Chinese tea eggs
When my sister met her now-husband, a Shanghai-native, my mother lamented to a friend the fact that both her daughters were marrying non-Japanese (not that ethnicity mattered, it was a problem of geographical distance.) Her friend consoled her by pointing out that at least, we had chosen spouses from two of the world's greatest culinary cultures.
This is open to debate of-course but I do recall reading somewhere that, if the variety of egg preparation is any index, no other cuisine has as many ways as China and France (more than 1,000?) Eggs have been on my mind since Easter evidently; I can think of three delicious egg things that my brother-in-law introduced me to.
The first are mooncakes he and my sister brought back after their late-August wedding. Eaten in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Moon festival, the sweet cakes with flaky golden crust have in the center a "surprise" -- a bright yellow egg yolk, representing the moon. The combination of the salt-preserved yolk with the sweet lotus root paste is delectable, especially when taken with jasmine pearl tea.
Another is fan tse tsao dan, a simple dish of eggs scrambled with tomatoe wedges. It's the kind of thing that a good Shanghai husband (much coveted for their non-macho attitudes as opposed to their Beijing counterparts) would whip up for lunch. Seasoned simply with salt, sugar and a pinch of chicken stock granules, it goes wonderfully well with rice.
The third is something I ate when the newlyweds first invited the family over for a meal at their home. These were eggs simmered in spiced tea and soaked overnight, shells cracked to let the flavors seep in and make a lovely marbled pattern of dark skeins. They looked and smelled and tasted incredibly sophisticated and exotic. I think it was at that moment I realized my baby sister, who from our childhoods had more or less traced the same culinary paths, was embarking on a different journey of her own.
Five-Spice Tea Eggs
eggs, a dozen or so
black Chinese tea leaves, 3-4 tablespoons
whole eight-star anise, 3-4
five-spice powder, 1 teaspoon*
thumb-sized piece of ginger
Chinese rice wine, 3 tablespoons
soysauce, 3 tablespoons
salt, 1 teaspoon
1. Make soft-boiled eggs and immerse in cold water (this makes for easier peeling later.)
2. Gently tap the eggs with the back of a spoon so that the shells are cracked all over.
3. In a pan cover the eggs with water, add the tea leaves, spices and seasonings. Simmer for an hour or two, adding water as needed. Soak overnight.
*wu xiang fen (five-spice powder): Chinese bouquet garni composed of eight-star anise, cassia or cinnamon bark, cloves, fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn. Use sparingly; it should smell more than taste.