Box lunch, one of the most basic forms of Chinese fast food. But for most people, it is often just an expedient choice during busy work or travel, and has no special significance.
However, in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, box lunches have long gone beyond the simple concept of fast food, and have become a large-scale street food custom, a secret flavor that people will never forget. Even those big brothers and sisters who usually show off in high-end places, drive luxury cars and wear mink fur, sometimes get into those self-service box restaurants with no service at all, pick a large box of ten yuan meals, sit There was “scratched” to clean up the vegetables and rice, and then sat down in a ball with a satisfied face.
Buffet box lunch with rich dishes. Photography / Little Lemon
On the short video platform, nine of the ten Harbin store-exploring bloggers are eating boxed lunches: girls and boys with red faces holding boxes full of meals, eating out their appetites, eating out The majesty of gobbling. The southerners who are thousands of miles away in the comment area have claimed that they must come to Harbin to experience the century-old collision of carbohydrates and fats.
In the Northeast, where nightlife is scarce, Harbin Bento stands out. In the long cold nights where the dripping water turns into ice and the atmosphere is chilling, there are always a few hot spots where fireworks rise. Drunk guests helping each other out of barbecue restaurants and bathing centers, taxi drivers on night shift, students studying at night, actors at night, mysterious passers-by in a hurry, hungry travelers, and even a special trip to check in because of short videos Foreigners come and go in the box restaurant, and the ambiguous background of a northeastern city is reflected in the spotlight.
Outdoor box lunch cart. Photography / Little Lemon
At the end of Northeast cuisine, why is it box lunch?
There is an important prerequisite for the box lunch to be able to form such a large scale in Harbin, that is: in Harbin, there is no such thing as rice noodles from the southwest, noodles from Shanshan, rice noodles from Yunnan, or even chicken-stuffed noodles from Shenyang. , the noodle fast food culture that occupies an absolutely dominant position in the urban catering ecology.
The meat dishes in the box lunch are all attractive. Photography/Dalin Darlin
On the other hand, Northeast people really like the combination of fried vegetables and rice. In the past, many families ate breakfast, just like lunch and dinner. They fried a few dishes with great fanfare and ate them with rice. Save a little face for the first meal in the sleepy morning.
Therefore, Harbin’s boxed lunches are essentially nothing new. They are nothing more than some heavy-tasting “northeast meals”: sliced pork, braised pork, roasted eggplant, ground three delicacies, braised hot peppers, persimmon eggs… served with Serve with sweet, unlimited white rice. Northeast food and rice, the two are violently bonded together like a magnet, one mouthful of food, three mouthfuls of rice, assisting in a cycle, so that diners turn a deaf ear to the fullness alarm from the stomach.
A tough side dish in the Northeast. Photography / Little Lemon
Among the many classic dishes that must be included in the box lunch, the most worth mentioning must be the pork section.
Many outsiders don’t know the difference between Liurou Duan and Guobaorou, two classic Northeast dishes. In short: Guobaorou is sliced meat, Liurouduan is thicker meat; both are seasoned before seasoning. The deep-fried meat is crispy; the pot-packed meat is sweet and sour, and its taste comes from the final cooking juice, and the crispness of the fried meat itself is rarely affected. The meat slices are salty, and the seasoning is mainly thickened with the back layer.
The subtlety of the pork slices lies in the thickening of the thickening layer: Generally speaking, when making pork slices in big restaurants, the emphasis on this thickening skill must be a thin and even layer, which perfectly wraps the taste and at the same time does not Lose the crispiness of fried meat. However, this principle is completely unworkable in the box lunch industry.
The pork tenderloin in the box lunch is nominally a meat dish, but the flour noodles (that is, the batter used for frying) must dominate. This cunning tradition of poor laborers in the past is only preserved here. Secondly, the gravy must be very thick, and after long-term soaking, the crispness of the fried meat (noodles) itself should be reduced appropriately, soaked until neng (four sounds) whistling, extremely viscous, and served with rice, Only when you bite into a small piece of fatty meat wrapped in a large mass of oil-noodle mixture, can you feel like eating a basket of vegetables the next day after eating a big banquet when you were a child, can it be regarded as a spoonful of meat in a box lunch.
Persimmon egg mixed with rice. Photography / Orangeski
Except for meat, almost any Northeast dish that enters the field of box lunches must be improved accordingly: for example, dried tofu with sharp peppers must be thickened to soak the rice; for example, eggs with persimmons (scrambled eggs with tomatoes), for example It is suitable for rice, and it must be thin and juicy, and the eggs must be broken, otherwise the cost will not be worth it (this dish is considered a vegetarian dish in the Harbin box lunch, and it belongs to the category of free unlimited refills). Another example is burning eggplant, which must be deep-fried until it is fragrant, salty and oily, and the attribute of serving rice should be maximized …
It is worth mentioning that there is also a big killer in the Harbin box lunch – grilled meat. This super-large piece of stewed pork belly, which looks extremely enjoyable, is evolved from Shandong handle meat and is one of the most distinctive snacks in Harbin. Traditional grilled meat restaurants are full of big men when it’s time for dinner, and few people order vegetables. Every table is filled with several large plates of meat, and each person has a bowl of rice. This kind of meat is soft and glutinous, full of aroma of herbs and spices, it is really “fat but not greasy. A box of lunch box with grilled meat is the best, pour a spoonful of old soul soup with stewed pork, and bite a bite of garlic , It is so fragrant that it cannot be tolerated.
In short, if the essence of Northeast cuisine is to use high-calorie dishes to deliver higher-calorie rice, then the natural box lunch that integrates vegetables and rice is undoubtedly the ultimate form of Northeast cuisine. After all, it may have been a mistake to package the Northeast dishes and the rice in two different containers from the start.
The Genre and Origin of Harbin Bento
The box lunch business in Harbin can be said to be blooming all over the city. According to its sales form, it can be roughly divided into two categories: fixed stores and mobile vendors.
Along Tongda Street, box restaurants, large and small, often 20 years old, gather together, known as “a box lunch street”. When you arrive at Fankou, the whole street is full of taxis, diners come and go, very lively.
Harbin Bento Street, the cafeteria of taxi drivers. Photography/ Orangeski
The box restaurants on Tongda Street are basically self-service. The master cooks it in a big pot and pours it into a big iron plate. The price is based on the quantity of meat dishes, and there is unlimited supply of vegetarian dishes and rice, so it is absolutely guaranteed to eat enough. Generally speaking, as long as a dozen yuan, you can eat quite well. Therefore, Harbin box lunch is also known as the cost-effective ceiling in the fast food industry, and a dream paradise for big appetites.
And it is said that there are quite a few bosses of this kind of self-service box restaurants, who are actually the master chefs in the cafeteria of the unit in the past.
In the cities of Northeast China, twenty years later, almost all of them worked in various units, and eating in the canteen of the unit has become a collective memory. For example, I still remember that the two chefs in my mother’s work unit both had the surname Yu, one was fat and the other was thin. Later, with a series of reforms such as layoffs and unit restructuring, the canteen gradually disappeared, and some master chefs who worked in the canteen came out to do the box lunch business, and most people now can only remember the past when they eat box lunch. Bits of happy times.
12 diners in the buffet box restaurant. Photography/ Su Yunpeng
In addition to fixed box lunch stores, a large number of box lunches are actually sold by mobile vendors. They appear elusive, appearing in downtown areas and intersections late at night, and only serve regular customers and people who are destined nearby.
Most of these street vendors do not have the function of ordering food, and you can eat whatever you want, which is a kind of surprise of opening a blind box. The most old-fashioned among them, the container used is the old-fashioned aluminum lunch box, ten yuan is full of a box, just like the workers who worked three shifts in the factories and mines, the children who went to school, and the housewives at home in the past, getting up before dawn Busy work to prepare meals, put them in this kind of lunch box, and put them on the stove circles in factories and schools at noon (teng, beep). When eating this kind of boxed lunch, the food is second to none. The time-traveling feeling brought by this packaging is enough to embarrass.
There are also some more distinctive box restaurants, such as the bus box lunch that has become “net celebrity” today, that is, an abandoned bus has been transformed into a box lunch fast food restaurant. In fact, at the beginning of this century, there were such snack bars transformed from abandoned buses all over the Northeast, but they are no longer common now. In winter, the outside of the bus is covered with big ice skates, and the inside is narrow but very lively, which is also a wonder.
The term “bento” was originally created by the Song people, and was later borrowed by the Japanese. In modern Japan, the railways were developed, and the number of people traveling increased, so the bento culture prevailed, and later spread to various parts of East Asia where rice is used to eating. The box lunch in Harbin is actually the bento culture of the Chinese people, but when exploring its origin, it is more complex and diverse than the bento in Japan, and it is full of nostalgia.
Those who are well versed in the lifestyle of Harbin know best that the essence of box lunch is not to satisfy one’s hunger. In the middle of the night, another day’s drinking party is coming to an end, and the night returners who are intoxicated in twos and threes often have to find a box of lunch on the street to “get through” before going home. No matter how flashy the world is, no matter how exquisite the banquet is, in the end, you have to return to this simple box of lunch, and you can sleep with peace of mind. This is the late-night warmth philosophy of Harbin people, and it is also the most secret meaning of a box of lunch.
MINH NGUYET – LINKPIZ.COM