Citizens, there are many recipes in the Chinese canon that westerners find…difficult.
This is not one of them – it is stir-fried lamb in a sweet sauce with more than a hint of ginger. :) This is a full-on meat-eating extravaganza with no extraneous vegetables to get in the way – a true TFD favorite here!
Tāsìmì translates into English as “Ah, Sweet Like Honey!” and is one of the most evocatively named recipes you’ll ever come across. It was named by the infamous Dowager Empress Ci Xi (also known as Cixi or Tze Xi in the old-style transliteration).
This fascinating article detailing the story is from one of my favorite scholarly Chinese food sites, flavorandfortune.com:
Sweet Like Honey
by Irving Beilin Chang
Food in History
Summer Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(2) page(s): 9
At the end of the Ching Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty, the Emperor died and his son (the Last Emperor) was still an infant. Therefore, the Dowager Tze Xi took the reins and ruled the country for a brief period (1895-1905). During this period, in order to find money, she raided the navy’s treasury.
Obviously, the Dowager was very resourceful; she was also cunning and strong minded. She used the purloined funds to build a garden, called I Ho Yuan, and made it with Dien Lake in its center. Today this beautiful garden is a public park; it is in Beijing. The Dowager’s famous marble boat stands at the edge of this lake as, among other things, a reminder of the misguided efforts expended then and when her people tried to modernize their navy.
The Dowager loved beauty and she relished beautiful things to eat. As a matter of fact, she drove the palace chefs crazy because she demanded new tastes and exotic dishes all the time. She wanted novel foods and exhibited her preferences, many included a variety of sweet dishes. Lamb was a favorite staple of the Manchu people who originally came from the steppes and grasslands that bordered Mongolia and Manchuria. There they raised large herds of sheep.
On one occasion, the chef decided to present the Dowager with a new lamb dish. Although lamb is often prepared with garlic and spicy red peppers, he took a different approach and chose a combination of sugar and ginger to flavor the lamb. This was a calculated and fairly safe move since he knew the Dowager liked sweet things and that ginger was a very popular seasoning. One thing he did not think of was an appropriate name for the dish.
When the Dowager tasted this new item she immediately summoned the chef and said, “What do you call this dish?” Instead of responding to her question, he asked one of his own, namely “Your Honor, do you like the dish?” She replied, “Yes, it is very different, it is sweet like honey.” So the cunning chef said, “Your Honor, that is the name of the dish, Sweet Like Honey.”
Of course, Chinese cooking draws its strength from its people and the palace chefs in order to survive often scoured restaurants far and wide for new ideas. Their success was in the way they made their presentations in the royal court. In this instance, this particular chef became very famous and his creation became the toast of Beijing.
Citizens, this is the dish to serve those who are hesitant about “new” foods – I promise you, they will become instant converts to the glory of Chinese cuisine with this recipe!
Battle on – The Generalissimo