All the staff of Zhenxiu Restaurant placed great importance to this banquet. Since they had made adequate preparations, the dishes were served very quickly.
First came eight appetizers: steamed chicken with chili sauce, cold boiled pork with garlic puree, soy braised duck tongue, pickled goose feet, spinach salad, sour and spicy black fungus, cold jellyfish, and shredded kelp in chili oil…
As he listened to Third Young Master Zhou’s introduction, the emperor emeritus, who was the guest of honor, tasted each dish one by one, and nodded frequently to express his satisfaction. Suddenly, his eyes focused on two dishes that should have not appeared on the table. They were so familiar and nostalgic.
County Magistrate Wu followed his gaze and frowned, “Didn’t you say that it was eight kinds of cold dish? Why are there two more?”
Zhou Zixu also saw the two dishes and felt alarmed in his heart—Weren’t these the Yu Family’s braised food that he brought back from the docks? Didn’t he tell the servers to bring them to his own room? Why did they bring them here?
He recalled the main ingredients of these two dishes—pig head and pig ear. Disregarding the people of rich, noble families, even ordinary folks didn’t like to eat these stinky things. Yet they had served it to an esteemed guest from the capital. This was considered a great disrespect to their guest. If they weren’t careful, they might lose their heads! At that thought, Zhou Zixu’s back was immediately covered in cold sweat.
He smiled flatteringly and said, “The waiter must have made a mistake. I’ll take it away…”
“Wait!” The emperor emeritus immediately stopped him. Pig head meat with wine was his favorite when he was still a general in his previous life. It had been decades since he had eaten it. He missed it so much that he had even dreamt of himself gnawing on pig head meat!
When he was still the emperor, he had also ordered the imperial chef to make braised pig head. But none of them tasted the same as the one in his memories. The more he couldn’t eat it, the more he wanted to eat it. He was already approaching seventy years old, so he really wanted to eat an authentic braised pig head before dying!
The emperor emeritus’s eyes were about to be glued to the pig head meat with mashed garlic. He decided to think of a high-sounding reason to keep the dish, “Since they’re already here, just leave them! Tell me, what are these two dishes called?”
Cold sweat seeped out of Third Young Master Zhou’s forehead as he slightly stuttered and said, “Fifth… Fifth Lord, these two dishes… aren’t very suitable for this occasion. Why don’t…”
“Why is this considered unsuitable! It looks pretty good! Let me try the taste…” The emperor emeritus had long been eager to move his chopsticks. Thus, he used this perfect chance to reach towards his favorite food—pig head meat!
However, County Magistrate Wu didn’t dare to let ‘this great Buddha’, the emperor emeritus, try the dish. He hastily moved the plate of pig head meat with mashed garlic in front of himself and said with a smile, “Fifth Lord, why don’t I try it first? If it tastes good, let’s keep it!”
The emperor emeritus watched as the fatty meat that was about to enter his mouth moving away from him again. He furrowed his thick brows and scolded, “Why are you being such a busybody? Are you going to let me eat or not? This isn’t the imperial palace! There’s no need to be so troublesome over trifling matters!!”
‘My lord ah, it’s precisely because this isn’t the imperial palace that we have to be extra careful! With your status, if something happens in Tanggu Town, I, the county magistrate of Tanggu Town, won’t be able to compensate even if my entire family is beheaded ah!’ County Magistrate Wu cried incessantly within his heart!
“My lord! Why don’t this old servant test the dish for you?” The fat old man behind the emperor emeritus, who had a pale and beardless face, asked humbly in a slightly feminine voice.
He was the head steward court eunuch of palace affairs that had served the emperor emeritus for decades. When the retired emperor had just ascended the throne, there were a lot of people who wanted his life. Hence, the food-testers had been frequently changed one group after another. In the end, Head Steward Liu Fusheng, who was later promoted to the head steward of palace affairs, was the only one who remained by his side. He ended up accompanying the emperor emeritus for over thirty years!
Head Steward Liu still had a lot of face in front of the emperor emeritus. Although the emperor emeritus’s expression didn’t look very good, he had acquiesced in his request.
Head Steward Liu picked up his chopsticks and swiftly got a piece of pig head meat and pig ear from each plate. He put them into his mouth one after another and chewed them carefully for a moment. The unique taste almost made him want a second bite. This was something that he had never tasted before in the thirty or so years that he had served the emperor emeritus.
A moment later, the emperor emeritus impatiently picked up his chopsticks and said with slight anger, “See, didn’t I say it was okay? You people are just being overly cautious!”
As he spoke, he had already grabbed a thick slice of pig head meat with his chopsticks. When he was about to put it into his mouth, he was interrupted again by Third Young Master Zhou.
“I say Zhou Xiaosan ah, Zhou Xiaosan! Are you going to let me, Fifth Lord, eat or not? If you don’t give me a valid reason, see if I don’t punish you!” The emperor emeritus had almost flipped the table, but he took into account that his favorite pig head meat was on the table and suppressed his rage.
Zhou Zixu was on the verge of tears, but he summoned up his courage and said, “Fifth Lord, these two dishes are pig head meat and pig ears… They’re not suitable to be eaten by someone of your status!”
‘Of course this old man knows that they’re pig head meat and pig ears! They were this old man’s favorite food in the past!’ The emperor emeritus suppressed his anger and did his best to convince him, “Xiaosan ah, there’s no distinction between high and low status for food. The only thing that matters is whether it suits one’s taste! Back in the days, when this old man was fighting for power… cough cough, when this lord fought alongside the emperor emeritus, I had even eaten grass and tree bark. Even a mouse tasted delicious to me at that time!! So, what’s wrong with pig head meat? Pig head meat is also meat! When natural disasters occur, you wouldn’t be able to find meat to eat even if you want to…”
After a moment of reminiscing his bittersweet memories, the voice that kept interrupting him finally stopped. The emperor emeritus was finally able to taste his favorite pig head meat—please don’t let him down.
With this bite, it was so delicious that he almost cried. It was the taste that lingered in his mind and he had always dreamt of: The rich and fragrant glutinous taste just melted in his mouth. The oil and marinade exploded within his mouth at the same time filled his mouth with a fragrant taste and made it impossible for him to stop eating.
“Good, good, good!!” The retired emperor praised that it was ‘good’ three times, and then stuffed a piece of pig head meat that had a good ratio of fatty and lean meat into his mouth and carefully chewed it. He savored the taste for a long time, unwilling to swallow it, “The meat is delicious and has a rich and aromatic flavor! It’s fatty but not greasy! The person who made this is definitely an expert in braising food!!”
The emperor emeritus ate half a plate in one breath, and then gradually slowed down to carefully savor the fragrance and crispiness of the shredded pig ears in chili oil. During this meal, he had one more bowl of rice than usual. The two dishes were mostly eaten by him. He barely ate any of the hot dishes that came afterwards, except for a few tasty and refreshing vegetable dishes.
After the meal, the emperor emeritus rubbed his bloated tummy and still wanted more as he recalled the authentic taste of the braised pig head meat: ‘I finally got to eat pig head meat that actually tasted authentic!’ Those imperial chefs all enjoyed an undeserved reputation. They only knew how to make fancy things, but for decades they still couldn’t get the flavor that he wanted. Today, he had finally gotten his wish. What an unprecedented satisfaction! It was even better than when he conquered the country and ascended to the most supreme position!
“The pig head meat and cold shredded pig ear are both very good and suits my taste! Call out the chef who made these two dishes. I, Fifth Lord, want to reward him!”
The retired emperor was pondering about how to take the chef away. If necessary, he would show his identity. Even if he had to oppress others with his power, he still needed to get the chef!!
However, Zhou Zixu just stood there with an awkward expression on his face. County Magistrate Wu slightly wrinkled his brows and asked, “Nephew, didn’t you hear what Fifth Lord said? Hurry up and call the chef over for a reward!”
“Fifth Lord, to tell you honestly, these two dishes weren’t made by the chefs of Zhenxiu Restaurant!” Zhou Zixu finally answered after careful consideration.
“How dare you! You actually dared to give Fifth Lord food from an unknown origin to eat!! Do you know your crime!!” The leader of the imperial guards was astounded, and then he went forward angrily and shouted.
The emperor emeritus, whose heart was filled with thoughts about how to take the chef away, was extremely disappointed by the news. He stopped the leader of the imperial guards from flying into a rage and solemnly asked, “Xiaosan ah! Do you know who made these two dishes?”
“Yes… Fifth Lord has also seen the person who made these dishes.” Seeing that Fifth Lord was already showing an impatient expression, Zhou Zixu had no other choice but to reveal the truth.
“This lord has also seen before?” The emperor emeritus creased his brows and then suddenly relaxed them again, “It’s the little girl just now, isn’t it?”
‘Ha, little lass, seem like I just caught hold of your little secret. Yet you’re still pretending! I knew it. Only our fellow folks from several hundred years later can make the most authentic taste of our hometown! However, since you don’t want others to know your identity, this lord will be merciful and not expose you. But, I need to get some benefits!’
“Fifth Lord is wise!” Zhou Zixu felt slightly worried. He didn’t know whether this was a blessing or disaster for Xiaocao. He decided that if the lord placed blame on her, he would do his best to protect her to the end!
“Reward! This lord ate very happily today! There will be many rewards!!” The emperor emeritus couldn’t wait to see that little girl. Should he confer to her the position of imperial chef and take her back to the capital?
However, an eight or nine year old little girl as an imperial chef might not be very convincing to the public. Or maybe… he could let his third son accept her as his god-daughter and bestow her the title of royal princess. Then he could request for her to accompany him, her god-grandfather, in the temporary imperial residence. That wouldn’t be too unreasonable, right?
While the emperor emeritus contemplated how to abduct the little girl, Yu Xiaocao had knocked on the door and came in. She was followed by the restless Yu Hai.
“This commoner, Yu Hai, greets the lords!” Yu Hai respectfully saluted County Magistrate Wu.
Only then did Yu Xiaocao follow her father and kneeled down behind him: ‘In the vicious old society, civilian at the bottom of the society had to kneel when they saw influential figures. I seriously can’t get used to this! Well, I’ll just take it as going into temples and worshipping Buddha!’
Yu Xiaocao was in the middle of making endless unspoken criticism when the emperor emeritus waved his hand, “Don’t stand on ceremony! Give them seats!”
“I don’t dare, I don’t dare!” He was someone that even the county magistrate didn’t dare to speak in front, so how would Yu Hai dare to casually sit down? It was probably better to answer him while standing!
When the emperor emeritus noticed that his easygoing attitude didn’t dispel the anxiety of the father and daughter pair, he didn’t continue to insist. Instead, he used a homely tone to ask the slightly more cautious Yu Xiaocao, “Little girl, were you the one who made the braised pig heat meat and pig ears?”
Pig head and pig ear? Didn’t Third Young Master Zhou buy them for himself to eat? He wouldn’t have served them to the important guest, right? She couldn’t afford to take responsibility if something bad happened after he ate her food!
Yu Xiaocao glared fiercely at Third Young Master Zhou, and then meekly replied, “Yes… it was made by this commoner!”
“Don’t be nervous! The braised pig heat meat is very good. It really suits this lord’s appetite, so I wanted to reward you! Tell me, what kind of reward do you want?” The retired emperor pondered inwardly whether it was somewhat inhumane to make such a young child leave her hometown and her parents.Previous Chapter Next Chapter