I’m more than a little excited. It feels as if a small rush of fresh air wafted down China Alley and into the Taoist Temple Museum where there is now on display a collection of Chinese musical instruments that have been in storage since their discovery.
These instruments date back to the early 1900s. Some of the early Chinese pioneers traveled with them when they left their homeland to start a new life here in Chinatown. Most of the instruments were originally found in the Taoist Temple building itself, a gathering place for social interaction as well as religious ceremony. This is the first time the instruments have been publically displayed in the museum. There are horns, drums, and several types of stringed instruments – some of which are plucked, others requiring a bow. I’m looking forward to studying and learning about the lives and stories belonging to these fine instruments.
I became fixated on one particular stringed instrument, a zither. It reminded me of Auntie Harriet and her dulcimer. Learning to play the dulcimer in her adult life was one of the items Auntie was able to cross off her bucket list when she acquired the instrument, signed up for lessons, and acquired the chops to play.
I wondered if a zither and a dulcimer were the same or related instrument. My quick research on the Internet produced some lengthy explanations, including the one that began, “ A German shepherd is a dog. All dogs are not German shepherds. A dulcimer is a zither. All zithers are not dulcimers.” Apparently, I have much to learn, much research to complete.
While it is important to seek out, learn and record factual information, I also love discovering and sharing old folk tales that explain how things are created, their particular histories, and more generally, ways of the world. Here is a story about the creation of the zither.
Fu Xi, a cultural hero in Chinese legends and myths, wanted to create musical instruments to add pleasure and enjoyment to the lives of people. In search of materials to make the instruments, he noticed several phoenixes perched on the branches of a parasol tree. Knowing that the Phoenix, the “King of all Birds,” would choose trees that yield the best wood, Fu Xi found a thirty-three-foot parasol tree and cut it into three sections.
The wood from the uppermost part of the tree made sounds that were too lucid, while those from the bottom were too thick. The sound from the middle section of wood created a balance of both. Fu Xi used that middle portion of the parasol tree to make a “qin,” a seven-string plucked zither and taught people how to play it. From that time forward, beautiful “qin” music has sounded on earth.
This week I’m sharing – in addition to my excitement about the new display, a bit of my research, and a tall tale about a zither – another story, as well as a recipe for a popular favorite, pot stickers. The translation for these delectable morsels is literally ‘pot stick” or “stuck to the wok.” The name and translation make complete sense, especially when considering the dumplings’ legend, which dates pot stickers to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1280 A.D.)
As the legend goes, the Emperor’s chef was an elderly man who was training his eldest son to take his place. One day the royal family requested that the chef prepare some dumplings for them. He placed the dumplings in the wok to boil and continued with other mealtime preparations. He forgot all about the dumplings until he heard the wok sizzle alarmingly and discovered all of the water had boiled away and all the dumplings were browned and crispy on the bottom. The chef was panic-stricken; he could not serve burnt food to the royal family. He would be punished. His son stepped in, and in an effort to save his father, pried the dumplings from the wok and served them himself. He told the Emperor that his father created a new version of the dumpling recipe called “pot stickers.” The royal family loved the contrasts between the succulent filling, tender wrapper, and crusty bottom. Thus, the chef was saved and the pot sticker was born.
The usual cooking method for pot stickers is “fry-steam-fry.” Much like the method described in the above story, the dumplings are first lightly browned in oil, then water is added to the pan and covered, allowing the steam to cook the dumpling filling. The pan is then uncovered to let the water cook off and the dumplings pan-fry until crispy on the bottom.
Potstickers are surprisingly easy to make and, once you know their charming story, delightful to serve and talk about.
If you would like to take a peek at the Temple Museum’s new Chinese musical instrument display, a perfect time would be during the Moon Festival, held on Saturday, Oct. 7, from noon until 5 p.m. Oh, and you can stop in the garden and say hello to our old friend, dear Ho Tai. He’s back in China Alley, watching over the Temple garden. He has many stories to tell us as well.