Sometimes I feel the memory after I left hometown is like a can full of Nitrogen, with experience in childhood sealed inside. When I made telephone calls with parents or return home, I would see or know that many places in my small hometown have been demolished, no longer existing. But in my dream, I would go back to that can and walk around the streets in my memory.
Last time when I returned to my hometown, I walked hurriedly past a market beside the gate of my old elementary school. That used to be a large one, with many greengrocers and buyers. In summer, many fellow-townsmen of minority nationality came there to sell the freshest mushrooms after the rain. Now the market is also removed, with an empty road left. The distance is shorter, but so the fun is less.
So I had to return to the Nitrogen can, where I can still find that street. Together I trace the memory of roasting tomato and green pepper by little charcoal stove. An iron gauze was installed on top of the stove. Apart from tomato and green pepper, we also roasted eggplant. The summer in my hometown was not too hot, but blowing wind with a fan in hand and stirring the food with long chopsticks made us sweat. Our food tasted the best, among all the flavors on that street. The roasted green peppers gave out spicy flavor with carbon sweetness. The roasted tomato called by us as “Mao spicy pepper” was charred with a little bit sweetness. The flavor of roasted soft eggplant was the most difficult to describe, with more layers than the common steamed eggplant.
This is the must-have cold dressed dish for summer. Put the minced or sliced tomatoes and green peppers, and the sliced eggplants together, and then mix them with moderate amount of soy sauce, vinegar, minced garlic and chopped green onion, zanthoxylum oil or sesame oil for your option. If you dislike the strong flavour of the oil, just make it without oil. In the extremely hot summer, such a cold dressed dish, whether with porridge or rice, tastes pretty delicious and stimulates our appetite at once. Many years later, I found that Italian people also like roasted eggplant. The difference is that they roast it by oven, so more water is lost. While eating, it is like scorched dried eggplant.
Every time I recalled this episode of memory, I couldn’t help cooking one for myself. In the north, there is no market selling materials so delicately processed, so I had to do all things by myself. There is a history for roasting the dish. Before when there is fire stove, I roasted the vegetables on the iron cover of the stove. Later electrical stove was used. Beautiful patterns in the shape of circuit circles are left on the roasted vegetables. Much later I roasted it on the charcoal stove on the street. It is much more delicious than that cooked at home, with the faint scent. I first bought an electric stove, but later dropped it because I found the Japanese style frying pan used to cook Tamagoyaki was another good choice. But it is indeed troublesome to roast eggplant, so I often steamed it and then tore it into pieces. If you prefer convenience, you can only cook eggplant in the traditional way and give up the delicacy of the roasted eggplant. I can roast the whole big tomato on the little charcoal stove, also very delicious. The thick frying pan and electric stoves are for cherry tomato, but not for this kind of big tomato.
This dish was called “roasted pepper, tomato and eggplant”, in the way our Chinese mountain native people name things. Some friend told me that I could call it “Three kings of nightshade family”. I was suddenly enlightened. Yeah. They all belong to the nightshade family. The two Chinese names for tomato all have some characters that exhibit the meaning related to nightshade family. In the future, I will call this dish “three kings of nightshade family”, also as a test of biology level. But there is still another problem. The materials of Chinese famous north east dish “fried potato, green pepper and eggplant” can also be named in the same way. Maybe only after we clarify the native place of the dish can we distinguish them clearly.