Category Archives: Students

In Search of Efen

By  Allison Shichen Du, published as part of the Undergraduate Series

This summer, I started a journey to explore Manchu (Manzu) food both in books and in real life. After reviewing A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary written by Jerry Normanin May, I thought that flour-made foods are very important in the Manchu daily diet. The word efen appear quite a lot in the dictionary. According to Norman, it refers to “bread, pastry, cake and any kind of bread-like product made from flour.”[1] To understand what efen looks and tastes like, I took a short trip to  Beijing where a substantial Manchu population has lived since the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) to search for traditional Manchu efen.

I consulted a friend of mine, whose family has lived in Beijing for several generations, about where to look for traditional Manchu food. He recommended Ox Street (Niu jie) as the best place to find the most authentic and traditional Manchu efen. Ox Street is actually a neighborhood centered around Muslim communities rather than Manchu inhabitants because of the Ox Street Mosque, the largest mosque in Beijing, which was built in the Liao dynasty (907-1125).

I found a vendor selling varieties of efen called Hong Ji Xiaochi Dian. This small restaurant consisted of two counters, one selling braised meat and another selling grain-based foods which are known in Chinese as staple foods (zhushi).

I felt that this vendor is a practical food provider for local residents and does not primarily cater to tourists. The staple foods counter was popular with a long queue in front of it. All the customers except for me were native Beijing people with pronounced Beijing accents. The salesperson insisted that the minimum portion of  efen sold should be a quarter-kilogram and dispensed the efen in plastic bags.  Both of these conditions suggest that efen is meant to be eaten shortly after being purchased and is not packaged to be distributed over long distances, as souvenirs would be.

The following three pictures are the efen I bought and tried on site. These efen are cut and sold by weight. Since they are so soft and sticky, the efen do not look visually appealing, but they were the most delicious I have tasted. The red bean paste was not overly sweet, and its taste and smell were that of real bean rather than artificial flavoring. The rice flour similarly smells like fresh rice. The sour taste of the haw, the red strip on the efen, lessened the sweetness.Normally, I find Chinese cakes to be filling in very small amounts but I finished a whole quarter-kilogram of efen within fifteen minutes.

Efen made with rice, red bean paste and haw strips
Efen made with black rice, red bean paste and haw strips
Efen made with millet, red bean paste and haw strips

The next three pictures show efen containing jujube and milletas described in Jerry Norman’s dictionary such as tūmen efen defined as “steamed millet cake.” When I smelled this efen, I could easily detect the genuine scents of jujube, rice, millet, black rice and haw. I was impressed by how the distinct smells and tastes of the grains and fruits were preserved well in this type of food.

Efen made with glutinous rice and jujube
Efen made with proso millet, jujube and peanut
Efen made with black rice, millet and haw

Reflecting on this journey, I found what confused and fascinated me most is the identity of the efen. As a person of Han and Manchu ancestry, I went to a place known as a Muslim neighborhood surrounded by an ethnically heterogeneous group of “Beijingers” looking for authentic Manchu food. Although the efens in the Ox Street resembled most to the description of Manchu cake in all the readings I reviewed, finding them was not a straightforward process. When I asked for help to search for Manchu food, native Beijing people could only think of places selling “Old Beijing cuisine (Lao Beijing cai),” not cakes or other foods that may be eaten separately rather than as components of meals. I also received few recommendations for establishments that are not part of restaurant chains. “Manchu food” has been popularized by companies like the Daoxiang Village (Daoxiang cun) restaurant group but to someone like me who has grown up eating homecooked Manchu food, the adaptation of such cuisine to suit non-Manchu people’s tastes is obvious. Furthermore, I noticed that the efen I found looks similar to Korean sweet rice cakes (tteok). Given the historical flow of commodities and movement of people between Northeast China and the Korean peninsula, it is hard to conclude that efen is only a Manchu food or a Beijing Manchu one. I will do more taste tests in the city of Shenyang in Liaoning province, which is also considered a Manchu cultural center like Beijing, and in South Korea to substantiate textual interpretations of efen with comparative physical manifestations.


[1] Jerry Norman, A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 90.


My name is Allison Shichen DU. I am currently a third-year (junior) undergraduate studying social sciences at the University of Hong Kong. I am doing research about ethnic minorities in Northern China supervised by Dr. Loretta Kim. My interest in Northern China’s ethnic minorities arose from a course called “Regional Studies-Northeastern China.” In that course, we learned about the history of the region and designed research for current issues affecting the region. The field trip we took afterwards to Heilongjiang province in May 2018 and our fieldwork in ethnic minority communities increased my interest. I enjoyed absorbing knowledge about these small but special groups in contemporary China and hope to produce more valuable work with my professor so that these groups’ cultures will not fade away.​

Introducing the UG series

By Laurence Totelin

For the last five years, the Recipes Project has been running an annual September Teaching series. That series has proven extremely successful, and the blog is now a mine of resources for any teacher in search of inspiration. Repeatedly, posts published as part of the series have demonstrated the extraordinary pedagogical power of historical recipes, as texts or as interface between the written and the material.

Parallel to this, fostering the career of younger scholars has always been part of the Recipes Project’s mission. It has published — and continues to publish — the work of MA and PhD students, some of whom have now settled into their careers, academic or otherwise.

Inspired by my own experience as a contributor and editor of the Recipes Project, in the academic year 2015/16, I decided to incorporate blogging into the assessment of my Cardiff University UG module on Greek and Roman Medicine. I was overwhelmed by the quality of the work of my students. Most of them had neither studied ancient medicine nor blogged before, but they took on both challenges! They inspired me to push myself further as a teacher. 


Advert for poducts of the Pharmacie Centrale de France representing a professor teaching pharmacy to students in mid-16th century Paris. Colour lithograph, after 1889. Source: Wellcome Images

They also sowed a seed in my mind: what about starting an undergraduate series for the Recipes Project? So, this month, for the first time, we are showcasing the fabulous work of  four undergraduate students: Joanna Cunningham, Allison Shichen Du, Eboni John, and Hazel Lunn.

We hope that our readers will enjoy their work. We also hope that those readers with teaching responsibilities will consider encouraging their UG students to blog and share their fresh insights into historical recipes.


Teaching Resource Round-Up!

Jess Clark

In 2017, the academic journal Global Food History published a roundtable on “Teaching Food History.” Participants, including one of this month’s contributors Jeffrey Pilcher, described the exciting outcomes and periodic challenges of developing food history courses. This includes the use of recipes in the classrooms as a means to consider silences in the archives; grapple with questions of material history; and to think about (and experience) issues around labor, production, and supply.[1]

"Food Administration - Education - Teaching food conservation in canning in Western Nebraska," 1917-1918, National Archives at College Park, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
“Food Administration – Education – Teaching food conservation in canning in Western Nebraska,” 1917-1918, National Archives at College Park, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

All through the month, we’ve had the pleasure of extending these conversations, featuring different approaches to teaching with recipes. As our contributors have shown, recipes represent an exciting and accessible form that encourages students to think in new ways about reading practices, but also histories of class, gender, and global exchange.

This month’s Series means that we now have some 24 posts on teaching available on the site. In this final post of September 2018, we’ve listed these resources for our readers, categorized by approach and topic. Some of them date to 2014, when Amanda Herbert first launched the Series. We hope this makes our teaching resources even more accessible for educators and will encourage the use of recipes in the classroom. And, as always, we want to hear from you about how you use recipes in the classroom! Please join us in the Comments section to continue the conversation.

Foods and Cookery laboratory, School of Household Art, Teachers' College, Columbia University, 1910-20. From Collection #23-2-749, item M-OS-08. Cornell University Library. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
Foods and Cookery laboratory, School of Household Art, Teachers’ College, Columbia University, 1910-20. From Collection #23-2-749, item M-OS-08. Cornell University Library. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

 

Recreating Recipes

Understanding Recipes

 National Approaches

Online Approaches

Recipes in the Public: Exhibits, Objects, and Living History

Transcribing

 

[1] Beth Forrest et al, “Teaching Food History: a Discussion Among Practitioners,” Global Food History 3.2 (2017): 194-208.

 

 

Scarborough Fare: Recipes at the Culinaria Research Centre

In this post, Jeffrey Pilcher explains the development of a dynamic research initiative, the University of Toronto Scarborough‘s Culinaria Research Centre, an interdisciplinary program in food studies, history, and culture.

Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Recipes provide an endless source of discovery. Although I began my research more than twenty-five years ago, poring over the cookbook collection at the Condumex Archive in Mexico City, I continue to be amazed by the diversity and historical change in Mexican cuisine that are documented in recipe collections. In re-reading the first Mexican cookbook signed by a woman, Vicenta Torres de Rubio, I noticed that for the nineteenth-century elite, guacamole was not a dip of mashed avocado with chile but rather a European-style salad, carefully diced and garnished with oil and vinegar. Likewise, mole poblano, which is now considered Mexico’s national dish because of its mixture of New World chiles and chocolate with Old World spices, was once a colonial concoction made primarily with European ingredients such as lamb, pork, almonds, and sesame seeds, but seldom with the Indigenous turkey, and never, in the eighteenth century at least, with chocolate. Only after the Revolution of 1910 did Mexican elites embrace the Indigenous culinary heritage and its ingredients.

University of Toronto Scarborough by Loozrboy. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0.
University of Toronto Scarborough by Loozrboy. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0.

 

Students in the Food Studies program at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, actively participate in the discovery of historical food and culture. Daniel Bender began teaching a course called “Edible History” a decade ago using a portable heating unit to provide cooking demonstrations. The class came into its own with the construction of the Culinaria Kitchen Laboratory, funded through an Ontario provincial infrastructure grant, which allowed students in lab sections to prepare recipes at their own cooking stations, thereby gaining an experiential understanding of culinary labor. Homework assignments reinforce this process of discovery by asking students to independently reconstruct historical recipes and reflect on what their successes — and failures — in the kitchen reveal about foods from the past. As the highpoint of the class, students run a pop-up curry kitchen in place of a midterm exam, preparing a range of historical recipes for people across the campus, thereby exploring the genealogies of a globe-trotting dish.

Other colleagues at UTSC have used recipes and cooking for community-engaged education. Donna Gabaccia first taught a women’s studies class called “Gender in the Kitchen” while the Culinaria Kitchen Lab was still under construction. Unable to do lab exercises with the students, she sent them out to create a community cookbook called “Scarborough Fare,” named for the suburb of Toronto in which our campus is located. Many collected recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. The cookbook reflects the rich diversity of Scarborough’s immigrant communities and helps to build ties between these groups as people sample their neighbors’ dishes. The innovations that result from these exchanges are creating the future of Canada’s multicultural cuisine. Jayeeta Sharma added yet another dimension to this community engagement in a class called “Cuisine and Culture Across Global Asia” by taking students to the UTSC campus garden together with members of the Access Alliance Rooftop Garden. Students interviewed the community gardeners to learn about the global recipes they prepared from their Toronto garden plants, thereby gaining cross-cultural competencies not only by learning about the foods of other lands but also by interacting in the garden and kitchen with the bearers of these traditions.

Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via CC by 3.0
Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via CC by 3.0

The capstone of the Food Studies program is an intensive research seminar such as the “Culinary Ethnography” class that I teach. Each week, we spend the first half of the seminar discussing a reading about some aspect of food and culture, for example, Sidney Mintz’s essay “Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom,” which offers a concise history of Caribbean cuisine while reflecting on the meaning of food choices for enslaved Africans. Afterwards, we prepared a dish of callaloo with plantains to experience and reflect on the tastes of early modern globalization. For their major project, students had to research and write about some element of Toronto’s food system or culinary cultures such as a dish, restaurant, or cook. One student reconstructed the origins of Lanzhou Beef Noodles, a hugely popular hand-pulled noodle dish that originated in the provincial capital of Gansu in northwestern China and has now spread across the country and throughout the Chinese diaspora. Beginning with a legendary recipe attributed to an eighteenth-century scholar, the student looked critically at how the noodles evolved over time and were spread — not by the inhabitants of Lanzhou but rather by migrant cooks from an impoverished nearby town. For the final seminar meeting, students prepared their chosen dish and shared it with the class. Thus, students in UTSC’s Food Studies program not only learn about food through reading recipes but through the embodied, experiential processes of preparing and tasting food from them.