Mount Heng (South Great Mountain), Located at Hengyang City, the second largest city in Hunan Province, is one of the five great mountains in China. With vegetarian and Buddhist culture, it is known by the world as the mountain of longevity in China.
Vegetarian diets make a longer life
In the ancient time, a vegetarian diet was the main diet for agricultural people, who mainly took plants as food materials. It’s recorded in the “Records of South Great Mountain”, vegetarian dishes in Hengyang originated from the Tang Dynasty and prevailed in the Song Dynasty. Over 1,000 years later, in the streets and alleys of today’s Hengyang, vegetarian dishes are also very popular.
In Hengyang, people name vegetarian dishes in a special way:
The steaming sweet and sour pork made with the pineapple and tofu is specially named by locals as Prajna Paramita.
The vegetarian seafood dish made of konjac with slight fishy smell is called as Steamed Sea Cucumber.
The sausage made of lotus root dies is named as One Finger Zen, which has such a vivid shape that makes it hard to tell it is real or not.
The Steamed Sliced Pork, which made of the wax gourd which is the famous delicacy we are talking about. The main material for Unimaginable is the wax gourd. To cook the dish, a good material matters a lot. Only the big and straight was gourds with a growth period of over 2 months will have a soft mouthfeel and is the best material for the dish.
1) Perform the magic of turning wax gourd slices into pork slices
With such a vivid appearance and complicated and artful process, the Unimaginable really deserves its name.
- The first step is shaping the was a gourd. After cutting a piece of the camera was a gourd, peel it and cut crosswise it, giving it the texture of the pork skin of steamed sliced pork.
- Making steamed sliced pork with the wax gourd requires not only cutting skills but also good taste and color. To give the dish a good taste, auxiliary materials of preserved vegetables, shiitakes, and fermented soya beans are necessary.
- Coloring the was gourd is a key step for the dish. Pour soy on the piece of wax gourd evenly, and then deep fry it after 5-7 minutes’ stay. Turn it over from time to time during frying to make sure a uniform coloring, and take it out when it is golden and with the texture of fat.
- Cut it into 5-cm-thick slices. Put was gourd slices in a bowl, color it again and then put fired preserved vegetable and shitakes on it.
- After a 15-minute-steaming in the steamer, the dish is well done.
- After placing the bowl to increase the strong mouthfeel, it is needed to dress it with a starch source at last.
2) Unimaginable and the Buddhist culture
The name Unimaginable was derived from the Buddhist culture of Hengyang. After being introduced to Hengyang in the Southern Dynasty (AD 420–589). Buddhism has been prevailing hitherto. With pilgrims and tourists coming around for its reputation. Hengyang has been a popular Buddhist pilgrimage.
And another reason for the exuberant vitality of Buddhism here. The reason is connected with Zhu Rong, the God of Fire. Worshipped in Zhurong Temple at the very peak of Mount Heng. Zhu Rong, original name Zhong Li, according to “Classic of Mountains and Seas” lived in Mount Heng. Myths say that it was him who gave kindling to human so that human can eat cooked food. Influenced by the concept that many medicines come from food. People consider Mount Heng as a place for praying for health and longevity. Thus South Great Moutain, Mount Heng has been attracting lots and lots of people here to pray for happiness and longevity.
Magu Longevity Soup
Magu Longevity Soup is a vegetarian soup, which is made by 17 materials to stew with a low fire for 12 hours.
1) Materials and cooking steps
Lingzhi mushroom is a key material for cooking the dish of Magu Longevity Soup. Being called as Elixir grass, Lingzhi has been applied as a medicine some one thousand years ago, due to its function of anti-aging, beauty improvement, and antianaphylaxis. To fully play the efficiency of Lingzhi in the soup stock, before putting it into the soup, it is needed to chop it into powder.
Except for Lingzhi, cooking the Magu Longevity Soup still, need another 16 materials. To cook thick and delicious Magu Longevity Soup. Wolfberries, Chinese cabbages, and needle mushrooms, shiitakes are necessary.
After the vegetarian soup stock is stewed 12 hours, puts cooked corn into a mixer mixing it uniformly with the soup stock, then heats the screened mixture to bring out a better taste. And then puts wolfberries and fish slices (made of tofu and other materials) into the soup as the last step.
Stories about healthy and long lived
The story goes that Magu was a maid of Lady Nanyue (South Great Mountains) the first female Taoist. Lady Nanyue, she had been practicing Taoism in South Great Moutain until her death at 83. According to legends, Magu was a maid of her and had been following her to practice Taoism in South Great Moutain. They reclaimed vegetable fields, planting and eating Linzhi, so both of them lived a long life. Lady Nanyue, she still looked as a 10-year girl at the age of 83. As for Magu, she also had lived a very long time, even higher than Lady Nanyue. So, the later generations used the dish of Magu Longevity Soup to wish old people a long life.
2) Yanshou Village
The connection between vegetarian diets and health and longevity has been accepted by more and more people. Yanshou (longevity) Village is a small village lying on the hillside of Mount Heng. Being small although, it has a name with a widely circulated story lying behind. The name of Yanshou Village was derived from a pavilion in the village a named Yanshou Pavilion. In the late Qing Dynasty, there was a salt trader named Yang Erchen. He came to South Great Mountain for many times to spend the summer and pray for a long life. He came here for over 10 times. And every time when he came here, he felt his body was healthier. In memory of the thing, he built Yanshou Pavilion here. Legends say that he lived to 103. Now in Yanshou Village, many villagers like eating vegetarian dishes like him, so they are many long lived people in the village.
3) Soong May-ling
The concept of vegetarian diets making a longer life can be proved by long-lasting beauty and longevity of Soong May-ling. During the period of time of living in Hengyang with Chiang Kai-shek, Soong May-ling had a fondness on vegetarians dishes, which benefited her a lot. She makes a speech in the US in 1943, promoting the vegetarian dishes of China. Soong May-ling's living to over 100 is connected with vegetarian dishes. She came to South Great Mountain for 7 times and lived near a temple. She learned some scientific things in Buddhist diets, which influenced her later diet habits, making her healthy and long lived, she was 106 when she died.
Through the ages, Hengyang’s vegetarian dishes have been carried out and also innovated, and Hengyang with its reputation has attracted so many streaming in to pray for longevity. Unimaginable and Magu Longevity Soup, as two representative local delicacies, not only bring Hengyang people with a visual feast and gustatory enjoyment, but also contain the strong feelings and deep wishes of people here.