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Chatang

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Chatang

For the village in Tibet, see Chatang, Tibet.

Chatang (茶汤; pinyin: chátāng; literally "tea soup") or seasoned flour mush is a traditional gruel common to both Beijing cuisine and Tianjin cuisine, and often sold as a snack on the street. It is made from sorghum flour and/or broomcorn millet and/or proso millet flour and glutinous millet flour. The Chinese name is figurative, not literal, as there is neither any tea nor any soup in this dish.

The dish is prepared in two steps. First, flours of sorghum and/or millet are cooked in advance, often stir fried, and after the completion, the flour is ready to be served. When a customer orders the dish, hot water is poured into the bowl containing the flour(s) to create a paste-like mush, and it is served with white and/or brown sugar, and Sweet Osmanthus sauce (桂花; pinyin: guìhuā jiàng). Interestingly, the Sweet Osmanthus plant is not native to northern China.

Traditionally, the skill of the server was judged on several factors and one of them is regarding the resulting mush: the most skillful server would be able to create the mush so thick that when a chopstick is inserted into the mush it remains vertical, while at the same time the mush remains fluid. Other criteria for the servers' skills included the ability not to splash any hot water outside the bowl and spill out any flour, because traditionally all ingredients are placed in a bowl into which is poured boiling water from a special copper kettle with a long, dragon-shaped spout called (pinyin: lóngzuǐ dàtónghú; literally "dragon mouth large copper jug") and special skills were needed to handle this equipment. The ingredients are then stirred together and the chatang is eaten with a spoon.

Kettle

Traditionally, chatang vendors were easily distinguished by the kettle they used. The kettle was extremely large, up to four feet tall with a diameter in excess of a foot, and was often made of copper. There are two kinds of kettles: those used by street vendors, and those found in restaurants and tea houses. The two differ in internal structure.

The kettles used by street vendors are double layered, with fuel in the inner layer in the center, and water in the outside layer similar to samovars. The advantage of such a structure is that it reduces the need to carry a stove to heat the water in the kettle, and it improves fuel efficiency since most heat is utilized, in contrast to the use of a separate kettle and stove. Furthermore, in the windy weather conditions of northern China, such a structure prevents the flame from being blown out by the wind if there are separate ordinary stovetop kettle and stove.

Despite the two varieties of kettles' identical external appearance, the complex structure of the kettles used by street vendors is not present for those used in restaurants and tea houses, for obvious reasons: since the stove is located inside, it is immune to the windy weather outside and stoves are necessary to cook other dishes, so there is no need to pay extra for a more expensive kettle with such a complex structure.

Cultural representations

The different ways of serving seasoned flour mush have some cultural significance in distinguishing that of Beijing cuisine from Tianjin cuisine, since the same kind of seasoned flour mush tastes identical. Traditionally, the styles of serving were clearly different when the hot water is poured from the kettle:

The way hot water was poured in Beijing cuisine was that the server stood straight up, with legs apart at distance greater than the width of his shoulder, while the upper body leaned toward the bowl. In contrast, the way hot water was poured in Tianjin cuisine was that the server was in a semi-squatting down position with body straight. Obviously, such a feat is rather dangerous, especially without any specialized training, and thus the special kettle has been phased out as modern technology enables the dish to be served like coffee, and the use of a kettle only survives in extremely rare occasions as a cultural heritage demonstration.

Seasoned proso millet mush

Seasoned proso millet mush, or mian cha (面茶) in Chinese, is a special kind of seasoned flour mush (cha tang, 茶汤). Like the seasoned flour mush, (cha tang, 茶汤), the Chinese literal translation of the name of this dish is also misleading, because it means noodle tea, but there is neither noodles nor tea in this dish.

The seasoned proso millet mush (mian cha, 面茶) is unique in two ways. First, it only uses proso millet flour instead of sorghum and millet flour. Second, instead of using Sweet Osmanthus sauce in regular seasoned flour mush, (cha tang, 茶汤), sesame tahini was used, while the sugar in the regular seasoned flour mush, (cha tang, 茶汤) is replaced by a mix of ground Sichuan peppercorns and salt.

Seasoned oily flour mush

Seasoned oily flour mush, or you cha (油茶) in Chinese, is the non-vegetarian variety of the seasoned flour mush (cha tang, 茶汤). Like the seasoned flour mush, (cha tang, 茶汤), the Chinese literal translation of the name of this dish is also misleading, because you cha is also the Chinese name for the Tea-oil Camellia, the plant that is the source for camellia oil. Obviously, the dish is not a plant and there is not any product from the plant in this dish. In fact, when camellia oil is taken uncooked, it is toxic.

The flour used to make seasoned oily flour mush (油茶; you cha) is the same as that used for seasoned flour mush (茶汤; cha tang); that is, it can be any of the sorghum, millet, or proso millet. The flour is often stir fried (but sometimes fried) together with beef fat, and sometimes with beef bone marrow added. After the preparation of the flour is completed, the dish is served the same way as other seasoned flour / proso millet mush (cha tang, 茶汤 / mian cha, 面茶).

See also

Food portal

External links

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