Chongqing – The festival vibe of the Chinese New Year has gradually climbed up and mixed with the chilling air of late December. One month before the traditional holiday arrives, many households enjoy the first bite of the festival season – smoked bacon and sausages.
At the break of dawn, Shu Tong, a veteran of making smoked meat, arrived at a smoking site in a quiet neighborhood in Liangjiang New Area. His job is to run the smoker and have all the cuts sent here properly done.
It is a medium-sized red hut, two smokers in the corner, next to which are sausages and other cuts hang on racks waiting to be smoked or picked up.
It is another hectic day ahead for Shu and his working mates. At 8 a.m., he started to set up the smoker.
Wood sticks are laid into the smoker to keep the fire going, then cypress twigs, whose aroma will be absorbed by the cuts in the process, and a thick layer of chaff on top, which enables heavier smoke to get the meat done.
“When the temperature hit 50 degrees centigrade inside, I will put out the flame and let the smoke do its work.” Shu sits in front of the smoker and controls the heat with care, “it is the old-fashioned way and takes patience, usually three to four hours before each batch is done.”
Among the first flock of clients, Wu Jianying, in her 70s, came with her youngest son. They brought 35 kilograms of cured cuts to be processed.
Wu had spent days on preparation. The meat came from a relative who raised pigs in her hometown, a small village 140 miles away.
“I left my hometown for Chongqing about ten years ago. Every year, I bought a whole pig from my hometown before the Spring Festival, like many people who immigrate to the city. It is my connection with where I was born and raised,” Wu said.
Meat cuts need to be cured and wait for another few days for flavors to develop and meat to dry. Although salt, pepper, sugar are mostly used, each household is likely to have its unique recipe, making cured cuts taste different from household to household.
“We can easily buy smoked sausages and bacon from supermarkets, but my families prefer homemade ones. I prepared both sweet and spicy sausages. The sweet ones are for my great-grandson. He likes it a lot,” Wu said.
In the same afternoon, her smoked meat will be ready for pick-up. Two more days, her great-grandson will be home from university and share the food and happiness of the new year with her.
Like Wu’s family, many households in southwest China make smoked meat as part of their new year routine.
Smoking was inherited from the agricultural society as a food preservation method. Smoking meats before the Chinese New Year has been an age-long practice in rural China.
Rapid urbanization sees the conflict between traditional habits and city life. In 2015, smoking meats at home was banned by Chongqing to prevent air pollution.
To enable this long-held tradition to survive, the local authority sets up dozens of smoking sites equipped with eco-friendly smokers this year, which help residents play out the ceremonial routine without the smog polluting the air.
Zhang Youlun, who runs the site, said the smokers are equipped with filtering machines, “the smoke will be filtered before emitted into the open air with minimized pollution. Hazardous substances in the smoke will be extracted and turned into solid wastes. We collect and handle them in an eco-friendly way.”
“Many people in the neighborhood come with cured cuts. We can have 1,500 kilograms of meat done each day.” Zhang said his family has smoked sausages and bacon in early December, which is what they do every year, “the way we do it changes for the better, but the old tradition stays.”
(This article was written by Guo Shuyu, Liangjiang New Area Media Center, and revised by Kenny Dong.)
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