San 糝: 3,000-year-old rice cakes


San: Mix equal parts of beef, sheep and pork. Chop fine and mix with twice the amount of rice. Shape these into cakes and fry.

This description comes from the Yili, one of the three Confucian classics that were compiled in the Han dynasty, but are purported to be much older. Just in case things weren’t complicated enough, the text above is describing an event that it says took place in the distant past. So, this is a first century description of roughly 1000 BCE.

San were part of a feast that was supposedly held to honor the elderly. For reasons that I explain in Seven Banquets, the menu was almost entirely meat.

There’s a dish with the same name today, which is dumplings served in soup. Other ancient texts talk about san served in soup, or made with herbs 蓼 instead of meat. It seems to be a pretty broad category.

I made these using a cup of cooked rice that I smashed up with a mortar and pestle into a sticky paste something like mochi. Instead of beef and sheep, I simply used 1/2 cup of raw finely minced pork, and for spices only used salt. Use wet hands to shape about one spoonful of the sticky rice mixture into a round cake and pan fry in pork fat.

They came out surprisingly nice. The pork fat gave the fried cakes a nice crisp crust, and a few drops of soy sauce over the top was reminiscent of a soft senbei. If I had used sticky rice, I would have gotten a texture similar to chewy sesame rice balls known as jian dui 煎䭔.

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