Just one of the fantastic cornerstones of Chinese tradition is its foods. And at the coronary heart of China’s lots of regional cuisines is a person, mystery sauce: Lu.


One particular of the great cornerstones of Chinese society is its food items. And at the coronary heart of China’s numerous regional cuisines is one key sauce. NPR’s Beijing correspondent Emily Feng delivers us into a kitchen to find out what it is.

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EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Chef Peter begins his working day at 2 p.m., mixing alongside one another the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and a boatload of spices that form the foundation of his delicacies. Then he thoroughly unwraps a plastic bag with his top secret component. It is really a sauce that is 40 years previous.

PETER: (Via interpreter) This is just one particular small factor, but it’s crucial to the over-all taste.

FENG: The sauce is called Lu or Lu Shui. And in essence every Chinese regional delicacies uses some variation of it. Usually it’s manufactured out of a foundation of salt, these kinds of as soy sauce, sugar and a combine of spices. And to Peter, the sauce is a living, breathing issue.

PETER: (As a result of interpreter) You have to raise an outdated Lu sauce like increasing a boy or girl.

FENG: You may well be thinking by now – the sauce is not literally 40 several years outdated, but it comes from an unbroken chain of sauces dating again to the initial 1 his mother in Shanghai built in the 1980s. Peter normally saves the remainder of each Lu batch and works by using the old sauce to get started the next new batch of sauce. It is a little bit like sourdough, the place the aged seeds the new and the taste intensifies over the decades. This is the way most Lu sauces are created.

PETER: (By way of interpreter) Think about it. In 1 dish of Lu-braised duck, you are feeding on the essence of at the very least 7,000 or 8,000 ducks that have passed through it.

FENG: As soon as, an unknowing waiter threw out the Lu sauce Peter was conserving for the subsequent day’s dishes.

PETER: (As a result of interpreter) I fired him. Those people who are in the business know that this Lu is like my everyday living. And it is a small portion of my mother. So throwing it away is like disrespecting my ancestors’ tombs.

FENG: Cao Yu, a meals author and historian at Jinan College, suggests Lu at initially basically denoted any sort of salt water utilized as a marinade for cold boiled meat and veggies.

CAO YU: (By means of interpreter) I believe that the emergence of the Lu we know currently is around by the Ming dynasty, far more than 7 centuries ago, when you saw the emergence of privatized corporations and marketplaces.

FENG: To entice new customers, these new non-public food stuff sellers began introducing new flavors and new ways to cook Lu, by including spices or soy sauce for coloration. In the generations because, Lu has diversified, taking on the properties of every single regional delicacies. For illustration, in spicy Sichuan province…

YU: (Through interpreter) Lu is utilised to add flavor and depth. So Sichuanese use a ton of spices in their Lu. But in Cantonese cooking, they want the taste of the substances to come out. So they use considerably fewer salt and spice.

FENG: Some Lu is even alcoholic, like Zao Lu, a gentle marinade made from the fermented glutinous rice mash remaining over from brewing Chinese yellow wine, or huangjiu.


FENG: 4 hrs afterwards in Peter’s kitchen area, his much sweeter Shanghai-fashion Lu has simmered down to a dim, thick soup. Peter decreases it more until finally it will become a molasses-like syrup.

PETER: (By way of interpreter) The sauce coats just about every morsel. The juices mix evenly with the fats of the pig trotters in this scenario.

FENG: The intense aged Lu sauce is what’s created Peter’s restaurant a effectively-hidden gem in Beijing by means of term of mouth only. In point, Peter expressly forbade us from using his whole identify or mentioning his restaurant in this piece for the reason that he does not want too lots of consumers

PETER: (By means of interpreter) We have a declaring – fame provides difficulty (laughter). And this cafe is my playground. I do not want far too numerous individuals to arrive.

FENG: Cooking each night is also a very little dangerous. Peter says he goes all-in each and every time, utilizing up all his previous Lu sauce for pork, beef and duck for just about every dinner – no backups, no insurance plan plan.

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PETER: (Through interpreter) We’re particularly mindful – incredibly mindful with the sauce.

FENG: I talk to about vacations. Would he ever entrust one more man or woman to feed and take care of his Lu sauce if he’s away? No, Peter states. The sauce is just way too critical to him.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

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