Chapter 153 - Old Urchin

“Eh? How come all of you are just watching me eat? If you all don’t start eating, I’m going to finish off this table ah!” The emperor emeritus took another piece of century egg with tofu and stuffed it into his mouth as he delicately enjoyed it.

This was the first time in his life that Fang Zizhen was sitting at the same table for a meal with the emperor emeritus. Sure enough, the emperor emeritus was an amiable and approachable person. In history, how many emperors had sat at the same table as their officials? Although he was a bit nervous, he couldn’t resist the tempting lure of the delicacies and carefully picked up  a cube of century egg in tofu to eat.

A special flavor combined with the exquisite light taste of the tofu slowly bloomed inside his mouth. It provoked his taste buds. He had eaten the food that Xiaocao made for over a month now but she surprised him with something new every time. Even if it was the exact same ingredient, she had the ability to make it into something completely different. He suspected that even the famous chef at Zhenxiu Restaurant would not be able to recreate the same flavors that she cooked. (Xiaocao sniggered: thanks to the mystic-stone water!)

Fang Zizhen immediately fell in love with the slippery texture and fresh, savory taste of the century eggs. Once he had finished reflecting on the taste in his mouth, he wanted to grab a second bite and discovered that the plate was completely empty. The emperor emeritus, on the other hand, had a longing expression on his face, as if he wished he could eat more.

“Daughter, the portion size of this century egg with tofu is really too small right? I only ate one piece and the plate is empty. This doesn’t satisfy my craving. Didn’t you make twenty to thirty century eggs? Slice a few more for us! Today Fifth Lord is here, so don’t be petty!” The expression on his face and words coming out of his mouth made it seem like Fang Zizhen was advocating for the emperor emeritus, but, in actuality, he just wanted to eat more himself.

Yu Xiaocao glanced at the emperor emeritus and secretly sneered within her heart, ‘I’ve never seen someone at your age eating this much alone. A whole plate of century eggs with tofu had been gobbled up by you, old man. As for godfather, you’re lucky that you got to try a piece ah. My biological father hasn’t even picked up his chopsticks!!’

Despite her less than flattering thoughts, she still had a sweet smile on her face, “Fifth Lord, there should be tomatoes in the capital, right? Try some of the stir-fried tomatoes with eggs that I made. How does it taste?”

The emperor emeritus obligingly went with her request and picked up a portion of eggs as he said, “Tomato seeds were only recommended for growing last year. Not a lot of people are growing them in the capital, but you have already done so? You have a pretty good way of doing things ah! Good, Fifth Lord will taste how it is!”

Just as he finished talking, he placed the eggs into his mouth and chewed. His long beard moved up and down with his mouth movements. Xiaocao couldn’t help but face him and stare at the long whiskers for a bit.

“Not bad, not bad! The colors are bright and appetizing, the taste is fresh and sweet, it’s better than the food made by palace’s imperial chefs! Little girl, are you sure you weren’t a chef in your previous life?”

This seemingly simple statement made by the emperor emeritus made Xiaocao extremely nervous. She glanced over at her somewhat reserved father and laughed hollowly, “Perhaps ah! Who can remember their previous life after drinking Granny Meng’s soup? However, everyone tells me that I have a talent for cooking. Maybe I was truly a famous chef in my past life! Probably also one who specialized in the dishes that commoners eat!”

“This child doesn’t know how to be humble! Are there any famous chefs who are female?” Yu Hai glared at her in warning. Someone who was able to eat the food the imperial chefs made was absolutely not low in rank. His little daughter frequently liked to blabber thoughtlessly, but she absolutely should not offend Fifth Lord.

The emperor emeritus was in an exceedingly good mood and grabbed a chopstick full of chicken stewed with mushrooms. He ate it heartily and smiled, “I don’t know if there were any famous female chefs in history but I believe that our Great Ming Dynasty can have a famous female chef show up!” As he talked, he even looked at Xiaocao for a bit.

Yu Xiaocao calmly ate the rice in her bowl. Since she transmigrated over here, she hadn’t been able to eat plain white rice. When she heard what he said, she finally became more modest, “Fifth Lord, you’re overestimating my abilities. I only know how to make a few homestyle dishes. You’ve probably gotten tired of eating fancy dishes with lots of meat and seafood. Now that you get to taste some homestyle cooking, you think it’s fresh and unique, that’s all. If you had to eat this style of food every day, then you wouldn’t think it’s tasty anymore!”

Fang Zizhen was gobbling up his food with head plastered to his bowl when he coolly interjected, “I think my daughter’s skills are just plain good. I’ve eaten the food you made for over a month and haven’t gotten tired of it! My family’s daughter could make even vegetables boiled in plain water taste good! Daughter, go slice up a few more century eggs ah!”

Yu Xiaocao looked at her godfather, who had fattened up a few inches around his waistline, somewhat helplessly. Luckily, Grandpa Zhao would force him to practice martial arts every day. Otherwise, she was afraid that he would have become a rotund fatty at this point! At the rate that he was gaining weight, she wasn’t sure whether her godmother would still recognize him the next time he went back to the capital!

She grinned as she looked at Fang Zizhen and then spoke to the emperor emeritus, “I also made some century eggs out of chicken eggs and they should be ready to eat. I’ll slice up a few to let everyone try some. The uncle bodyguards over there…”

“Don’t bother with them, they’re fine eating anything. As long as they can eat until they’re full!” The emperor emeritus knew that Xiaocao didn’t make a lot of century eggs in her first batch, so he obviously couldn’t bear to let that bunch of brats eat his food, right? He was still planning on bringing some back to the capital with him!

The imperial bodyguards were sitting at the table in the kitchen. On the table, other than the century eggs and tofu which had been switched for tofu mixed with shallots, the rest of the dishes were the same as the ones for the table outside. The imperial bodyguards had been on the road for the whole morning and had long felt their stomachs sticking to their backbones out of hunger. In front of a table full of tasty dishes, they gorged themselves without any inhibition. They usually had a good relationship with one another but, today, for the sake of a piece of twice-cooked pork, they almost started fighting.

When Xiaocao entered the kitchen, the imperial bodyguards had already completely finished the table full of food in record time. Every plate on the table was completely empty, even the sauce from the vegetables had been poured onto their rice and eaten. The commander of the guards felt his face flush with embarrassment when he saw Xiaocao enter the kitchen. He silently cursed the soldiers underneath his command for acting like a bunch of starving refugees. Weren’t they going to be laughed at by this little girl?

“Uncle bodyguards, did you guys eat to your fill? If that wasn't enough, I can cook a few small dishes for you all?” Xiaocao exclaimed in astonishment when she saw how much food the four men ate. They had unexpectedly eaten enough for eight people and cleared all of the plates. Perhaps those who practiced martial arts used more energy, so their capacity for food was larger?

The four imperial bodyguards along with a court eunuch all became excited at the thought of eating more food. However, after rubbing their rotund, stuffed stomachs, they could only shake their heads in regret and tell her that they were full. The commander of the group couldn’t look Xiaocao in the eye when he saw how shameless his soldiers were!

Xiaocao retrieved a few mud-coated eggs from the corner, tapped off the mud shells, and peeled the century eggs. In her previous lifetime, at her hometown, century eggs made out of chicken eggs were also called ‘biandan’. These few biandan were all ready to be eaten. The egg white part of the eggs looked like jelly and were sparkling and translucent. The yolk part of the eggs resembled a ball of sugar. When cut open, liquid drops of oil flowed out and made the eggs look extremely appetizing. 

The courtyard wasn’t very large, so the imperial bodyguards had naturally heard what the emperor emeritus had said previously. Were these the century eggs that the emperor emeritus had mentioned? What did they taste like? Everyone could tell that these were extremely delicious. Otherwise, why else would the emperor emeritus, who had tried every delicacy under the heavens, protect these eggs from them? The more restricted something was, the more the heart thirsted for it. Unfortunately, this was not a desire they could satisfy right now.

The imperial bodyguards stared at Xiaocao intently as she peeled and sliced the eggs. Their gaze made her feel a lot of pressure and she felt like her back was burning under their relentless stares. She accelerated her movements and also chopped up some garlic cloves and green peppers. Vinegar and sesame oil were added to season the dish and then everything was sprinkled on top of the century eggs. She quickly carried the dish out. If she didn’t leave soon, then she absolutely would have collapsed from being stared at by this pack of ‘hungry wolves’!

This cold plate of seasoned biandan naturally received unanimous, generous praise from everyone who tried it. Fortunately, the emperor emeritus had pretty much eaten his fill, so this allowed Fang Zizhen and Yu Hai the opportunity to try some. After Yu Hai tasted a slice, he lightly nodded his head, “This is a dish that probably goes well with alcohol…”

“That’s right! Such a delicious dish, how come we don’t have any alcohol with it? Commander Zhuang, where did I hide that bottle of Zhenniang when I left? Quickly take it out!” The emperor emeritus yelled at the commander in exhilaration.

The stony cold expression on the commander’s face didn’t change a whit as he calmly replied in an even tone of voice, “Before we left, the emperor had inspected our luggage while you were unaware. That bottle of imperial Zhenniang had been confiscated by him!”

When the emperor emeritus was young, he loved to drink alcohol. After ascending the throne, he felt that he had a lot of responsibility, so he very rarely drank until he was dead drunk. Once he abdicated, he immediately invited a bunch of old officials over and drank alcohol with them every day. The old internal injuries left behind from the war as well as his advancing age caused his stomach to bleed after drinking too much. He vomited blood everywhere and scared the group of old officials until they were pale from fright. Fortunately, it wasn’t his time to go and after being treated by all of the imperial doctors in the palace, he was able to keep his life.

Since then, the emperor strictly prohibited him from drinking alcohol. He not only sent people over to watch over him but also set down rules for ‘guilt by association’. Whoever accompanied the emperor emeritus in drinking alcohol or witnessed him drinking without reporting would also be sentenced to go down a rank. If they weren’t an official, then they would have to be imprisoned for three months. The pitiful emperor emeritus with his alcohol-loving heart was no longer able to find any alcohol to drink. When he did get his hands on some, he couldn’t find anyone to accompany him. It was truly a calamitous situation for him!

The smile on the old man’s face disappeared, and he snorted furiously a couple of times, “Don’t drink then I won’t drink! Without alcohol to accompany the meal, it doesn’t feel right. Oh right, little girl! Have you any fermented grape wine or fruit wine of any sort?”

Yu Xiaocao could sense the commander’s anxiety and looked at him reassuringly to placate the man. She smiled, “You also know that we had separated from the main family at the end of last year. Other than receiving this run-down old house, we didn’t even get any furniture to go with it. How would we have any tools to ferment wine? That being said, even if I had the tools, how could I have made any without any of the ingredients? In the dead of winter, where would I find any grapes and fruit then to ferment wine for you?”

The emperor emeritus pursed his lips and replied irritably, “Little Yu ah! I really don’t like that stepmother of yours!! The rest I won’t mention, but she had taken Zhao Bufan’s three hundred taels from selling that bear yet she didn’t even give one tael to your family. Also, that younger brother of yours. From my standpoint, he’s not suited to be a scholar! And he’s living in town like a young lord, eating good food. All of it is funded by her. She’s so biased that she doesn’t know what’s right and proper anymore!! I really feel annoyed about this, very annoyed!! How about I call her over and scare her a bit?”

A waterfall of cold sweat poured down Yu Hai’s body. Why was this Fifth Lord meddling with his family’s matters? In regards to Madam Zhang, he didn’t feel any hate or rancor towards her, only a bit of resentment. After all, Madam Zhang had raised him and his older sister after his mother had passed away. He already understood Madam Zhang’s personality; she was the perfect example of a tyrant at home but a coward outside. She was only a little brazen, that’s all. Now that she was older, he was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to tolerate being frightened.

Yu Hai hurriedly stood up and bowed, “Thank you Fifth Lord for your benevolence towards us! As the proverb says, ‘the son cannot criticize his parents’ actions’. After all, she’s the wife that my father had legally married, and she also raised me and my older sister. Thus…”

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Myst's Thoughts

Food pic

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Ah, what a wasted opportunity. But I guess if they did take the emperor emeritus up on this, Madam Zhang would only spin it around to make Yu Hai and his family look bad later. What do you all think?

Translator: Sanguine