinese diasporas. The craft of making Fuling zhacai was inscribed in the second group of the National Intangible Cultural Heritages in China in 2008.
With the advance of technology, the production of zhacai has been industrialized, which has replaced the traditional handmaking method, and the high efficiency of production by machines has caused the decay of the tradition.
“During the Chinese New Year, we used to see a lot of racks of zhacai along the riversides of the Yangtse River, which was spectacular. Now, they are gone.”
Says Miss Wan Shaobi, inheritor of the traditional zhacai-making craft. She has expressed her concern about the decay of this intangible cultural heritage.
The traditional craft of making zhacai is a true art. Counting from selecting raw vegetable to unseal jars filled with zhacai, it takes 15 steps which equal to 180 days. Thus, a half-year journey has been done before this delicious preserved vegetable is served on your table.
When Wan talks about making zhacai, she repeats that it is never a high-range product, but it is a mirror that reflects the way of living of the local people of Fuling.
Speaking of being an inheritor of zhacai-making craft, she always hopes that when someone eats it, he or she will immediately think of the tradition. Zhacai, a carrier of tradition, is more than a food, and it is something that could bring the nostalgia out of you.
“If the traditional zhacai-making craft disappears, then we can’t call it zhacai anymore.” Says Wan.