“Eh? Xiaocao, Xiaolian, you guys brought so much random stuff over, what are you trying to do?” Brother Six leisurely strolled over when he saw the two sisters bustling around. He was dressed in light summer robes and continuously fanned himself with his sleeve.
After getting some pointers from Xiaocao, his business office at the docks was already in its beginning stages. He had almost a hundred dockworkers under his supervision and nearly all of the business on the docks had been dominated by him. Foreman Sun was his right-hand man. A few other friends of his, who had been with him in the past, had also been promoted to management positions. Now, the only thing Brother Six needed to do was oversee the overall situation. There was no need for him to be involved in every little thing. Thus, the person who had the most free time on the docks had to be him!
Xiaocao had already made a batch of starch jelly at home and had also prepared all of the condiments. When she saw Brother Six come over, she decided to make him her first guinea pig. She filled one of her numerous crude-looking porcelain bowls with the hot and sour starch jelly and handed it over to him with a smile.
Brother Six naturally took it over and looked down at the bowl filled with translucent starch jelly. The clear white jelly contrasted quite nicely with green slivers of cucumber and bright red chili oil. It was a scene that roused a person’s appetites.
After silently swallowing down a mouthful of saliva, Brother Six scooped up a bit of starch jelly with a spoon and impatiently delivered it into his mouth. The spicy and sour taste combined with the tender and fresh texture provoked his taste buds. He had been feeling a bit listless and out of sorts from the scorching hot weather. Unexpectedly, this one spoonful of starch jelly revived his appetite.
After gobbling down a large bowl of starch jelly, Brother Six still desired to eat more. He let out a long sigh and grinned, “Xiaocao, are you planning on selling this at the docks? Pretty good. It whets the appetite and is a perfect food for the summer! In fact, if you were able to use some fresh cold well water with it, it would taste even more refreshing!”
This year, the summer heat had been particularly fierce and hot. They had just passed early summer, yet the temperature was as hot as if they were by an active volcano. The cruel rays of the sun made the sand on the beaches uncomfortably warm. Even the sea breeze that blew over was also tepid and sticky.
These circumstances made life difficult for the dockworkers. Under the burning sun, the workers labored tiredly with sweat dripping down their bodies like rain. Those who had slightly weaker bodies couldn’t persist and often fainted from the heat. Naturally, everyone’s appetites were affected by the heat. Very few people lined up to buy some piping hot noodle soup at noon, and the peddlers of steamed rolls and appetizers didn’t have many customers either. None of the food at the docks could rouse a worker’s appetites.
Every day there were some people asking for a day off out of the men working under Brother Six. Naturally, this affected their office’s work. Now, with something here to raise people’s appetites and also cool them down, it was absolutely a good thing for them!
Cool water from a well? The docks were on land not suitable for digging a well. Anyone who needed fresh water needed to haul it over from afar, so where could she get an easy supply of well water? However, this difficulty wasn’t going to stump Yu Xiaocao. Her eyes flickered as she calculated——she decided to go the oyster sauce factory, which was right next to the docks, to visit. She needed to borrow some saltpeter. Although there wasn’t a supply of well water at the docks, she did have the method to make ice cubes! Starch jelly mixed with ice cubes would be even more cooling and refreshing than well water!
In actuality, Brother Six was well aware of the circumstances at the docks. He was only mentioning the idea without much thought. However, he wouldn’t have expected that his one sentence would enlighten Xiaocao and allow all of the dock workers the opportunity to eat iced starch jelly.
At the docks, the workers nearby were all dripping with sweat as they transported cargo from the ships. In order to finish the preparations in time for lunchtime, Xiaocao’s family bustled around.
Xiaolian drove the donkey cart to the market at the docks to buy bowls, spoons, chopsticks and other necessities using the money from her private purse. Meanwhile, Yu Hai was nervously building the straw shack. Currently, all they needed was an awning that could provide some shade, so it was quite simple to construct. He just needed to anchor the bamboo poles in the corners, craft the canopy, and the structure would be ready to use. After Fang Zizhen finished his patrol at the docks, he came over to help Yu Hai build the shack.
Yu Xiaocao exploited her godfather’s beloved steed and rode it into the direction of the condiment factory. Third Young Master Zhou had recently went to the capital and was busy organizing the opening of the second branch of Zhenxiu Restaurant as well as the condiment shop. Currently, the person in charge of the factory was Head Steward Zhou.
Steward Zhou was well aware of Xiaocao’s relationship with his master, so when he found out she needed some saltpeter, he naturally didn’t say another word and gave her enough to last more than a month. Xiaocao politely thanked him with a couple of sentences to express her gratitude and then swiftly rode the horse back to the docks.
With Fang Zizhen and his two subordinates helping, the awning was almost completely finished. The awning was constructed right next to Old Liu’s noodle shack. Today was Old Liu’s last day at the docks. He was planning on terminating his business at the docks, whether or not he was able to transfer his noodle stand.
In the summer, it was the off season for the noodle stand’s business. Furthermore, his son was urging him to leave and live together. Thus, when Yu Hai proposed buying the store from him, Old Liu easily sold it at a low price and only asked for enough money to cover the remaining ingredients and silverware.
By the time Xiaocao got back to the docks, she saw that the ownership of their neighboring noodle stand had already been transferred over. Thus, she set up all of the tables and stools and moved the starch noodles and condiments over to a suitable place. Next to the noodle stand, Old Liu had a giant jar that held the water he used to make his pasta. The jar was still partly filled whatever water was leftover from the past two days.
Xiaocao added the correct proportion of saltpeter to the jar of water. Before long, a layer of thin ice gradually started to form. Xiaocao hurriedly placed a steel bucket she brought from home, which held starch jelly, into the vat. Steel conducted the chill quickly, so the starch jelly became iced rapidly.
The two men, Fang Zizhen and Yu Hai, had just finished building the shack, and they wiped the sweat off their faces before they took the proffered iced jelly from their daughter’s hands. Eating something so cold really cooled them down from head to toe! It was very refreshing on such a day!!
When Yu Xiaocao saw that the supply starch jelly she brought was dwindling, she had Yu Hai light the fire at the noodle stand’s stove and simmered another pot of seaweed. The dockworkers had to do hard labor under the blazing sun and she thought that they didn’t have it easy. Thus, she added a couple drops of mystic-stone water into the water. Don’t look down on those couple drops, it was enough to hydrate a hard working laborer and strengthen his body. In addition, the mystic-stone water had an unexpected effect on the simmering seaweed. Originally, making starch jelly with the algae took around four hours. However, after adding the mystic-stone water, the seaweed seemed to melt more easily and dissolved before two hours were up. Starch jelly could be made much faster.
When Yu Xiaocao saw that it was still early, she had her godfather take the rest of the flour from the noodle stand and mix it into a large batch of dough. Yu Hai was very good at rolling out noodles as he was a man who was used to doing hard labor. He had a lot of strength in his hands, so the noodles he made were even more springy than usual. Xiaocao’s two fathers were revolving around her orders in delight. Even the sweat rolling down their bodies didn’t dampen their happiness a bit.
Before long, a pot full of noodles were done cooking! Xiaocao took out a basin of ice water from the water jar and plunged the finished noodles into the icy water.
At this time, Xiaolian had rushed back with the donkey cart full of utensils that she bought at the markets. Everyone from the Yu Family busily started washing all of the bowls and other utensils. This attracted a bunch of visitors over.
The first to arrive was Old Hao, who had already been promoted into a foreman. He found a spot to rest under the awning and used the lapel of his inner clothing to wipe his sweat. He smiled at Xiaocao, “Xiaolian, what delicious food did you bring over today? Let’s forget about the braised pig head meat. It’s a bit too greasy for this type of weather and I have no appetite!”
Xiaocao smiled sweetly at him and replied, “Uncle Hao, you recognized the wrong person! I’m not Xiaolian...Uncle Hao, today we didn’t bring braised food as it’s too hot right now to safely let dishes with meat sit out for too long. However, today we made starch jelly and cold noodles. Both are perfect foods for whetting the appetite in the summer. Do you want to try a bowl?”
Old Hao was Xiaocao’s very first customer from the start, so he had a firm belief in Xiaocao’s culinary skills. He nodded and grinned, “Oh it’s Xiaocao ah! Look at me, I can never tell apart you two sisters apart! What did you say? You have food that’ll stir the appetite? Give Uncle Hao a bowl then...these past few days have been so damn hot a person could roast to death ah!”
Xiaolian, who had just finished scrubbing the bowls and utensils clean, hurriedly went to the large vat. She stepped on a stool and retrieved a block of starch jelly. With quick movements, she sliced the jelly into small rectangles and placed the pieces into a bowl. Xiaolian then sprinkled some cucumber slivers on top and seasoned the bowl with Xiaocao’s pre-made sauces. After that, she personally placed the bowl of starch jelly in front of Old Hao and smiled, “Uncle Hao, take a bite and see how it is. If you prefer a stronger taste, there’s some more vinegar and chili oil on the table and you can add them yourself.”
Old Hao was astounded to find that the starch jelly in front of him seemed to faintly give off cool air. Unexpectedly, his previous listlessness and dizziness suddenly disappeared. He couldn’t bother to use the spoon and instead slurped a large gulp from the side of the bowl. A comfortable chill slowly spread down his throat and into his body.
The older man acted as if he was Zhu Bajie  eating a ginseng fruit. Within a few large mouthfuls, he was able to clean out the entire bowl of starch jelly. Following that, he slowly let out a long breath. It felt as if all of his pores had opened again and a cooling feeling settled into his body. That taste was seriously too refreshing!!
“Xiaolian, give your Uncle Hao another bowl!” When the other people under the awning saw Old Hao eating with delight, they all asked for the price. One after another ordered a bowl for themselves. Old Hao hurriedly flagged down the suddenly busy Xiaolian to order another one.
Xiaolian acknowledged his request and swiftly prepared several bowls of starch jelly with seasoning. She passed the finished bowls over to her father. Yu Hai and Fang Zizhen had suddenly been demoted into waiters. However, there was nothing to be done. Their business was just doing better and better every day! The two fathers bustled around busily as they both happily thought, ‘My daughter is truly too awesome. No matter what she does, she always manages to make a hit!’
Xiaocao’s cold noodles had also started making rounds. Compared to the fresh and tasty starch jelly, cold noodles were superior in one way: they quelled hunger better. As for the taste, with Xiaocao making it, of course it would be good! She mixed the noodles cooled with ice with some crispy cucumber slivers, thin slices of scallions, minced garlic, aromatic vinegar, and chili oil. The combination truly stirred the appetite! However, compared to starch jelly, which was new and novel, the cold noodles had much fewer customers.
However, the first batch of starch jelly quickly sold out before second pot of simmering starch jelly was finished. Thus, the cold noodles became the dockworkers’ new favorite, even in the scalding hot weather. Despite the lack of appetite around, after eating a bowl of refreshing cold noodles, everyone felt much more energized and lively.
The blazingly popular business made the Yu Family run around without stopping. Yu Hai continuously kneaded noodle dough while Xiaocao stood next to the stove. Sweat dripped off her body as she cooked the noodles, ladled them up and iced them. Xiaolian serviced customer after customer that lined up.
Luckily, the dockworkers had staggered the times of their lunch breaks. Otherwise, the few of them wouldn’t have been able to keep up even if all of them grew two extra heads and four extra arms. The workers all rushed in-between shiploads to snatch some time to eat a meal. Through the grapevine, the whole docks soon knew that the Yu Family’s two sisters had come out with a new novel dish. This food not only tasted delicious but also relieved the heat!
 Zhu Bajie (猪八戒) - character in Journey to the West, has pig-like characteristics and is armed with a muckrake.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s thoughts: It’s not summer here but I want a bowl of starch jelly now…yum