Cured meat is not made by the Italians only. The Chinese make them too. In China, meat that is salted and cured in the winter wind and sun is called la wei. Since Chinese-illiterate people like me mistake the word la for wax, the English term 'wax meat' for la wei is commonly used here because the word la sounds like the word for wax too. I even thought that wax is one of the ingredients in la wei, which is not surprising because if you have handled la rou, which is cured bacon, your hands will feel waxy from the fat.
Two weeks ago, Lily, from Jiangxi in China, gave us some la chang (cured sausages) her mom had made. When I told her that la chang is known as 'wax sausages' in English, she was tickled (probably by how ignorant we are). La is a word meaning the 12th month, the end of the year, on the Chinese Lunar calender. All la rou are made during the winter months when the cold dry air blows. Just like how lei cha is corrupted into 'thunder tea' (it actually should be translated as 'milled tea'), so has la chang been lost in translation as wax sausages. This mix up seems to originate from Singapore and Malaysia where many Chinese are Chinese-language illiterate.
I called my friend Leila in Sichuan a few days ago to ask her to take some photos of her mom making la chang. Unfortunately, that was the first day of spring and la rou-making season is officially over. Come on, I said, surely it's still cold over there so the meat won't spoil? But her mom's answer is they strictly follow the seasons and winter is the only season to make la wei but she has plenty of la chang to give me when Leila comes next month. We'll have to wait until next winter to learn how to make Leila's mom's Sichuan ma la la chang. Leila's mom's la chang are so tasty, I have to stash them in secret pockets of the fridge to save them for Ming when he comes back for holidays. Even my MIL who is very xenophobic against any food not Shanghainese loves Sichuan la chang which are meaty, tasty and full of Sichuan peppercorn flavor. Your tongue would fizz and go numb with the ma la (numbing) of the Sichuan peppercorns.
You may not want to eat la rou during Chinese New Year (CNY) because there are so many other dishes to enjoy. But do get some la chang, which are freshest now, because some days when you don't feel like cooking, just steam the la chang and fry a plate of greens and it's a simple, tasty meal. For a more fancy la chang dish, make claypot rice.
Chinese carrot/radish cake
La rou in China tastes and look different and once you've eaten it, you won't eat the la rou we get here. Since la rou in China is usually home-made, it is softer, fresher, less salty and not waxy and are usually sliced thinly and fried with veggies. I use la rou to make Chinese carrot/radish cake on the eve of CNY, just like my parents did, and serve it for breakfast CNY morning. This is a Cantonese tradition I hope my kids will keep, and that of the Malaysian Chinese tradition of eating nien gou or sweet brown sticky rice cake. I've noticed that some form of sticky rice cake is eaten by the Koreans (ddeouk) and the Japanese (mocchi) too on CNY which is celebrated by all the three yellow Orientals (better yellow than green). The Chinese tradition of eating rice cake came from the practice of offering these sticky cakes to the kitchen god (who is supposed to live in every kitchen but I suspect is now deposed by maids) who'll have his mouth stuck so tight that he can't make a bad report about your family (if I believe that, I'll offer sticky cakes every day) when he meets the king of heaven once a year on CNY. Which makes you wonder if the king of heaven is blind or just dumb when he sees the kitchen god struggle with a glued mouth every year and doesn't know the fella has eaten sticky cakes.
Top left: ma la la chang and top right: charcoal smoked la rou, both made by Leila's mom. Bottom left: commercial pork liver sausages, Chinese bacon, ordinary pork sausages and 2 drumsticks of la ya, cured duck.
To cook la wei, just wash them and steam for about 20 minutes. Discard the oil that comes out. My dad used to place la chang on boiling rice so that the rice will absorb all the oil and flavor but that's a big no for this obese generation. Since la wei is salty, do slice them thinly and serve with rice.
I bet the Italians are not as creative. Cured rats (in Guilin, China) and cured pressed pig's face,(in Shanghai, China), anyone? Btw, Wey wasn't acting--I made him hold the packet of pressed pig's face and he was very repulsed by it.
This will be the first time both Yi and Ming won't be here for CNY. I don't have the mood for celebrating CNY without them. Ming leaves for Melbourne today. How quickly three months have passed. He had a couple of friends over yesterday. I was cooking and they were playing fireworks and firecrackers, yelling and running as some of the fireworks misfired. It gave such a fun CNY atmosphere to our home. All these boys and girls who are starting second year uni are still kids inside. I miss the times when all my three kids played firecrackers and didn't have to go off to college. Once Ming flies off, I will have time to make CNY cookies and reply email. And go back to routine, like (s)mothering Wey.