One of the terrific cornerstones of Chinese society is its foods. And at the coronary heart of China’s quite a few regional cuisines is a single, top secret sauce: Lu.


One of the wonderful cornerstones of Chinese society is its food. And at the heart of China’s many regional cuisines is one top secret sauce. NPR’s Beijing correspondent Emily Feng delivers us into a kitchen area to uncover what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foods Sizzling)

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Chef Peter starts his day at 2 p.m., mixing with each other the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar and a boatload of spices that variety the base of his cuisine. Then he diligently unwraps a plastic bag with his mystery ingredient. It is really a sauce which is 40 yrs aged.

PETER: (As a result of interpreter) This is just one particular small ingredient, but it is crucial to the all round taste.

FENG: The sauce is called Lu or Lu Shui. And mainly each and every Chinese regional cuisine uses some variation of it. Generally it is really produced out of a base of salt, these types of as soy sauce, sugar and a combine of spices. And to Peter, the sauce is a residing, breathing thing.

PETER: (By interpreter) You have to increase an outdated Lu sauce like increasing a youngster.

FENG: You may be wondering by now – the sauce is not actually 40 a long time aged, but it comes from an unbroken chain of sauces dating back to the initial a single his mom in Shanghai built in the 1980s. Peter normally will save the remainder of every single Lu batch and employs the aged sauce to begin the subsequent new batch of sauce. It is really a bit like sourdough, exactly where the outdated seeds the new and the flavor intensifies over the several years. This is the way most Lu sauces are made.

PETER: (By way of interpreter) Imagine about it. In 1 dish of Lu-braised duck, you’re having the essence of at least 7,000 or 8,000 ducks that have handed by way of it.

FENG: After, an unknowing waiter threw out the Lu sauce Peter was preserving for the following day’s dishes.

PETER: (Through interpreter) I fired him. Individuals who are in the small business know that this Lu is like my daily life. And it’s a very little component of my mother. So throwing it away is like disrespecting my ancestors’ tombs.

FENG: Cao Yu, a food items writer and historian at Jinan University, states Lu at initial basically denoted any variety of salt drinking water utilized as a marinade for cold boiled meat and veggies.

CAO YU: (As a result of interpreter) I imagine the emergence of the Lu we know now is all over by the Ming dynasty, much more than 7 generations ago, when you observed the emergence of privatized organizations and markets.

FENG: To attract new prospects, these new non-public foodstuff vendors began introducing new flavors and new techniques to cook Lu, by adding spices or soy sauce for color. In the hundreds of years due to the fact, Lu has diversified, having on the characteristics of each individual regional delicacies. For case in point, in spicy Sichuan province…

YU: (By means of interpreter) Lu is used to incorporate taste and intensity. So Sichuanese use a ton of spices in their Lu. But in Cantonese cooking, they want the flavor of the elements to come out. So they use considerably fewer salt and spice.

FENG: Some Lu is even alcoholic, like Zao Lu, a light marinade created from the fermented glutinous rice mash still left in excess of from brewing Chinese yellow wine, or huangjiu.


FENG: 4 hours later on in Peter’s kitchen area, his significantly sweeter Shanghai-type Lu has simmered down to a darkish, thick soup. Peter lessens it further until eventually it becomes a molasses-like syrup.

PETER: (As a result of interpreter) The sauce coats each individual morsel. The juices mix evenly with the body fat of the pig trotters in this circumstance.

FENG: The extreme outdated Lu sauce is what is designed Peter’s cafe a well-hidden gem in Beijing by way of phrase of mouth only. In point, Peter expressly forbade us from utilizing his comprehensive identify or mentioning his cafe in this piece simply because he does not want also several shoppers

PETER: (Through interpreter) We have a saying – fame brings problems (laughter). And this restaurant is my playground. I do not want too many individuals to occur.

FENG: Cooking each individual evening is also a very little risky. Peter says he goes all-in each time, utilizing up all his previous Lu sauce for pork, beef and duck for each dinner – no backups, no insurance plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF Foodstuff Scorching)

PETER: (By means of interpreter) We’re incredibly careful – extremely cautious with the sauce.

FENG: I inquire about holidays. Would he ever entrust yet another man or woman to feed and get treatment of his Lu sauce if he’s absent? No, Peter says. The sauce is just as well crucial to him.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.

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