Translator: CKtalon Editor: CKtalon
Upon entering the yard, Fangzheng saw that Yang Hua’s door was open. There was white vapor surging outside like an inverted waterfall. And the vapor wasn’t smoke but steam.
Meanwhile, there was a floury fragrance emanating through the yard with a familiar sweetness to it. It was the smell of steamed mantou.
Taking a careful whiff, there was also the fragrance of red bean paste. It was likely the smell of the red bean part or the bun itself.
Fangzheng’s eyes lit up when he came nearer. “Red beans, these are steamed red bean buns? Haha! We came just in time, did we?”
Just as he said that, someone happened to walk out. The person walked out backwards, and he held a board made of sorghum stalk as he did. Numerous white, fragrant mantou were showcased on the board. Fangzheng identified the person to be Yang Hua’s younger brother, Yang Ping.
Yang Ping looked at Fangzheng and roared with laughter. “Abbot Fangzheng, I knew that you would be here if there was good food to be eaten.”
Fangzheng smiled without blushing. “Amitabha, how can such good food be missed?”
At this moment, another man carrying out a board walked out. He was none other than Yang Hua. He said with a smile, “Abbot Fangzheng, isn’t it said that it’s against the precepts for monks to enjoy delicacies and partake in enjoyment? With that greedy mouth of yours, aren’t you violating the precepts?”
Fangzheng said disapprovingly, “To put it bluntly, the precepts are against desire, but This Penniless Monk doesn’t plan on being an old monk who remains otherworldly. There’s no way to abstain from eating. Anyway, let This Penniless Monk try one.”
As he spoke, Fangzheng took a huge mantou which felt extremely smooth to the touch. It was even a little sticky, but squeezing it felt especially soft, even softer than a sponge! It felt excellent. However, it was a little hot, having just come out of the oven. But it was precisely for this reason that Fangzheng knew it would be the most delicious.
If it had cooled down already, he would have missed the moment when it tasted the best.
Thus, Fangzheng stuffed it straight into his mouth, ignoring Yang Hua’s and Yang Ping’s jokes. He bit down at it and found his mouth enriched with softness, fragrance, and sweetness. It felt extremely good.
Fangzheng finished the huge mantou in a few bites and just as he was about to take a second one, he realized a bunch of little fellows in front of him!
Lone Wolf stared at Fangzheng with widened eyes, looking peeved as though he was saying, “A master that enjoys food himself isn’t a good master!”
Squirrel also looked enraged. As for Red Boy, he smacked his lips and said, “Master, we haven’t eaten yet.”
“Eat if you haven’t. Did I stop you? Remember, no wastage!” Fangzheng said with a smile.
The moment the fellows heard that, they jumped up in joy and chased after Yang Hua and Yang Ping. In northeastern farming villages, nearly every family made a large amount of dumplings, mantou, buns, red bean buns, and year cakes. Then they placed them in their root cellars and used nature as a refrigerator to chill them. That way, they could take a few during meals. To heat them up, they would just need steam them to produce gastronomic bliss. This was a lot more convenient and nutritious than instant noodles.
At the same time, these were also snacks that children loved the most. This custom could be said to be filled with advantages.
However, one family clearly didn’t have the ability to prepare all those delicacies for their family for the entire winter alone. Therefore, it usually involved all the women who were middle-aged and older. They would gather all their relatives and neighbors, all the people who had nothing to do, to make the mantou together. With more help, it naturally meant the appearance of children. The best way to coax children was obviously with delicious food. Therefore these mantou and bean buns would first be used to serve the little princes and princesses, before they were sent to the cellar for storage. Of course, the adults would definitely also sample them.
As such, this formed a habit. Although the host didn’t need to treat those who helped with the cooking, the food produced needed to suffice to leave everyone satiated. However, these were all superfluous worries. Even without helping, people didn’t mind when they were poor. They volunteered to distribute in exchange for everyone’s cheerful laughter.
As such, the act of steaming mantou and wrapping dumplings was like passing the new year to the villagers. There was joy with everyone gathered together—the children played around, and the adults chatted happily. This instantly reduced the coldness of the winter.
Fangzheng even suspected that this custom came about because everyone was too bored cooped up at home due to the extremely cold winter which reduced the avenues for fun.
Of course, this was only a thought. Steaming mantou, red bean buns, and year cakes didn’t only represent eating in the northeast, nor did it only represent many people gathering to have fun. It represented a blessing as people looked forward to having their days improve. This was also a form of a unique gathering in the northeast, an appetizer before the new year in a sense.
Ignoring his disciples, Fangzheng entered the house. As expected, there were huge round tables placed on both sides of the room—on the stove bed and on the floor. The tables were surrounded by a group of people who were either kneading the dough or making mantous or red bean buns. All of them were chatting very happily. Upon seeing Fangzheng, all of them waved their white, floury hands and flashed their white teeth as a greeting.
Fangzheng returned their greetings before quickly rushing for the kitchen.
Du Mei and a few other women were busying themselves in the kitchen. One of them dealt with the stove, which had about eight stacks of steamers. Thick white steam emitted from them, making it difficult for Fangzheng to identify the women…
However, that wasn’t important. Fangzheng’s gaze was cast on a high chair where there were two steamers which hadn’t been taken out yet! In particular, he was staring at one of them.
One of the steamers had mantou, but the other was different. It was golden in color and stood up like an egg. It looked aesthetically pleasing.
At this moment, Du Mei looked at Fangzheng and said, “Stop looking. It’s still raw.”
Fangzheng immediately sighed.
Du Mei smiled. “None are fresh out of the oven, but there are frozen bean buns downstairs. Do you want them?”
Fangzheng immediately replied, “Yes! Of course!”
With that said, Fangzheng ran out and saw Yang Hua and Yang Ping standing there looking at him with confounded looks.
Fangzheng said with surprise, “Patrons, what’s wrong?”
Yang Hua said with a bitter smile, “Abbot Fangzheng, are the animals on your mountain reincarnations of starving ghosts? How are their appetites so great? That smallest roly poly ate two mantou. That wolf ate half a steamer of mantou. That monkey is also a big eater. There’s no need to mention Jingxin. He ate ten alone and kept asking for more… Why didn’t you come earlier?”
Fangzheng shot a glance at Squirrel whose belly was bloated. This little guy was even mouthing that they should take some with them!
Lone Wolf had even choked on his food. Although Red Boy was eating properly, he would tear a piece from time to time and throw it down at the floor, into Salted Fish’s open mouth.