Without a doubt, the Qu family cooked the best meals I had in Beijing. Made from the freshest ingredients, the dishes were simple and traditional, yet burst with flavour. We enjoyed them in a warm, friendly ambience, with a hospitality that comes only with homecooked food. One early, warm summer evening, Mrs. Qu prepared a quick and easy salad that was unusual but delightfully refreshing. It consisted of fresh tomatoes and two types of eggs, hard-boiled chicken eggs and preserved duck eggs, also known as thousand-year-old eggs. Buried in fine ash, salt, and lime for one hundred days, the eggs emerge with an aspic-like blackened jelly surrounding a greenish yolk, having been slow cooked by the action of the lime. Their distinctive, pungent flavour and aroma is reminiscent of strong cheese.
Boil the fresh eggs for exactly 10 minutes. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon, immerse them immediately in cold water, and crack them lightly with a back of a spoon. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes in the cold water, changing the water two or three times. Gently peel the eggs. With a sharp knife, cut them in half.
Rinse the preserved eggs in cold water, peel them, and cut them in the same manner.
With a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes into thin slices. Arrange them, slightly overlapping, in the middle of a large round platter. Sprinkle them evenly with the sugar.
Then arrange a boiled egg half alternating with a preserved egg half around the edge of the platter. Serve at once.
© 1990 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.