Once you step outside the city center, there are things that you don’t know about. The strange white things hanging in the air looks like socks….but they are actually sliced white turnip, the farmers wanted to dry it under the winter sun to naturally dehydrate. It is then brought indoors to start the fermentation process with chili powder, Chinese herbs and salt.
You could write a book about pickled vegetables in China as people have always treasured food. All vegetables, all meats are carefully preserved after harvests to last the year round. In China, even the humblest vegetables are carefully salted and pickled if there are excesses that cannot be eaten or sold immediately, and from these evolved a culinary tradition that has more than rewarded these thrifty habits with enrichment of the dinner table. From the north, south, east and western provinces, different regions had their own ways of preserving mustard greens, radishes, turnips, garlic chives and cabbages.
Datou cai or the pickled kohlrabi is one humble preserved vegetable with a lot of history behind it. Its “inventor” is believed to be none other than China’s most famous master strategist Zhuge Liang (AD 181234).
The story goes that Zhuge Liang was hibernating in-between battles at his mountain retreat in Wolong, in the Xiangfan region. He was in hermitage and lived by hunting and foraging with minimum contact with the outside world. He would gather mountain herbs and dig up wild kohlrabi and cut them up, lightly salting them as a simple accompaniment to his boiled rice or millet porridge.
One day, he was suddenly summoned to court and had to leave his meal half-eaten. When he returned a week later, the pot of rice had gone moldy, but the plate of salted kohlrabi looked even better and greener. He tasted it and was surprised to find that the vegetable had actually improved in taste.