According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, a local government in Hunan is issuing precise instructions for making Mao’s favourite dish, Red-Braised Pork (hong shao rou 红烧肉), in an attempt to stem the flood of imitations. They are also attempting to standardise recipes for other dishes enjoyed by Mao, including stir-fried pork with peppers (nong jia chao rou 农家炒肉) and steamed fishhead with chillies (duojiao zheng yutou 剁椒蒸鱼头).
I was particularly amused by this because in the course of research for my Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook I was shown two different versions of this in Mao’s home village Shaoshan alone: one, made by the wife of the local Communist Party Secretary, was a simple dish of braised pork belly, cooked in lard with dark soy sauce to give colour, a dash of vinegar and a little sugar; the other, made in the kitchens of the Shaoshan Guesthouse, where I’d just had lunch with Mao’s nephew, was a more sophisticated dish, coloured with caramelised sugar (糖色), spiced with dried red
chillies, star anise and ginger, and enhanced by some juices of fermented beancurd. Who can say which is truer to Mao’s own tastes?
The other thing is that local officials have said that true hongshao rou can only be made with the meat of some rare breed of pig from Ningxiang County. This I found hilarious, because of all people, Mao Zedong, a notorious lover of coarse grains, wild vegetables and robust peasant food , seems unlikely to have been concerned with the precise sourcing of his ingredients. I’m sure he would have left that to the refined, bourgeois gourmets he so despised.
You can hear me talking about this story on the BBC World Service this afternoon, here – it’s the last item in the programme.