4/26/15

Colman’s Mustard and Chinese white cut chicken   白斬雞



The Colman brand of mustard is an iconic product with a long and celebrated  history in England. 

It is also a popular condiment among Chinese and as common as soy sauce in Chinese restaurants, which made me wonder how Chinese immigrants in America discovered or came to use mustard as a condiment, and whether they preferred the Colman brand.
Did they only discover it after coming to America or was it possible that they knew about it in China when the British came to control Hong Kong following the opium wars in the middle of the 19th century. Perhaps the British introduced mustard, or at least the Colman brand, to the Chinese.  Or did the Chinese already use mustard in their cuisine before the British came but adopted the Colman brand introduced to them by the British?

Some food for thought.

On A Personal Note

Sundays were a special day for our Chinese immigrant family for it was our one day of rest from operating our laundry during the rest of the week. It was the only time we could enjoy having a meal with the whole family, my parents and three siblings. 

Mom would often buy a live chicken a day or two before Sunday and keep it in a small crate with wood slats.  I would “play with it” before Sunday morning when mom would grab it by the feet with one hand while holding a cleaver in the other.  Held upside down, the fowl would flap its wings desperately before mom deftly used the cleaver to ‘slit its throat’ and quickly drop it into a galvanized tin pail.  I can still ‘hear’ the sound of its toenails scratching against the pail as its life ended. After draining all the blood, mom would pluck its feathers before cooking it in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes.  I was only about 4 years old, but mom didn’t hide this process from me, or make any fuss over it so I was not particularly bothered watching how our Sunday dinner came to be.


It just seemed natural.  Mom was just doing what she did or saw done back in her Hoiping village in China. But thinking back about it, I am surprised that I was not at all bothered by it.

The fresh chicken was then poached, usually in a broth with cellophane-like chewy but delicious seaweed.  We kids would often fight over getting the “innards” (eggs, liver, heart, gizzards), which today you don’t get in the chickens from the supermarket. Mom gave us the best parts, slices of the white meat, while she and father would chew on the parts with bones.

We loved to dip our pieces of chicken in a dish of soy sauce first and then in a dish of mustard made by mixing Colman’s mustard powder with water.  This mustard was so spicy that if you used too much you would feel the top of your brain tingle or even feel numb for a moment or two. It was a scary, but also exciting, sensation.

 

One day I happened to read the label on the tin Colman container, or somewhere, how Colman mustard powder could be used as a foot bath for people with colds.  I was horrified to learn that something we loved to put on our chicken was the same stuff that other people applied to their feet!  I never heard of Chinese using it that way so I inferred that only non-Chinese were so barbaric.

         




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