The sun set gently on the horizon, dyeing the waters a glowing red. The land seemed to have been draped with a dark red brocade robe. Usually at this time of the day, the docks would be becoming more quiet. However, at this moment, it was still bustling with activity. The dockworkers came to and fro, hauling cargo on their shoulders and backs. Carts among carts were stacked high with goods from the sea-going ships.
A bunch of brawny men dressed entirely in black patrolled the perimeter of the docks. All of their eyes were alert and they attentively observed the surroundings. In the cargo holds of the hundred or so ships, there were the seeds of unfamiliar crops as well as some precious goods from the western hemisphere and southern seas.
The rarer something is, the greater its value. Silks and porcelain, which were commonly seen items for the Great Ming Dynasty, could be sold for ten times, even a hundred times their value in the west. On the flip side, goods that were considered commonplace in the west were worth more their weight in gold in the Great Ming Dynasty. The emperor had previously said that all of the goods from the voyage, other than the ones he listed, were the property of Royal Prince Yang. From the spoils of this trip, Prince Yang would definitely increase his wealth by a hundredfold! There were so many valuable items, so they naturally had to prevent unscrupulous people from seeing them.
Royal Prince Yang also regarded these goods with a lot of importance and refused Commander Bao’s proposal of being escorted into town first. He sat inside the simple business office at the docks and watched as the bags of goods got loaded onto the horse carts. The expression on his face was tranquil and his mouth was pressed into its customary line. His eyes glowed with a cool light and emitted an aura that made people hesitant to approach him.
“Grumble…” The four people sitting in silence suddenly heard a slight noise. It sounded distinctly clear and made it hard for people to ignore it.
Commander Bao stealthily looked out of the corner of his eye to peep at Prince Yang. The prince’s expression stayed the same as if the obvious sound of his stomach growling had nothing to do with him.
Steward Liu astutely detected Commander Bao’s line of sight and lightly coughed to call the other man’s attention. He then hugged his stomach and quietly confessed, “Master, please forgive me. This old servant didn’t have a good appetite this morning on the ship. It’s not even dinner time, yet my belly is complaining for food.”
Prince Yang naturally knew that his head steward was taking the fall for him. However, did Steward Liu really think he was still that childish? The world was vast, but eating was an important thing, what was awkward about being hungry? His bright eyes whirled a bit and he looked Steward Liu in the eye before he faintly remarked, “Commander Bao, is there anywhere we can go to get some food on these docks?”
This question made Commander Bao feel a bit uneasy. The Tanggu Docks were very simple, so the only people selling food were the nearby villagers, who were all peasant farmers. The food was quite crude and no one knew how hygienic it was either. It was said that Royal Prince Yang was a bit of a germaphobe, would he be able to stomach eating the food here?
When Prince Yang noticed that Commander Bao had stayed silent a bit with an awkward expression on his face, he followed up in a slightly raspy and gloomy voice, “What? Is Commander Bao in a bind right now?”
Very few people knew that Zhu Junyang had a bout of illness when he was very young. In fact, due to anemia, he had fainted in the past. His body had slowly strengthened as he got older and with the treatment of the imperial physicians. After he started practicing martial arts, almost no one knew about this particular past. However, because of this previous illness, Zhu Junyang could not stand being hungry. As soon as he felt the pangs, his mood would become irritable and flustered. Consequently, the tone he used to speak to Commander Bao had also held some impatience.
Commander Bao hurriedly got off the stool and kneeled down with his hands cupped and head lowered, “Royal Prince Yang, the environment at the docks is too crude and plain. I’m afraid...I’m afraid you might not be able to tolerate the food here!”
“How could I not tolerate the food here? I’ve even eaten raw fish and drank rainwater on the ship. If that’s not considered crude, what could be?” The emptiness in his stomach was making Zhu Junyang feel irritable and agitated. His last sentence even held a hint of rebuke within it.
The person who understood the young royal prince the most had to be Steward Liu, who had watched him grow up. He knew that the young royal prince was ravenous. If he didn’t get some food now, someone was going to have to suffer. Steward Liu hastily spoke to Commander Bao, “Commander Bao, find some food that is edible at the docks and bring it back. This old servant is almost about to faint from hunger!”
Commander Bao could tell that Prince Yang’s eyes were flicking with a bit of impatience. He also knew that the prince, despite being young, was not someone who had a lenient and soft-hearted personality. Thus, he hurriedly got up and said, “I have to say that the only food that is slightly palatable here is from the noodle stand run by the Yu Family’s sisters. Royal Prince, please wait a moment!”
As soon as Prince Yang impatiently waved his hand at him with a stony expression, Commander Bao scurried over to Yu Xiaocao’s noodle stand. At this moment, all of the dockworkers were busy doing work, so there wasn’t a single soul at the stand. Madam Han was currently simmering the delicious zhajiang paste. Other than fermented soybean paste, the sauce also had stir-fried diced meat and very firm tofu mixed in, which made the flavor quite delicious.
Usually, at this time of day, the Yu sisters would have already cleaned up the stall and gone back home. However, because there was a special circumstance today, they worked the same overtime hours as the dockworkers at the request of Brother Six. Yu Xiaocao was currently bored to death as she sat on a wooden stool. She idly played with her hands. When she raised her eyes, she saw Commander Bao rushing over as if the hellhounds from the underworld were chasing him.
“Sir, you must be tired! Come sit down. Do you want a portion of zhajiang noodles or some scallion noodles?” Yu Xiaocao remembered that this gentleman really enjoyed both of these noodles. She wasn’t sure if he wanted to eat the same thing or try something new this time.
Commander Bao plopped down on a nearby seat and bawled out an order before he could catch his breath, “Whatever types of noodles you have, give me three bowls, it needs to come out quickly! Also give me a plate of pig head meat, pig ears in chili oil, stir-fried intestines, and some seaweed with dried tofu as well! Quickly! This order needs to be rushed!!”
At noon, this man had eaten until he was bloated. If he was the one eating this food, he wouldn’t be in such a hurry. Judging by his obvious nervousness and anxiety, he must be ordering this food for the young royal prince, who had just finished his seafaring journey. Only someone who was born with a royal background could cause his servants to run about until their legs fell off!
Yu Xiaocao silently cursed the arrogance of these influential people, yet kept an earnest look on her face as she replied, “The quickest noodle dish has to be zhajiang noodles. The sauce was just done, so as soon as the noodles finish cooking we can just pour the sauce on top and it’ll be ready to eat! Just wait a moment, everything will be ready shortly!”
Xiaocao raised her voice to call her Eldest Maternal Aunt, “Aunt, give me three bowls of zhajiang noodles! Make sure to sterilize the bowls and chopsticks with some boiling water first!”
Commander Bao looked at the slightly built girl in front of him with admiration. She was truly a clever little kid to be able to tell from his words and demeanor that he was ordering food for a noble. She even had her aunt especially sterilize the bowls and chopsticks. She had an eye for details!
Yu Xiaocao attentively washed her hands and then used some boiling water to wash the chopping board and knives. Only after she did that did she carefully cut some braised food to make a plate. She used some chili oil to season some ribbons of pig ear and also placed some garlic paste and chopped scallions on the plate. By doing this, the nobles could pick and choose if they wanted strong flavors on their food. After that, she swiftly cooked the stir-fried pig intestines. Once it was all done, Madam Han had also finished cooking the zhajiang noodles.
Madam Han had originally been a good hand at cooking. After getting some directions from Xiaocao, she knew how to make every noodle dish on the menu very well. Her best dish was zhajiang noodles. The student had truly surpassed the master; Madam Han was better at controlling the heat when cooking the sauce than Xiaocao.
Three huge, heaping bowls full of zhajiang noodles with four plates of the Yu Family’s signature braised foods was considered quite a luxurious feast at the docks. As for the taste, it was obvious that there absolutely wasn’t another vendor on the docks that could surpass the Yu Family’s braised food and zhajiang noodles!
The four plates of braised food were carefully arranged into a basket. Commander Bao took the lead and snatched the basket as he urged Xiaocao and Madam Han, “Quickly! Bring the noodles and come with me!!”
Xiaocao grimaced a bit as she complained silently, ‘You clearly know which job is easier. The noodles have just come out of the pot, so those bowls are hot enough to scald a person’s hands. You’re such a tough guy with callused hands, yet you make a woman and a kid carry over the bowls of noodles. This guy has no shame!’
Luckily, they didn’t go far before Commander Bao sent a few of his subordinates to carry the bowls of noodles. He then dismissed them after throwing a piece of silver as payment.
Those three bodyguards had been busy the entire afternoon. Their stomachs had long been complaining for food. As the tantalizing aroma of the zhajiang noodles hit their nostrils, they swallowed their saliva and looked at each other before quietly speaking to Xiaocao, “Keep the change as a reward from our commander...little girl, we’ll be patrolling over there. In a moment, can you send a few bowls of noodles over? You won’t be disappointed!”
The three soldiers were well aware of their responsibilities. As long as they didn’t leave a gap in patrolling, they could eat a bowl of noodles in-between their shifts. These noodles were quite amazing to smell so delicious. Even the capital’s best restaurant’s dragon’s beard noodles with chicken feet didn’t have such a tantalizing aroma!
The three bodyguards were assigned to guard the most raucous and bustling area of the docks. That area was close to the ocean and one could easily see the rows of imposing looking ships. The dockworkers all bustled around, trembling with fear, as the imperial bodyguards observed them.
In order to make sure this important task went smoothly, Brother Six had pulled out all the stops. There were a lot of regular staff on his team and he even had his subordinates call over all of the day-to-day workers over to help. All in all, it came out to several hundred people working together to unload the ships at an inhuman speed. Within one afternoon, more than half of all of the cargo had been moved from the ships and stacked into horse carts to be moved into town…
Yu Xiaocao used a wooden slab as a salver and carefully delivered the three bowls of zhajiang noodles with great effort. She slowly stepped on the shifting sands of the beach and gave the three soldiers the noodles they had ordered. Each squadron had ten people and among them included a low-ranking captain.
When the men smelled the strong scent of the noodles, they couldn't help but come over to look at the food. The three soldiers recognized Yu Xiaocao, so they notified their captain before they gleefully welcomed Xiaocao over. As if they were afraid someone was going to steal their food, they all grabbed a bowl, ignored the scalding heat burning their hands, and slipped away to slurp the noodles.
After the little captain re-arranged the shifts, he came by and grinned, “You guys are seriously too much! Sneaking away to eat on your own! Tell me, how should I punish you all?”
One of the soldiers was a very tall and brawny fellow. He flashed a smile as he spoke his thoughts in a straightforward manner, “Okay! We’ll accept punishment! I’ll treat all of you to eat noodles! Who would have thought that these small docks could be hiding such a jewel. These noodles are better than any noodles I’ve ever had in the capital. No restaurant there can compare!”
The other imperial bodyguards all thought that he thought the noodles tasted very good because he was too hungry. But once they had a taste of the zhajiang noodles, they found out that it was truly delicious!
After Yu Xiaocao delivered these men their food, she stood quietly on the side to take their empty bowls and chopsticks when they were done. Her large, inquisitive eyes were opened wide as she observed the imposingly large ships. She silently mused at this fellow transmigrator’s influence on this world. She was pretty sure that her fellow friend had been a shipbuilding major before he came over! He unexpectedly was able to design and build ships that had both sails and steam power so they could traverse distant seas! At this time, Xiaocao didn’t realize that she had inadvertently bumped into the truth!
Xiaocao, who was in the midst of enjoying this scenery, suddenly saw her Eldest Maternal Uncle at the docks doing work. Her uncle was truly a hard worker! He ran back and forth delivering vegetables to the prefectural city and probably made a decent amount of money already, yet he still didn’t want to renounce his dock work either.
Wait...what was that? The bag on her eldest uncle’s back had somehow gotten a small hole. A golden looking seed suddenly dropped down, wasn’t that...corn?Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Oh look, a new world plant!