Liu Shan Men and the Three Departments - Not Quite Normal
"Pr-Prime Minister Li?" I stammered, after seeing the frigid gaze of a young individual next to the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister's first reaction upon seeing me was surprise, and then he smiled. I teamed up with him to set up Jin Dagang at Heavenly Fragrance Garden, so we were allies in a sense. That was why he didn't appear to think too poorly of me despite the big gap in our status.
The Prime Minister only had one servant with him. Judging from his appearance, he was roughly twenty-six years old. Although he was dressed as a family servant, he looked tough. It was very noticeable when he shot me a glare very similarly to a martial artist. He was actually decent with martial arts. It was understandable and expected for the prime minister to have a few competent fighters with him.
The prime minister wore a smile: "Young Ming, I see. What a coincidence. How about sitting with this old one?"
I blinked and laughed before pulled a stool out to sit, acting as though I didn't just harshly call him an oldie…
"It truly is a coincidence. This one views you as the pillar of the nation. It would cost three lifetimes of luck to meet you just once. This one did not expect to see you here."
The prime minister's servant seemed frustrated with my disrespect back there. That'd explain his livid glare on me.
"Yanbei, you don't need to be so hostile. Young Ming here is this old one's friend," said Prime Minister Li Si, waving a hand and stroking his bead with the other. "Heh, this old one needs a breather from his busy life. How much can one possibly do in a lifetime? One needs to rest to have the energy to work."
"You are absolutely correct."
I waved at Second Brother behind me to signal for him to return to Liu Shan Men. He had no clue what I was trying to say. The fact that he met the prime minister already further fuelled his confusion. Thus, he resorted to Voice Transmission: "Big Bro, you want to solo the old man? Mount Daluo doesn't need to revolt yet, does it? If you want to pummel him, give me the signal. I need to pack our luggage first. I bought lots of native foods in the capital, so I need to pack!"
I shot Second Brother a glare: "Put a sock in it! This involves all of the orthodox sects. What do you know?!"
Prime Minister Li Si didn't notice our eye exchange. Smiling, he said, "Since you have joined me at the table, you are a guest. This old one shall treat you. Do not stand on ceremony. Order whatever you like."
"This humble one shall oblige, then." I immediately shouted, "Give us a plate of braised pork shoulders in soy sauce! Make it quick!"
I ordered sixteen entrees at my table before, so I didn't get around to my braised pork shoulders in soy sauce when the prime minister interrupted. Man, I barely made it in time for the day's main event.
The waiter frantically nodded and shouted, "One pot of braised pork shoulders in soy sauce for our esteemed guest over here."
"Wait!" interjected the prime minister, voice energetic. I expected him to interject, but the waiter almost pulled a neck muscle mid shout.
The prime minister griped, "Young Ming, this old one doesn't want to say this, but why would you choose shoulders, spareribs and whatnot of all things? Those things are for peasants. They are not worthy of being served on a table. Waiter, give the young man a bowl of pearls, emerald and nephrite s-"
"Wait!" I interjected, nearly leading to the waiter choking on his saliva. Sternly, I said, "Prime Minister, I must correct you on that. There is no such thing as nobility or lowly when it comes to cuisine. Your pearls and nephrite soup is a commoner's soup, is it not? If you wish to compare their origins, pork shoulders would be considered more exalted."
Yanbei exclaimed, "Insolence! Know your place."
The prime minister also coldly stated, "Should you insist, this old one shall not treat you."
"You need not treat this one!" I flicked my sleeve and placed eight coins on the table: "I shall pay for myself! Waiter, give me a serve of braised pork shoulders in soy sauce!"
The other customers glanced over to our table when they saw us quarrelling. Their eyes were rewarded with my suave flick. Of course they praised it. Second Brother looked at me as if he was looking at a retard…
'The hell does your ignorant ass know?! I'm defending traditional moral principles!!'
The prime minister stroked his beard. With piercing eyes, he asked, "So, you are you saying you joined me at my table to vandalise it?"
I narrowed my eyes and flicked a hand: "You flatter me. May I ask what profound insight you might possess?"
The prime minister slammed the table: "This old one knows every type of dish. They say, 'When it comes to cuisine in Huguang, one must reference Prime Minister Li's evaluation. When it comes to cuisine in Jiangnan, they still must mention Prime Minister Li's evaluation. His Majesty calls this old one The Imperial Court's God Tongue. You would dare to challenge this old one's superior taste?"
"Only those lacking genuine skill resort to blowing their own trumpets," I casually responded. "If you wish to be obstinate in your ways, then so be it."
"Insolence, Ming Feizhen! This old one shall test you. Explain how this braised pork shoulders in soy sauce dish is prepared."
I responded without having to think: "This pork was the best pork selected from the available selection. The preparation process can be summarised in five steps: roast, blanch, simmer, brush and drain. When roasting, it must be roasted until golden. When blanching, the water needs to be pure. When simmering, it must be simmered with other ingredients. The soy sauce needs to be fragrant. The flame ratio must be perfect, or the deliciousness of the pork will be lost when slicing it. As such, it takes a long time to prepare and must be enjoyed right away."
The prime minister praised, "Good. I see you do have some cuisine education."
"How about you, Prime Minister?" I grabbed a pot of wine and poured the prime minister a cup: "What wine might this be?"
The person next to us was supposed to ask for the pot back, but they were so invested in our contest that they forgot to. Instead, they were interested in whether or not the prime minister could identify it.
Yanbei fumed, "Who do you think My Lord is? How can you ask him to drink someone else's drink?"
"Don't worry, Yanbei," said the prime minister, taking a whiff. With a smile, he answered, "The water is clear. The fragrance is light and easy, yet hard, to swallow. If it is not ten years old bamboo leaf, this old one will forfeit his God's Tongue title to you."
The prime minister then knocked the drink back. Though he was a scholar, he could really hold his liquor. He wiped his mouth and heartily said, "It is a waste to not drink such a nice wine."
Before I could say anything, our neighbour said, "Terrific, Elder! I shall treat you to the pot!"
The prime minister stroked his beard with a smile, yet didn't dare to look at me. I confronted his gaze with my own. Neither of us spoke a word. Both of us wanted to one up the other.
The waiter came over with a big bowl of clear soup, which was the prime minister's pearls, emerald and nephrite soup.
"This is what you call a delicacy," stated the prime minister.
Even the smell of the soup was sweet. Merely looking at it was enough for one to salivate. It qualified as one of Eight Deities Tavern's famous delicacies.
The prime minister moved it over to himself with a smile. He scooped a spoon for a taste and remarked, "Mm, it still tastes the same."
I scorned, "It's not even the original broth and taste, yet you claim it is good?"
"Young Ming, do not incite fear with misleading comments. This old one has eaten this dish for over five years. Are you telling me there are other flavours?"
I smiled: "Like everything else, there are cuisine recipes. Every dish should have its own recipe. With regards to the pearls, emerald and nephrite soup, round tofu is fried with freshly picked spinach. That is why the white tofu glistens. Spinach is green and emerald, and rice crust is bright yellow. The mixture of juices is what creates the pearls, emerald and nephrite soup. Prime minister, the tofu in here is cut into cubes. Where are the nephrites you speak of? The spinach is not fresh. What do you mean by emerald? The pan was ever used. Where are the pearls you speak of?"
Every customer looked to the waiter. Tensely, he explained, "Sir, our store is not swindling you. The truth is getting round tofu, fresh spinach and also rice crust is very difficult. Once you touch tofu, it breaks. If you want round tofu balls, it would take ages. Spinach would be easy to handle except it is winter; it is out of season. For that reason… As for frying them in rice crust, there is only so little in a pan. It is quite the ordeal to prepare it each time. That is why we have never prepared the soup as per the original recipe. However, we charge a lot less compared to the authentic recipe. We are not swindling."
"Wait, wait." The prime minister had a think then shook his head: "You said the recipe states the tofu is white and glistening. The spinach is emerald green. The rice crust is yellow and shiny. The key here is the white and glistening, yellow and shiny. Those two make sense. Emerald and green spinach is redundant, though. Have you ever seen spinach that's green but not emerald or emerald but not green?"
'Oh, to hell with you! Who picks apart words the way you do to make arguments. Get out of here!'
I calmed myself and argued, "You see, emerald is a bright and shiny green. There is no such thing as dull emerald. The spinach you are eating is a dull green. A dull green does not equal emerald."
The customers applauded loudly. I humbly gave them my thanks.
Second Brother ran over to Yanbei and patted the latter on the shoulder: "Bro, it sucks for us to have these sorts of superiors, huh?"
To my surprise, Yanbei didn't whack Second Brother's hand away. He, instead, nodded.
The prime minister glared at me: "Heh! What a sharp tongue."
With a smile, I retaliated: "Humph! What a bowl of green soup."
Sparks flew between our eyes.
Second Brother sent me a reminder: "Big Bro, have you suffered a case of qi deviation recently? I have a strength pill. You want it?"
Me: "Piss off!"
"I never imagined I would lose to you after studying all the cuisine from north to south of Yangtze River. Fine, fine, fine…"
I heard him pronounce "fine" using a version that was a homophone for another word. I waved: "There is no need to flatter me. You are old enough to be my grandpa. I cannot let you call me 'dad'."
"What? Do I make you look bad or something?!" exclaimed the prime minister. Annoyed, yet smiling, he said, "Are you not going to sit down and explain how to eat your braised pork shoulders in soy sauce? I'm eager for a taste after listening to you described its preparation method."
With a cupped-fist salute, I seriously said, "It is always better to share delicacies. It is just that this plate is not enough for this humble one. If you do not mind, how about ordering your own serve? Of course, if you would like to treat me, then I would gladly accept the kind gesture."
The prime minister brayed, "You little bugger. You're going to try and pull one over on me?!"
Someone suddenly exclaimed, "Eh? Is that Prime Minister Li Si up there?"
Prime Minister Li lividly replied, "I am right here. Who is so ignorant that he does not recognise me?"
The prime minister's expression suddenly froze, and he covered his mouth as though he said something he shouldn't have.
I wondered, "Mm? What? He can't let people know he's here?"
A eunuch revealed himself from the stairs. I recognised him; he was General Manager Bai's subordinate; he was in charge of delivering messages. He smiled as soon as he saw me. He said, "Oh my? Young Ming is here, too? Everyone is present, I see. Prime Minister, His Majesty has an imperial decree. Are you not going to heed it now?"
The prime minister glanced over to me and palmed himself in the head. Regretful, he griped, "Why did I forget your nickname?"
'My nickname…? Oh, fuck you! What does this have to do with me?!'
*Huguang and Jiangnan are geographic locations south of the Yangtze River. If you look at where they are on a map, you'll understand why the prime minister decided to use the two locations.
** "I cannot let you call me 'dad." - I'm so annoyed this one is lost in translation. "Fine, fine, fine…" was written as "罢罢罢……" which is pronounced, "Ba, ba, ba…" which is also how you pronounce "dad". I tried to insert the catch in there, but I doubt it was funny.
So mad I couldn't capture this joke. It was so hilarious to me.