Lin Dan is a woman of few words, but she does things very seriously. No matter how dirty and tiring the work the old woman's daughter-in-law assigns to her is, she can finish it silently without dawdling over and faking the work. Over time, the daughter-in-law is relieved and stops staring at her all the time. The old woman takes advantage of the gap between her daughter-in-law running out and slacking off to teach Lin Dan how to make the most tender, smooth and refreshing tofu and how to make the most delicious tofu balls.
After March, Lin Dan learns this dish and leaves the town with Chi after saying goodbye to the old woman who is reluctant to part. Since then, she keeps traveling places to learn from teachers. If there are teachers not willing to teach, she works their shop or home to impress them with sincerity. If they are still unwilling, she will just leave silently without complaining.
She has eaten delicious food from all parts of the State of Chu, met all kinds of people, and gone through different life experiences. It has been ten years.
Ten years later, in the early spring, a fleet of carriages is coming along a path in wild mountains, flanked by strong escort guards, as if a large family is moving. When they arrive at a fork in the road, the fleet stops slowly. A middle-aged man with a big belly jumps down from the most luxurious carriage and runs to the last one with small steps. He asks in a low voice, "Shopkeeper Lin, are you feeling better?"
"Ahem..." There is a hoarse voice in the carriage, "much better, thanks to the care of Boss Shen all the way. I hope we can meet again in the future."
"It will be fine if you get well. I still have some medicines to nourish your body. Take them please." Boss Shen hurriedly asks a servant boy to present the gift box prepared for a long time. At the end, he says with flattery, "Yes, we can certainly meet again. If you open a shop in the capital, I will visit you all the way. As for your illness, I have no taste for anything. "
Based on the voice, Shopkeeper Lin in the carriage should be a woman, and Boss Shen’s final sentence seems to be flirting, but it happens that people inside and outside the carriage do not realize the problem, yet they unexpectedly laugh together.
Seeing this scene, a strong man standing beside the fleet shows a mocking expression. He also bumps his elbow into his companion's waist and says silently without voice, "Look, a man picked up halfway can make the carriage a pick-up joint; women shouldn't come out and show up in public."
His companion nods silently and grins. They turn to see the leader, only to find that he is still sitting on a horse, staying alert with his long and beautiful eyes staring at each fork in the road, without slackening. These two people are touched fiercely, so they stop talking.
Shopkeeper Lin seems to be worried that she may pass on her illness to others. She only lifts the carriage curtain and reaches out her hands through the curtain crack to receive the gift box. At the end, she orders, "Zhu, give the gift I have prepared to Boss Shen. Thanks to his care these days, otherwise we can't reach the capital."
A 15 or 16-year-old boy immediately jumps out of a front carriage, holding a liquor jar in his arms. At the sight of the liquor jar, Boss Shen's ruddy face seems to shine. Although he keeps saying with humility, his hands reach out eagerly, and he smiles so much that his small eyes almost disappear, "Oh, it's very kind of Shopkeeper Lin. A slight effort is not worth mentioning!" As he speaks, he sniffs hard at the mouth of the jar, revealing an intoxicated expression.
"It is a slight effort to you, but it is a great kindness to us. It's getting late, Boss Shen. Please leave quickly. We'll say goodbye. We'll meet in the capital in the future. I'll definitely invite you to dinner." Shopkeeper Lin says sincerely.
Boss Shen laughs so much that his eyes narrow, he says repeatedly, "Shopkeeper Lin, in order to prevent you from forgetting this, I'll put this meal on the account book first, and I'll definitely come to the capital to collect debts in the future."
"I won't forget, goodbye." Shopkeeper Lin laughs slightly.
After the farewell, the long fleet also splits in two. The ten carriages in front go to Jiaozhou by taking the fork in the road, while the five carriages behind go straight ahead to the capital. Escort guards guarding the fleet also split into two taking different routes, one of which continues to follow Boss Shen while three strong men on horses follow slowly behind the fleet of Shopkeeper Lin.
Shopkeeper Lin seems to have seen the three men through the carriage curtain and sends a servant boy to greet them.
The servant boy is a little timid, but he still has his courage and asks, "Are you three elder brothers going to the capital?"
One of them says with a faint smile on his face, "Yes, so what?"
"If you also go to the capital, our shopkeeper would like to hire you for escorting us. As long as we can be safely escorted to the capital, the shopkeeper will give each of you ten taels of silver; meals and drinks will be served, is that all right? "
"No." The strong man laughs on his face, but his words could choke people to death. With a snort, his companion seems to despise ten taels of silver.
The servant boy flushes with anger, but he still patiently stresses, "Dear three elder brothers, please think about it again. We serve meals and drinks which are really good, we won’t treat you unfairly. "
"I despise even ten taels of silver; do I care your meals and drinks? Piss off, don't delay our journey!" Strong man gets a little impatient, looks like to take the whip around his waist.
The leading man is the tallest and most frightening. He has dark skin and handsome appearance, a narrow scar which is across his forehead angle lasting to his sideburns, increasing his streak of hostility. It seems that his subordinates are too outspoken. He glances at them coldly. The two strong men immediately get calm and solemn and explain, "We are in a hurry and will take a short cut back to the capital and cannot go with you."
Taking a short cut means they will have to go up the mountain. The mountain road is rugged and narrow. Only horses can pass through, carriages cannot. Hearing this, the servant boy cups his one hand in the other before his chest to show respect and hurriedly leaves, and takes a quick look at the leading man, his heart beats strongly again when he sees the leading man riding on a high horse, the leading man has a pair of long, narrow and beautiful but cold and sharp eyes, though his strong body is wrapped in dark black clothes, one can understand that he is a man who practices martial arts.
This man's hostility is so strong, isn't he a bandit? Thinking of here, the servant boy runs faster.
The carriage of Shopkeeper Lin is very close to those strong men, naturally she hears these words, she also asks no more. The fleet moves on quietly. Seeing that it is already noon, they rest in an open place along the waterfront. Two little servant girls are carrying pottery pots to fetch water from the river, and three other servants are carrying stones to build a stove to make a fire and cook here.
Both sides of the mountain road are covered with pink wild roses, and the fragrance of the flowers is moistened by drizzle. It smells very pleasant. Shopkeeper Lin lifts the carriage curtain to admire the beautiful scenery and drinks a bowl of ginger water with dried tangerine peel. Only then does she slowly get off the carriage and says, "After staying in the carriage for a long time, even my bones are exhausted and I have to get off it to do physical exercises. I'll make lunch today; you go and move my kitchen tools out of the carriage."
"Ah, that's great. Sister Lin is cooking today!" The two little servant girls yell joyfully, and other servants also look overjoyed.
The three strong men follow the fleet all the way, Shopkeeper Lin is ill all the way, it is the first time for them to meet today, and the men can't help craning their necks to look at her. She is in her early twenties, combing her hair in a woman's bun. She is tall and beautiful in appearance, but her skin is pale wheat color rather than fair, which is completely out of line with the current aesthetic. However, there is a certain heroic spirit showed on her brow, which makes people feel very comfortable.
It turns out that this is the one Boss Shen diligently tries to court day in and day out, she is Shopkeeper Lin, who is completely different from the imaginary beauty who is beautiful enough to cause the fall of a city or a state. The two strong men are very disappointed, but their leader stares at her for a long time.
Shopkeeper Lin is Lin Dan; she immediately perceives the man's unusual stare and turns to look at him. They look right into the eyes of each other, one of them seems to suddenly realize something and the other is very puzzled.
"Excuse me, my elder brother, have we met before?" Lin Dan asks with her hands cupped before her chest, naturally and gracefully.
After a moment's hesitation, the man says with a low voice, "No."
Lin Dan looks at him carefully, and she is sure that they have never met, and then she stops paying attention. The other side looks so handsome, his manner is so frightening that she would never forget him if she has seen him.
When Lin Dan goes away, one of the strong men lowers his voice and asks, "Boss, do you know this Shopkeeper Lin?"
The man does not answer, but silently takes out solid food and a water pocket, eats and swallows hard. Another strong man tears off a piece of a dry and hard steamed bun and stuffs it into his companion's mouth, says, "Eat your food, and don’t ask questions."
The strong man who is careless vomits out the hard steamed bun, and gives another word of fie, complains, "Fuck, how long has this steamed bun been kept? Even harder than stone! I eat these bland buns every day; they are too bland to satisfy my mouth! "
"Bear bland buns any longer, and when we come to the next fork, we will take a short cut back to the capital. Then we will have a big meal with liquor and meat, and go home to have a good sleep." The companion shows a look of longing.
"How far is the next fork?"
"Not far, we will arrive at it tomorrow morning."
"Fuck, tomorrow morning, not far? I wish I have wings and fly back! "
The two men are talking while eating steamed buns, but the leading man says nothing from the beginning. He just looks up at Shopkeeper Lin from time to time as if he cares about her.
Lin Dan is busy preparing lunch and is oblivious to the leading man's attention. She takes out a few pieces of bacon with a proper mixture fat and lean and puts them on the fire to roast. The skin of the bacon begins to ooze oil, the pig hair that has not been scraped clean is burned by flames and then those pieces of bacon are washed in the river, and the black smears are scraped clean with knives.
At her command, the two little servant girls run into the woods to dig up some wild onions and some bamboo shoots for later use, and several other servants make a fire to cook.
Lin Dan chops the washed bacon into slices and stir-fries it in a pan. When there is enough grease coming out of the stir-fried bacon, she throws some reddish dumplings made of unknown ingredients into the pan and gently stirs them into pieces with a slice. An indescribable sour taste mixed with the aroma of bacon pervades the air, causing the three men to crane their necks to watch.
"Fuck, what is this smell? It smells a little sour and a little smelly." Although the strong man who is careless despises the smell in words, his saliva has flowed like a river for three feet.
"I don't know. I've never seen it." His companion stands on tiptoe and stares straight at Lin Dan who keeps stirring her big pan.
Several reddish dumplings have been completely stirred into pieces by Lin Dan, turning into fine powder mixed with bacon pieces. It looks not really good-looking, but the aroma is extremely strong, even a little nose-piercing, yet somehow, it makes people salivate. The so-called being smelly mixed with strange aroma is about the same.
The handsome man, who keeps saying nothing, finally says, "It is pickled tofu dregs, a specialty of Anqing Prefecture. When it is a sunny day, one can crush tofu dregs into crumbs, put them into jars; add salt, pepper and other things to store. If the taste is not strong enough, one can boil thick bone soup with pig bones; put the soup into the tofu dregs in the jars, and then seal the jars with lotus leaves, and let them ferment slowly. When the fermentation is complete, they are kneaded into a ball and dried in the sunlight, and then they become the pickled tofu dregs which are easy to carry. The taste is sour, salty, hot and spicy. The meat flavor is mixed with bean flavor, and the taste is very unique. "