Chapter 92: Each to Their Own
Translated by Gumihou
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“Madam, are you not going to control them?”
The imperial chef nudged her with an bemused smile, Su Nuan Nuan narrowed her eyes at him, “You want me to control them? You want me to throw my own life away? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with your mind?”
The imperial chef smiled, “The An Ping heir had always been on good terms with the princes, therefore, if madam were the one to say something. Their highnesses might…”
Before he could finish his sentence, Duan Tingxuan stepped into the kitchen. “Aiyo, speak of the devil and he will appear. Little Marquis An Ping, you’re here? Please accept this servant’s greetings.”
“At ease.” Duan Tingxuan stride through the kitchen as though he was walking on magic wheels. In a flash he was in front of the princes.
The imperial chef ‘s eyes, it was like a meteor of hope had arrived. The little marquis was here to save them, to save madam’s cooking from the hungry ghosts! He was just thinking this when Duan Tingxuan yelled, “How dare you, is this what passes for brotherly loyalty now? How dare you not leave anything for me?” As soon as he was done speaking, he leapt in and joined the line of big eaters.
The kitchen hands’ knees suddenly shook, and a few of them actually fell to the floor. The imperial chef looked up at Su Nuan Nuan with tears in his eyes: Another starving wolf had arrived, would they actually be able to serve lunch today?
Su Nuan Nuan cast a sidelong glance at the imperial chef, how could she not understand this person’s feelings? With a sharp ‘heheh’, Su Nuan Nuan sneered: As expected, if one did not have the correct information at hand, one would definitely eat a loss. This madam never had any expectation for that Duan Tingxuan. This madam had always wondered where did such a dignified heir learned the habits of a hungry rat. Looks like it was here.
At any rate, she never really did have much respect for Duan Tingxuan. Being forced to look at four grown men with oily lips and bulging cheeks certainly did not increase her sense of respect. Though a late comer, Duan Tingxuan made up with enthusiasm. When she started seeing empty plates, Su Nuan Nuan couldn’t take it anymore. She banged an iron pot onto the stove and snarled, “Duan Tingxuan, do you still want lunch to happen? You just tell me now. I’ve already agreed that to make two or three dishes for the empress, but now? Look what’s leftover? Are you prepared to take responsibility if her highness lost her temper?”
The princes had actually been ribbing Duan Tingxuan all this time about how warm and gentle Su Nuan Nuan had been. They were starting to suspect that Duan Tingxuan had been pulling their legs about his wife’s aggressive behaviour. This was the first time they heard the tigress roar.
Duan Tingxuan felt wronged at being treated thus, he really hadn’t expected his wife to fully reveal her stripes so thoroughly. He forced himself to laugh loudly, and began dragging the other three away, “Let’s go, ba. Let us not offend Nuan Nuan anymore, otherwise she’d chop us up and cook us for lunch.”
The crown prince was obviously reluctant to leave the good food. He dragged his feet and muttered, “Imperial mother wouldn’t blame us, even if she gets angry I am prepared to take responsibility for it.”
You’re as fat as a pig already, still dare to brag about taking responsibility? Eat, eat, eat, eat more and you’ll turn into a cripple.
Su Nuan Nuan was generous with her curses as she privately sneered at the crown prince. The crown prince must have felt the stabs from her eyes or something as he rubbed his nose a little shamefully. He finally let himself be hauled out of the kitchen by Duan Tingxuan.
Now that peace had returned to the kitchen, the dozen or so kitchen hands all breathed a sigh of relief. Majority of the kitchen hands here were eunuchs, and the one next to Su Nuan Nuan was their leader. They started talking and Su Nuan Nuan found out that this guy used to be a restaurant cook. As to how he ended up here, some rich, persistent dandy tried to sexually assault his wife, whereupon he had attacked that dandy with a chopper, nearly cutting off the man’s arm. To avoid prosecution, he entered the palace, suffering self castration and climbed the ranks with his cooking skills and some strategic schmoozing. It took him years to reach this position.
“What happened to your wife and kids after you enter the palace?”
Su Nuan Nuan chatted with this cook as her knife moved rapidly. In a flash, the small basket of cucumbers became a pile of cucumber sticks. At the sight of this madam’s knife skills, he laughed, “I entered the palace after sending my wife and child back to my native homeland. I told them to treat me like a dead man, that if she ever meet a good man she should marry him. Who would have known that wife of mine refused to give up on this worthless one.
When my position in the palace became stable, I sent people out to discover what happened to them. Turns out they were still living in the countryside on their own. This servant then begged the empress’ indulgence to bring them back to the Capital. I manage to purchase a small house for them, and even meet them every few months on my free days.”
“You sure are lucky, how many eunuchs could claim to have a wife and child?” Su Nuan Nuan chattered as she selected a piece of steamed rice pancake and began slicing it to ribbons. As expected, the eunuch chef laughed, “Right? I always say, I must have done some great deed in the past to be so lucky as to become her majesty’s chef.”
The two worked even as they got to know each other, in a short while the Five Colourful Noodle Salad was soon ready. The chef admired the colourful dish and said, “To get such colour from ordinary ingredients, if this servant haven’t been working next to madam all this while, I’d find it difficult to believe that this hadn’t been made from some mysterious ingredients. Madam is certainly incredible.”
“Enough with your flattery. This is nothing. Since her highness has little appetite, these are appetizers to tease her appetite, nothing special really.” As she spoke, she looked through the spice cupboard regretfully. Curses, could it be that there were really no chillies in this era? What a headache, my precious hotpot, chilly paste, and my delicious steamed fish with mala oil. Aih! They have huajiao pepper here, but it’s still not true spiciness, ah.
After busying themselves for another shichen (2 hours) in the kitchen, Su Nuan Nuan was so hungry that she felt as though her heart was stuck to her spine bone. How could she not be hungry? It was past noon now.
The emperor and empress both looked forward to lunch time. So much so, that the high level servants offered to prepare the royal dining room with all the pomp and rituals for the imperial family to dine in. Naturally, there was a hidden reason behind this offer. People who took care of their majesty’s meals would naturally grew closer to them. So how could they just allow a stranger to potentially grow closer without even a single royal taster around? Unfortunately, this loyal dedication was utterly rejected by the imperial family.
They were still arguing (politely) over this matter when a line of imperial maids came in bearing food boxes. The boxes were set upon the table with much ceremony and were simultaneously opened. A cloud of fragrance wafted out. The empress immediately looked over at Su Nuan Nuan and nodded approvingly, “Your majesty, though it took a bit of time, but looking at this splendid sight and wonderful fragrance, chenqie believes the wait is worth it.”
Took a bit of time? Su Nuan Nuan thought, don’t blame me for anything. Blame your greedy sons, ba. As soon as one dish is done, it was done in by your feral wolves. In fact, she really wanted to call those princes feral wolves, however, those hungry dogs were still the crown prince and royal princes, therefore she could only offer her best smile.
“Nuan Nuan, just what is this? How come I’ve never seen this at home before?”
Duan Tingxuan courteously got up to guide his wife into her seat. He was pointing at a large plate of bright green noodles, glistening with clear oil.
“Green Jade Noodles, it’s perfectly ordinary.” Su Nuan Nuan answered thoughtlessly. She added, “It’s just regular noodles.”
“You’re making fun of me, how could noodles be so bright green?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, if you use vegetable juice instead of water in noodles, you’ll have green noodles.” Su Nuan Nuan made sure to turn away from the royals to privately roll her eyes when the empress said, “These noodles looked interesting. Xuan’er, fetch me a plate. Your majesty, would you like some?”
The emperor smiled, “No need, zhen is more interested in that bowl of soup. I’ve never seen its like before. Tingxuan’s dear wife, ah. What sort of soup is this?”
Tingxuan’s dear wife? What a simple and intimate way of address. For a moment, the emperor transformed into a busybody next-door-uncle in Su Nuan Nuan’s eyes. She cleared her throat carefully, and stood up, “In answer to your majesty, this is a common family dish, it’s made from pig’s blood, cubed bean curd, chopped pork, fresh oysters and seasoned with chopped spring onions. The stickiness came from rice flour, stirred in once the soup is done.”
This was one of Su Nuan Nuan’s favourite dishes when she and her friends visited the countryside for a wedding banquet in her past life. The soup was served from a huge pot and was there were three pots of it. At the end of the banquet, you could see the bottom of all three pots. Even Su Nuan Nuan, who had eaten all sorts of food from all over the world, really loved this soup; to the point that she begged the chef to teach her the trick of it. Who would have thought that she would be serving this country soup to the royal family today.
The emperor took a sip, cried out ‘good’, and immediately swallowed two full bowls down. If the empress hadn’t reminded him there were other delicious food to try, he would probably have filled his stomach with this common soup.
The empress normally had little appetite, but for some reason she was really hungry today. Perhaps Su Nuan Nuan’s cooking really suited her taste. She really enjoyed the Bruised Cucumber Salad with Peanuts and the Green Jade Noodles. She also ate quite a bit of the Colourful Rice Noodle Salad. The Candied Hawthorn was quite well received too, especially by Imperial Concubine Jing who had always been partial to cherries. As for Imperial Concubine Duan, the gentle and calm looking mother of the second prince, she nearly cleared an entire plate of Blanched Tofu Strings all by herself.
No need to mention the performance of the crown prince, second prince or third prince. They were all bottomless pits. If Duan Tingxuan hadn’t told her about their true abilities, Su Nuan Nuan would have dismissed them as good for nothing parasites. Rice weevils. Spongers. Rats in rice bins.
After the hour of continuous eating, silence fell as the incredibly empty dishes were cleared away by the maids and eunuchs. The servants were all in shock. When had the imperial tables ever in this state? Just what was on this plate? There weren’t even dregs of soup left? As for this silver plate, it’s so shiny that I could see my own face, has someone on that royal table really licked it with their royal tongue?
Even the imperial family had the grace to blush at the state of their own greediness. However, true to his ability to smooth things over, the emperor said, “Haha! I’ve never had such a wonderful meal in my life. Tingxuan’s dear wife keep saying these are all commoner’s food. Zhen really can’t understand, if the commoners had been feasting like this, had we been fed pig slop all this while?”
“Your majesty, that’s impossible.” Duan Tingxuan said, a little awkwardly. If you want to compare your imperial chefs with my wife, wouldn’t most of them be sent to the chopping block? No, no, he had to change the subject, there was no way he’s going to allow his emperor to become the first head of country to order the deaths of his chefs over such trivial matters.
Su Nuan Nuan supported his attempts, and spoke lots of good words on behalf of the chefs. She had no intention of causing the humiliation of local chefs, just because of her status as a transmigrator.
[Gumihou: Lots of delicious food in this chapter, click on the pictures for the translation of the recipes!]
 chengqie – how royal wives and concubines refer to themselves in the third person
 Green Jade Noodles
 Candied Hawthorn
 Shrewded Dry Tofu